My sister and her family are camping this Memorial Day weekend,
and I went to see them for a little while Friday night.
Someone had given my 9-year-old nephew
his first model car kit—a ’77 Pontiac Firebird—
and he was sitting in the camper excited to get started.
It was a scene right out of my own childhood—maybe yours, too:
a cardboard box full of teeny tiny plastic parts,
an instruction sheet covered with complicated diagrams,
and a tube of sticky glue that promises to dry quickly…then never does.
In recent years,
we’ve heard the word “gathering” a lot in Catholic circles.
The Entrance Chant of the Mass
is commonly now called the “Gathering Song.”
New and renovated church buildings don’t have vestibules;
they have “gathering spaces.”
But if you read official Church documents,
the preferred word you find for the faithful who come to Mass
isn’t a “gathering,” but an “assembly.”
There’s a real difference between the two,
and it’s worthy of our reflection
as we celebrate Pentecost this Sunday.
What do we typically mean when we speak of a gathering?
I think of a get-together like many people will have for Memorial Day:
something casual and social—a party, a picnic, a barbeque.
People gather to mix and mingle.
There’s often no particular reason for it—
no agenda; nothing specific to accomplish.
Many are invited to a gathering;
whoever can make it, comes.
An assembly, however, is rather different, isn’t it?
I think of assemblies in the school gymnasium.
Maybe they’re different today, but when I was still in school
an assembly was always a rather orderly affair:
students were seated by class or homeroom,
there were places for the teachers
and the principal had a designated spot right up front.
An assembly is always called with a very particular purpose in mind.
At an assembly, your presence is expected
and your absence is always noted.
Can you begin see what difference it makes
that the Church calls this an assembly
rather than a gathering?
Like my nephew’s model car,
we as God’s people are “some assembly required.”
It’s not enough that we gather—
like so many parts collected in a single box.
The pieces have to be put together,
and that’s the specialty of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is given to us
like an instruction sheet for putting the Church together.
He is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father—
sent to guide us into all truth.
We’re not interchangeable parts—
a random gathering of individuals
who happen to pray in the same place at the same time.
No, we are members of one body—
each part, with its own gifts, absolutely vital to the whole.
We certainly see that at Mass:
the priest has his role,
the deacon, servers, readers, musicians,
and ministers of every sort have theirs,
as does the entire assembly of the faithful.
We know full well what confusion it causes
or inadvertently takes another person’s task.
And just as your own human body doesn’t function
simply because all your parts are in the right places
(as important as that may be),
so, too, forming the Body of Christ is more
than a matter of merely being in the right configuration.
Each one of us must fully and consciously do his or her part
as outlined in God’s original design.
It’s not enough to occupy a pew!
We need to know our purpose—as individuals and a whole—
and be clear about why we do what we do.
Now, the Holy Spirit isn’t only our instruction sheet;
he’s also the glue that holds all these many parts together.
On Pentecost, the Apostles were enabled
to speak to the people of many nations in one voice—
in a language everybody was able to understand.
What had previously been just a large and very diverse gathering
could now be assembled as one.
Consider how we recite the Creed at Mass.
Each part begins with, “I believe…”
Yes, it is my personal profession of faith,
assenting to all God has revealed.
But it is also the voice of the whole Church speaking as one—
the Church’s collective “I.”
You see, the “glue” of the Holy Spirit unities us,
without ever making us all the same.
A gathering of soloists, each doing their own thing,
is only able to make noise,
while a choir assembled to sing a common song, even in multiple parts,
can produce a most beautiful harmony.
we can be so much more than the sum of our parts.
This bond which the Holy Spirit forms
among the disciples of Jesus
is, of course, meant to hold us together
for more than just an hour each Sunday.
That’s why the Spirit is also something
that my nephew’s model car will never need: fuel.
The Holy Spirit is the power that moves things forward.
And fuel, to do its job, must burn.
Do we not find the Apostles marked by fire
after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit?
What about us? Do we allow the same Spirit to burn within us?
Would anybody look at us and say,
“There’s an assembly on fire for it’s faith”?
We live in a time that has developed
some incredible technologies for communication,
but we seem to have lost our knack
for building and sustaining authentic community.
We have more ways to connect,
yet are more isolated than ever.
I think of the race to the parking lot that follows most Masses.
The rush to get to the next thing
doesn’t exactly say that we’ve connected on a deep level—
that we’ve been fully assembled—does it?
If it were only because we were in such a hurry
to go out and spread the Gospel!
We must give the Holy Spirit permission to change us—
to glue us together following the pattern laid out by Christ
and then ignite us with his holy fire—
I suspect that model car kit
will occupy my nephew much of this holiday weekend.
I also suspect he won’t have a complete ’77 Firebird by Monday.
Some assembly will still be required.
Likewise, the Church is a work in progress—
assembled not just once, but Sunday after Sunday,
year after year, down through the ages.
While the Church was first begun on Pentecost,
she will only be fully assembled in heaven,
where the risen Christ has gone in triumph before us.
As members of his one Body,
let us each play our unique part, all the while in perfect unity,
that the Spirit sent out by the Lord
may accomplish his mission within, among, and through us,
and thus renew the very face of the earth.