Friday, May 13, 2016 - Updated: 7:00 am
When I was teaching at Quigley Catholic High School nearly four decades ago, I remember in one of our class discussions, one of my students asked: “If you could have lived at any time in the history of the world, what time might that be?” Besides living in the time of Jesus, my second clear choice was actually only 10 years before I was born. I have always been fascinated by the 1940s. So much of the history of the world at that time, and particularly the history of our own country, fascinates me.
In the first half of the 1940s, World War II captivated the world scene. In the first half of the ‘40s in our own country, the leadership of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt guided us. The country needed him. The country trusted him. He was the only president of our country to have been elected for four terms.
In the 1940s, the pre-television age, as I heard about it by listening to many conversations between my parents and grandparents, people used to gather around the family radio. It was there that they got the news. It was there that they enjoyed the big-band sounds. It was there that they heard the drama of plays re-enacted over the sound waves.
One of the things that my parents often spoke about was the way in which President Roosevelt chose to connect with the people of our country. As a father figure for the nation, Franklin Roosevelt would often speak to the country through the radio by way of what he called “the fireside chat.” In a very conversational tone, the president would reflect on any number of issues that he felt were important for him as president to address and for the citizens of the country to hear. As my parents shared with me, the tone was very much that of a “chat” — warm and engaging, inviting and involving.
Birthday of the church
Since Easter, the church in her wisdom has invited us to reflect a great deal on the Gospel of St. John, but most especially on what is called the “Last Supper discourse” of Jesus with his apostles within the Gospel of John. This conversation of Jesus with his apostles extends from Chapter 13 through Chapter 17 as he prepares to conclude his public ministry here on earth. In a very real sense, Jesus’ Last Supper conversation with his apostles was his “fireside chat” with them.
In his conversation at the Last Supper, Jesus let the apostles know how much they meant to him. In that conversation, he let them know how much he trusted them. In that conversation, he let them know how much he needed them. In that conversation, he told them that they would have to pick up where he left off. In that conversation, he promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide them in that effort. In that conversation, he prayed for them and for all who would come to believe because of their living the faith and their passing on the Good News of Jesus, of his mission, of his teaching.
As you and I this weekend celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, we do mark the fulfillment of all of the promises that Jesus made at the Last Supper, most important of all the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. No wonder we call Pentecost the “birthday of the church!”
As we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, we remember that the same message Jesus gave during his “fireside chat” with the apostles was also meant for us. Jesus lets us know how much we mean to him. Jesus lets us know how much he trusts us. Jesus lets us know how much he depends on us. Jesus lets us know how much he needs us. Jesus tells us that we will have to pick up where he left off. Jesus promises us the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us in that effort. Jesus prays for us, for you and me, who have come to believe because of the apostles and the many generations of the church before us.
As we celebrate the feast of Pentecost 2016, we are ever-grateful for all that we mean to Jesus. At the same time, we need to reflect on, pray about and live what Jesus means to us. Very clearly, the promise that Jesus made during his “fireside chat” at the Last Supper proved to move the hearts, minds and souls of the apostles. When they received the Holy Spirit, they did a great job of letting the world for all time know not only about Jesus but what it takes to really come to know Jesus. We wouldn’t be celebrating the church today if they hadn’t done so, and done so successfully. But clearly with the power of the Holy Spirit!
Bring others to Jesus
Now, the challenge is on us. As we find ourselves as a people On Mission for the Church Alive!, we need to respond to being On Mission as it truly must be — a genuine, excited, loving response to Jesus’ “fireside chat” at the Last Supper.
We ARE the church today because of Jesus’ trust in us and his need of us. It is now up to us. The time is now and always. The gift of the Holy Spirit that the apostles received at Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit that we continue to receive gives us a “jump start” to attract others to come to know about Jesus, to come to know Jesus and to come to believe in Jesus.
Yes, when my students asked me nearly 40 years ago at what time in history would I most have wanted to live, my second choice, namely, living in the 1940s, has actually pointed me to my first choice — living in the time of Jesus. This, too — 2016 — is the time of Jesus.
“The fireside chat” of Jesus fires up my soul. I pray that it does the same for you. I pray it does so for the Church of Pittsburgh — On Mission for the Church Alive!