In Pope Francis’ recent visit to Syria, he condemned the brutal murder of a Jesuit, Fr Francis van der Lugt, by a masked gunman, some two months ago in a monastery. He said, "His brutal slaying filled me with profound pain and made me think again about the many people who are suffering and dying in that martyred country, my beloved Syria. . . No more war! No more destruction!
A few days ago, we received confirmation from the Jesuit Refugee Service International Director, Peter Balleis SJ, that five days ago, its country director, Fr Alexis Prem Kumar SJ, was kidnapped by a group of unidentified men in western Afghanistan. Fr Prem, an Indian national, Jesuit, had accompanied teachers on a visit to a JRS-supported school for the returnee refugees in Sohadat township, 34 km from the city of Herat. He was kidnapped from the school as he was about to return to Herat.
Fr Alexis Prem Kumar,SJ with refugee children in a JRS School
Gordon Pinto, our JRS Singapore team tells me, “When Fr Prem visited us in Singapore in 2011, we remember him mentioning that he was aware of the dangers but, as a Jesuit priest, he believed very strongly that it is God’s Will that is sent to Afghanistan.”
The JRS is an international Catholic organisation with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of forcibly displaced persons. With its headquarters based in Rome and with teams working in more than 50 countries around the world, JRS provides education, health, social and other services to approximately 950,000 refugees and internally displaced persons, more than half of whom are women. JRS services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the evils in the world that destroys precious human lives and the beauty of God’s creation in the world is a reality that you and I and all of us cannot ignore. This is because regardless of who is being tortured or killed, they are still human beings. And as we are all created as children of God, every single soul that exists and is born into this world is your brother and sister, and my brother and sister. This is precisely why Fr Francis died, Fr Prem is kidnapped, and why thousands of JRS team members are reaching out to refugees in the world.
Afghans who fled their villiages at a Refugee Camp in Herat
You and I are called, by the Holy Spirit of the Risen Christ on this Feast of Pentecost to make a decisive difference to these millions of people in the world. As a Parish family, through the Social Mission dimension of our Parish, we support the poor and needy as a community.
However, our concern must be challenged further. Your heart and my heart must be moved and affected personally, beginning with the aged, the sick, the depressed in our homes and in our country, and indeed to all suffering peoples in the world. Perhaps, this poem of Fr McCarthy that I have adapted may help us feel more affectively towards those who are suffering.
A child picks up a small bird
that has fallen from its nest.
He makes his hand into a nest
to keep it from falling and
doing further damage to itself.
He does not make his hand into a cage,
for he has no intention of possessing the bird
or turning it into a pet.
Having reassured the bird that it is in safe hands,
he slowly raises it up and up.
Then, when the moment is right, he releases it.
and he is happier still
when the wounded bird is able to fly off.
That is what love does.
Holy Spirit, on this Pentecost Day,
You released the apostles from the prison of the upper room,
and they went forth with courage to do the work of Jesus.
Kindle within us the fire of Your Love,
and in our humble ways,
may we renew some small corner of the world
and bring the “Peace” You want every person to have.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when Jesus was captured and crucified, His apostles fled in fear for their lives; like the bird in the poem, they too had “fallen from the nest” of their security in the Lord. However, in today’s Gospel, we hear of how Jesus our Risen Lord found them and “reassured them” by showing them His hands and His side, and greeted them with the message of “Peace be with you.”
In His greeting of “Peace” Our Risen Lord was extending to His disciples, His forgiveness and reconciling love, for having deserting Him when He was arrested. With such forgiving Love, the disciples were filled with great joy. And so, the great joy of the disciples was two-fold: first the forgiveness they received from Jesus and second the confirmation of the Good News that Jesus has truly Risen and they now see Him personally in His Risen state.
Today, as the Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost, we are celebrating the birthday of the Church. We are celebrating the Day of Pentecost when the Jesus’ disciples’ hearts were set ablazed with the great joy and love of the Holy Spirit which so filled the disciples with great zeal and courage that they proclaimed the Good News of Salvation of Christ to all the ends of the earth.
Regardless of the challenges and threats they faced in their mission, they were fearless; ten out of eleven apostles died a martyr’s death. The Holy Spirit that gave birth to the Church through the apostles is also the same Holy Spirit that we received during the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Thus, a good question that we need to reflect on today is not so much whether we will face the martyrdom of our faith, but how can we “die” to ourselves, in the living of our faith daily. In other words, you and I are challenged to ask ourselves, “How can I love God selflessly, courageously and zealously in my daily living so that the Holy Spirit of Pentecost will also be able to use me to draw other people closer to God regardless of the price I may have to pay.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the basic question in all of these is to ask ourselves very honestly, “Do I really love Jesus? If so, how much do I really love Jesus? “How much sacrifice am I willing to make to show that I truly love Jesus?!
This is not an abstract question because if we are living according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, then we would be experiencing the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Two of these gifts are: the gift of wisdom and courage to live the faith. “How much of these gifts are we experiencing daily?”
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the roots of the tree, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit are, the fruits of the tree. If we are led by the Spirit and open to God’s gifts, then the fruits of the Holy Spirit will also be evident in our lives. In St Paul’s in his letter to the Galatians 5:22 as the “fruits” of the Spirit are mentioned as virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. How many of these are part of our daily living?
As time during this homily does not permit me to reflect on each of these virtues and fruits of the Holy Spirit, let us, you and I be challenged on this Feast of Pentecost to be more resolved to live a more Christ-centred life.
Let us open our hearts to be guided, enlightened, empowered and be more fully renewed by the Holy Spirit today! Not tomorrow, because tomorrow may not come . . .
And as we are inspired by the Jesus’ disciples and Fr Francis van der Lugt, who died for their faith, and as we pray for the safety of Fr Prem, let us be reminded that the degree to which we love Jesus is the degree to which we dare to say to Jesus, “Lord, I am willing to love all the people you place in my life, regardless of how difficult it is to love them, or how remote they are to me . . . as refugees, or other poor, needy and marginalised in the world . . . they are all your children . . . we are all your children . . . give us the wisdom to love them as Jesus has shown us . . . and help us to make a real difference to the world . . . every day that you bless me in my life on earth . . . let me never take Your love for granted . . . This is the special gift of conversion and renewal that God wants to give to you and me today on this Feast of Pentecost! What is your response and my response?
(cf. poem adapted from: Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year C, Flor McCarthy,SDB, Dominican Pub.; Dublin, 1994: p. 105.)
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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