Today as we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, we are celebrating the birthday of the Church. When the apostles received the Holy Spirit that appeared in “tongues of fire,” they were transformed. Their fearfulness for the safety of their own lives was transformed into a fearlessness that braved death joyfully and a selflessness that missioned them to bring the Good News of Salvation to all the ends of the earth.
Today, we have more than two billion Christians around the world. All of us here today are the fruits of the explosion of the power of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles in the Upper room on Pentecost. We are the beneficiaries of the great missionary zeal of the apostles, disciples and the believers who have over the past 2,000 years did all they could to pass on the faith and spread the faith to all parts of the world. Without them we would not have known the faith and would not be Christians today.
As we are deeply grateful to these courageous and selfless missionaries, we too are deeply grateful to the families, priests and religious who have preserved the faith and the many thousands who have died in the faith and for their faith as martyrs. If all these people did not treasure the faith and kept it alive through their daily living, in spite of their struggles in life, the Holy Spirit would not have been able to work through them to hand on the faith to us today – without them we will not be here today in this Eucharistic celebration.
As we acknowledge with deep gratitude of how blessed we are to have received the Good News of Salvation from these people, we are immediately also aware that each of us now have the grave and great responsibility to hand on this faith to our children and also to spread it to all peoples, so that the faith can continue to be passed down through the centuries. We pray that in the hundreds of years to come, that even greater number of Christian communities and ideally all peoples in the world would pray, with deep gratitude to us for having handed on the faith to them in tact.
The obvious question that we each need to ask ourselves today, (2,000 years after the birth of the Church), is “How can you and I and as a community of believers preserve and spread the faith?”
There is the true story of a Dominican priest, Gabrielle Kelly, who shared about how coming from the comfort of a first-world country, he exposed himself to the poor in a slum city in India so that he would be more conscientised by the plight of the poor and perhaps can do something for them. This is what he said, “Around noon we came upon a vacant lot. It served as a rubbish dumping place. There sat a woman at the edge of a heap of rubbish, under the blazing sun, hair matted with sweat and dust, intent upon her squalid task, salvaging, piece by filthy piece, bits of plastic from the foul-smelling heap. The stench of refuse-filled open drains hung in the hot air. This was the place of the woman’s ‘employment’, where she worked for her daily rice. We passed close by and I saw her face. What was she thinking? Appalled, I thought, “She is somebody’s family, she could be my own sister!” Suddenly it hit me: “She is my sister!”
This happened a few days after Pentecost . . . it began to dawn on me as I asked myself, “Wasn’t that encounter with the woman at the dumping site an experience of the Holy Spirit acting within me? Wasn’t that confronting insight a small ray of the Pentecost experience?
In Fr Gabrielle’s exposure, he first saw the woman in the dumping site as a poor person, then he was moved with compassion to sense the pain and the suffering of the women and also desired to do something to help the poor. But, most profoundly of all, Fr Gabrielle was deeply touched by the Holy Spirit to see and realise that that woman was not just another woman, but in a real way, she indeed “is his sister.” This woman must be his sister if we are all sons and daughters of God the Father.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, likewise, on this Feast of Pentecost, we are each challenged by the Holy Spirit to see and recognise that each of us, and indeed all other people are also our brothers and sisters in Christ, with God as our Father. We are call to allow the Holy Spirit to change our perception of the reality of the people we relate to daily, and the peoples in the world.
Like Fr Gabrielle, once we are able to see the reality of others as our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will then be able to undergo the different stages of conversion of our lives. We will be able to see and feel the compassion the different needs of others, as God would Will of us, beginning with our own families.
To be able relate to people in this way is to put into practice Jesus’ words of today’s Gospel when He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments . . . and anyone who loves me and keep my word, My Father will love him . . . and He will send you the Advocate, the Holy Spirit to teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said.”
Some of us may be asking ourselves, “How can we love our neighbours as Christ has taught us in today’s Gospel?” If this is in your mind then, let us remind ourselves that these teachings of Jesus have already been concretely and explicitly expressed in the third and fourth dimensions of our Parish Goal on pages 5 and 6 of the document that were distributed to you.
In the third dimension of our Parish Goal, we stressed that as Catholic Christians, we are each challenged to reach out to the “larger families” of people who are beyond the confines and comforts of our own individual and family needs, as we all belong God as His sons and daughters. We explained that these “larger families” can be broadly categorized into seven groups. They are as follows:
We are first challenged to participate in the different Parish ministries so that our faith experiences will be enriched beyond the confines and comforts of our own homes.
Our second challenge in our Parish is to fulfil our obligation to join Neighbourhood groups. This is so as to get to know and support our brothers and sisters who live in our neighbourhood and experience a more cohesive and collaborative community.
Thirdly, as we are aware that about 90% of our Parishioners are non-ministry members and they only attend Sunday and Feast Day Masses, we too are obliged to encourage them to participate more fully in our Parish community events in different ways.
The fourth group is the absent members of our parish. They are especially the youth and young adults who may no longer come to Sunday and Feast Day Masses. They may have joined other Christian groups or they could have left the practice of the Christian faith altogether. Whatever their reasons, we should come up with creative ways of trying to draw these brothers and sisters of ours back to our Parish community.
The fifth group refers to parishioners who feel marginalised and “left out” of our Parish activities and are not welcomed into our Parish Masses, Ministries, events and the like. We have to be on the “look-out” for such persons and not leave this responsibility solely to the “Welcoming Ministry” of our Parish.
The sixth group is our Christian brothers and Sisters of other denominations. Here we are each challenged to build greater unity and peace with our Christian friends and join in the Ecumenical gatherings and activities.
The seventh group is the Believers of Other Religions. We are challenged to reach out to Muslims, Buddhist, Taoists, Hindus, Sikhs, Bahai and the like in inter-religious events.
While all these seven groups form the third dimension of our Parish goal, the fourth dimension of the Parish Goal is the Social Mission goal which challenges each of us to reach out in support and service to our brothers and sisters who are the poor and needy of the world. These people are those who are aged, sick, exploited, the destitutes who do not have basic necessities of life like water, food, shelter, and education which we take for granted. These millions of people are also our brothers and sisters, if we believe that God is our Father.
As I conclude, let us remind ourselves that: if the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost is to transform our hearts, then, like Fr Gabrielle, our hearts must first be open to the Holy Spirit of Pentecost to help us recognise and accept each other as brothers and sisters in Christ Our Lord.
We must also challenge ourselves to deepen our desires to want the Spirit to use us to preserve and spread the faith that we have received from our Christian brothers and sisters of the past and many of whom have been martyred for their faith.
Let us take our responsibilities as Christian more seriously and let us allow the Spirit of Pentecost to transform us to live a more active Catholic Christian faith. There is much we can do for God. Thus, may I suggest that as we return to our homes, each of us read and reflect on the third and fourth dimensions of our Parish Goal and ask ourselves, “How is the Holy Spirit urging me to live my faith more fully and faithfully”? If we can do this sincerely and seriously, over time, I am sure the Holy Spirit of Pentecost will transform us radically and form us into happy and fulfilling Christians that God wants us to be and become
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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