During the Easter season, which formally came to a close this past Sunday at Pentecost, we traditionally read from the Acts of the Apostles—the often zany, always exhilarating stories of the growth of the early Church. It tells the story of a group of people who went from a handful of scared men and women, locked in an upper room in Jerusalem after the terrifying apparent disaster of the Crucifixion, to the abrupt, indeed miraculous, transformation of these disciples into cannot-be-contained missionaries for the Gospel, leading to the eventual conversion of nothing less than the Roman Empire, at the time the more or less “ends of the earth.”
In particular, I think about the long, and utterly unpredictable, line that connects that first handful of disciples’ belief in the resurrected Christ, to my grandparents’ belief to my parents’ and to mine. In some way, I believe in Jesus Christ, not just because the first disciples came to believe, but because after they came to believe, that belief drove them out of that locked room in Jerusalem and impelled them to share their faith to anyone who would listen—promising and unpromising audiences alike. And the Church, in every one of her evolutions and movements ever since, has digested and so re-enlivened this missionary impulse. Pope Francis’ first exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” is saturated with this apostolic drive not to turn inward in our belief, but to allow our faith to transform us continually into a disposition of evangelization.
I guess, in a blog about a 30,000-mile trans-national bus tour, you can see where this is going! The good news of the work of the Holy Spirit in America’s Catholic schools is – like every other message of the Holy Spirit—meant to be shared. So that, in the sharing, the entire community is uplifted and expanded.
What I love most about my experience on the ACE bus tour, as I reflect on it through the lens of the Acts of the Apostles, is that Acts is not a story of the apostles simply bringing the new life and encouragement of the Holy Spirit to others who need it. Rather, Acts is filled with story after story of the apostles coming to recognize, and so coming to be stretched and encouraged and ultimately emboldened by the presence of the Spirit at work everywhere they went. It is a story that explains why the Church must always be missionary—it is in the coming together of people who believe, of people in whom the Spirit is doggedly at work, that the Church is continually re-energized and grown.
As a believer, as an advocate of the mission of Catholic schools, as a priest, my vocation has been so enlivened and enriched, stretched, encouraged and re-invigorated by the so-palpable presence of the Holy Spirit in the leaders, teachers, students, and Catholic school supporters we had the privilege of meeting at each of our stops. So many who believe in, and have given their lives to, and are filled with evident joy by, the mission of our Catholic schools. I return more convinced than ever—this is a message that must constantly impel us outward, so that more and more people can see the good news that Catholic schools have to share.