Inauguration of the Year of Grace 2012-13

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Pentecost Sunday, 27 May 2012
Inauguration of the Year of Grace 2012-13

When we stop to think, the followers of Jesus had to live through some very difficult times, beginning with the events leading up to his death on the Cross. Things had clearly not gone the way that they hoped or intended. Then came the wonderful news that Jesus had risen, and before long they were back in his presence once again. But that experience could not last either. On the day of the Ascension, he left them for good. But he still reassured them that he would be providing for them, as they took up the task of being the witnesses of Jesus, as we say, to the ends of the earth.

The provision that he made was to make available the Holy Spirit to them. The Holy Spirit would be their Advocate, helping them to better understand the message they needed to impart, and to bring about forgiveness. Both these gifts are promised in the Gospel passage today. But there was still some healing to be done – after all they had not performed very well in the final phases leading up to the death of Jesus, and there was still considerable opposition out there in the community as well.

The first reading tells us just how clearly things changed – they had the courage to do out into the market place and confront the people gathered, who remarkably were able to understand the message they were delivering, even though there was wide representation of people from different nationalities and language groups. They were starting afresh with Christ, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The burden of their earlier behaviour had been lifted, and the gift that came to them was the gift of peace. They were able to make a new start, to begin again.

From time to time, it happens that we need to go back to our origins, and to make a new start, to begin afresh. In recent years, the Bishops of Australia began to feel that something like that was necessary in the Australian Church. From that followed the idea of having a “Year of Grace” which is beginning throughout Australia on today’s feast, the Feast of Pentecost, a very appropriate choice to make a new start.

The inspiration for this new beginning comes from the writings of Pope John Paul II and in particular a letter he wrote at the conclusion of the Jubilee Year of 2000, and marking the commencement of the third millennium. The Bishops of Australia have called us to celebrate a Year of Grace, so that like the disciples at the first Pentecost, we commit ourselves to start afresh from Christ.

The title, the Year of Grace, has been chosen to highlight for us that we are the beneficiaries of many gifts from God, given to us without any merit on our part. Grace is the word we use to express a favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, partakers in the life of God and destined for eternal life. It is easy for us to forget these dimensions to our lives as baptised Christians, as we go about our lives in a world where this kind of language is now very foreign.

One of the principal concerns of the bishops is that Jesus has been relegated in many circles, to the position of being just an important figure of the past. Pope Benedict said something similar just two days ago when speaking to the Bishops of Italy. He went on to say that we cannot relaunch missionary activity without renewing the quality of our faith and prayer – we will not be able to win others to the Gospel unless we ourselves first return to a profound experience of God.

In addition to events and celebrations which may bring us all together, it is important for us to take our own time to contemplate the face of Jesus,  and to ask once again the question “Who is Jesus for me?”

In the gospel of St. John, there is a background almost of a trial in a court, with the arguments presented in favour of Jesus and the attitudes of those who were his opponents at the time. What we celebrate at Pentecost is the coming of the Advocate, the one who enables the apostles to be witnesses to the claims of Jesus in the world. As we know, before the coming of the Spirit, the apostles were incapable of acting as witnesses – they were frightened men who were too confused and too hurt to act as effective witnesses on behalf of Jesus.
That all changed on Pentecost Sunday and with the help of the Spirit, they were given the gift of new courage. Their courtroom become the market-place of the world and they were willing to testify to the truth of Jesus claims to anyone who was prepared to listen.

In a real sense, the case is not closed and it never will be. There will always be opposition to face; there will always be a jury to persuade. The Spirit continues to be the Advocate, calling on successive generations of Christians to come forward as witnesses in the case.

We are the witnesses to continue the case on behalf of Jesus. Whether we are successful will not depend so much on the quality of our information but on the quality and courage of our lives. At the conclusion of his gospel, John finishes his presentation saying that he has advanced the cause of Jesus “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this, you may have life in his name.”

The Year of Grace is designed to get this message back as the centre of our attention. Many times during the next twelve months we will have the chance to pray the Year of Grace Prayer, that our hearts and minds may be attuned to the presence of the Holy Spirit so that our Church may be transformed, our relationships healed and our nation grow in Compassion and Justice. It is now time to conclude the planning and preparation, it is time to begin.