Pentecost is the story of the birth of the church. But, if one went by the reading from Acts 2, one would imagine that the birth of the Church took place overnight – instantaneously and dramatically. And that would not be true. It was a gradual process. The actual founding of the church began with Jesus choosing his apostles, and training them for three years – but the real crucial period was after his death, when several Christian communities began to organize, establish themselves and flourish. That was the key event! In the absence of the Founder, the church continued to grow and expand at a rapid pace.
Allow me to ask a question. What would you think of an organization, if the moment the Founder died, the organization were to collapse like a pack of cards? Would you call that a successful organization? Surely not!! On the other hand, what if an organization, after the death of its Founder, were not only to continue, but was to expand and develop at a frenetic pace? Wouldn’t you call that a successful organization? That is the story of the church. After the death of Jesus, Christian communities began developing, growing, expanding and spreading like wild fire. That was the action of the Holy Spirit.
If you read the Acts of the Apostles, you will find the very same strategy used by St. Paul. He would go to a city or town, preach in the synagogue, choose a few committed believers, an organizer, a prayer leader, a catechist, a social worker, etc… and tell them, “Now you run the church with the help of the rest of the community.” During my two years of training in social work we had to work with different communities and at the end of the year we were supposed to share the results of our work. I remember one colleague, who shared his frustrations. He said: “After trying for a whole year, I could get nowhere with my community. I tried so many things, I tried new ventures, new projects, new concepts, I used all my imagination and resources, but could get no response at all from the community. Nothing seemed to click! I give up. I don’t think people will ever change.”
Very gently our Moderator asked him, “Did you enlist the help of the members of your community?” ‘No,” he said, “Because they are incapable! They are not competent!! ”
“That is your mistake!” exclaimed the Moderator. “You cannot do everything yourself. You cannot work alone. You have to enlist the participation of your community. Otherwise anything you try is bound to fail.”
In your own experience too you will find the same thing when your family goes on vacation. If one member of the family makes all the decisions – about where to go, how to go, what to eat, what to do – and the others passively go along, that will not be a vacation that is enjoyed !! But if all the members of the family sat down and took part in the planning and decision making – even the smallest member of the family gave his or her input – then that is a vacation that will be thoroughly enjoyed!
If you read the Acts of the Apostles, you will find the very same strategy used by St. Paul. He would go to a city or town, preach in the synagogue, choose a few committed believers, an organizer, a prayer leader, a catechist, a social worker, etc… and tell them ‘now you run the church with the help of the rest of the community, I am going to the next town.’ That’s what he did. Then, in the next town, he did the same thing. He would find a group of committed people, and ask them to run the church, while he went off to a third town. That’s how communities grew and developed in Corinth, in Philippi, in Ephesus, in Antioch, in Rome.
Successful modern auto companies today are doing the same thing. They are trying to breathe new life into their organizations by increasing the number of decision-making centers throughout the organization. They call it “Quality Circles.” The CEO of one auto company said: “I would like every worker – even the worker at the lowest level – to be involved in making decisions about improving the manufacture of a car. When that happens I can truly say we have a successful company.”
The message of Pentecost is clear. If you are making important decisions, it is wise to consult others. If you are a leader of a group, an organization, a committee or a ministry, it would be prudent to enlist the counsel of the members of your group. The challenge is to set things up in such a way that the organization or group can run as smoothly as possible in your absence. If we rely only on ourselves, the focus is on ourselves. If we rely on others, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to take effect in the lives of others as well as our own.
By Fr. John D’mello
St. Patrick Catholic Church
13591 Prosperity Farms Road
Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410