Homilies

Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-11; 1 Peter 12:3-7,12-13; Gospel of John 20:19-23
Our Fears?  God Will Free and Transform Us?

Today, as we celebrate the solemnity of Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the beginning of our Church after the Resurrection of Jesus.  This first and original church is the Christian community of the apostles who were all totally transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed on them.  Up until then, since the death of Jesus, they were all huddled up and hiding behind locked doors; fearing that if they were to be discovered by the Jewish authorities, they would all be killed, like their Master, Jesus. 

The “fears” of the apostles were all very understandable as their lives were being threatened.  The “crime” that the apostles were considered to have committed is simply to have been the disciples of Jesus, who was crucified for proclaiming the Truth that that He is the Son of God.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, do we believe in miracles?  Have we experienced miracles in our lives?  If some of us are tempted to say, “no” or “not sure”, then such a response would likely indicate that we have not been conscious enough to notice them.  The truth of our faith is that as Christians, we should be experiencing “miracles” daily in our lives.  Are you surprised by this statement?

When we speak about a “miracle” we understand it as God’s intervention in our lives like: God healing us of our serious illness like 4th stage cancer, or suddenly God converting the heart of someone from being a great sinner to a saint, or from being an atheist to a fervent believer; or still perhaps God protecting me from serious injuries in an accident, or God giving me the job that I do not deserve so that I am able to provide for my family and the like.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, if we reflect on our lives more attentively and deeply, I believe all of us here too would be able to come up with many examples of miracles that we have experienced.  These miracles that are happening daily in our lives, are God’s ways of daily intervening and caring for us at all times and He never fails to provide and love us.  This indeed is how God Loves us: unconditional and infinitely compassionate, regardless of whether we are grateful to Him or not.   If a child is not conscious of the deep love that his mother has for him, and takes for granted that everything that he receives whether food, clothing, education or affection, we know that the reality of the mother’s deep and sacrificial love for her child remains and is not diminished.
However, like the apostles, if our minds and hearts are open and receptive to the Spirit in the daily living of our lives, then the power of the Holy Spirit will be able to transform the “fears” of our lives into a fearlessness, courage and commitment that the world cannot give or take away. 

But, for this to happen, all of us who have received the fullness of the Holy Spirit, during our Sacrament of Confirmation, must consciously on this Solemnity of Pentecost, and in the coming days, reawaken and renew our relationship with the Holy Spirit that is residing in our hearts daily.  And when this happens, like the apostles in the upper room, in time to come, our lives would surely be transformed and our faith be strengthened in ways that we would be happy to discover.   We would also surely experience the joy of being and living with Jesus, personally and intimately.  But, there will only be a harvest, if we begin to labour with love in small ways, daily and consciously. 

There is a story of a squirrel who once asked a wise old owl what was the weight of a single snowflake. "Why, a snowflake?  It weighs nothing at all,” the owl answered.  The squirrel then went on to tell the owl about a time when he was resting on a branch of a maple tree, counting each snowflake that came to rest on the branch until he reached the number 1,973,864.  Then, the squirrel added, “With the settling of the very next flake, the whole branch suddenly cracked and snapped, and I went crashing down on to the ground.”  The wise owl then had to admit to the squirrel that indeed, every single snow flake is after all not just another flake, but that it weighs something, and not nothing. 

In other words, my brothers and sisters in Christ, in the squirrel story, we are each urged never to take for granted our daily, little efforts and our small ways of reawakening and renewing our relationship with God.  It is through such small and seemingly insignificant ways that the power, light and love of the Holy Spirit who resides in us; over time, like each snowflake would gather into a heap full that can break a heavy branch; and likewise break a sinful tendency in our hearts and a behaviour or negative attitude in our life.  For indeed, with the Holy Spirit, Jesus promises us that, nothing is impossible; no love that longs to grow can be suppressed, no love that we long to share can be hindered, and no fulfilment in life that God wants to give us can be destroyed.

There is a true story of a young girl by the name of Emmanuel who when she was studying in Paris, began mixing with girls who were using spirit boards and Ouija boards.  They did it for hours every week.  It was a fascination for them.  After some time of being engaged in such activities, Emmanuel began to have restless nights and lose her sleep.  Yet, she continued to do so for two years, until she left the boarding school, and returned to India.

There in India, when Emmanuel was setting up some business she was asked to go to an astrologer to see if the business plans were good.  The astrologer interpreted everything in Emmanuel’s life as if it were all controlled by the movement of the planets.  Emmanuel shared that the astrologer sowed seeds of despair in her heart because he implied that everything in her life was written in the sky instead of being a gift from God, which cut her off from the love and care and tenderness of God.  

Months after seeing the astrologer, Emmanuel experienced things she had never before experienced; nightmares, words of hatred against her family and friends, she wasn’t attracted by food any more, and was filled with anxieties.  She even lost the desire to continue living.  

One day, Emmanuel’s sister invited her to join a Catholic prayer group.  Her sister said that everything in the Acts of the Apostles about the power of the Holy Spirit is real, and that the miracles and the coming of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit is also happening in our times and lives.  The next day was Pentecost Sunday. Emmanuel went to the prayer group and noticed that the young people there were so full of joy and the Holy Spirit.  She said there was something heavenly about them, but sitting beside them was like hell beside heaven. She felt imprisoned. She remembered a prayer she had said a long time ago when she was young; she had prayed that if she were to meet people like those in the Acts of the Apostles, she would go with them and give herself to God fully.  And so, even as she felt that her prayers have been answered, yet she told herself, it seems it’s too late to change.

However, during the prayer meeting Emmanuel was assured that Jesus through His cross and resurrection has the power to heal her and make her joyful and happy and peaceful again; as promised in the Gospel.  When she opened her heart to the Holy Spirit, she felt like rivers of cleansing water going through her. In this she experienced her first deep encounter with the living Jesus.  Then she made a decisive decision to give her life fully to loving God; whatever this may be.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves today, on this Solemnity of Pentecost, that without the Holy Spirit we would have no purpose and meaning in our lives, as Emmanuel’s life has shown us.  Without the Holy Spirit we will lock ourselves into our narrow and self-centred needs of life, but with the Light of the Holy Spirit we will be able to reach out in mission to others.  Indeed, without the Holy Spirit we would end up returning to the Upper Room like the apostles, in fear and anxiety, but with the Holy Spirit we, like the apostles, we would surely experience the joy again, the joy promised the Last Supper (Jn 16:20-24). 

And as St John’s Gospel tells us, “they have wept and mourned while the world rejoiced (16:20).  Now their sorrow has been turned into joy, a joy that no one will take from them (16:22) because it is rooted in a victory over all that could threaten to destroy it.”  Let us also not forget that even after Our Lord had Risen from His Death, He continues to bear the wounds that were inflicted upon Him.  It is for this reason that on the Easter candle too “bears” the wounds of Jesus these are prominently displayed.  And, this reminds us of the reality that forever the victorious divine love is also a vulnerable love, yet a love that imparts a peace and joy that the world cannot give.

 

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
Cf: Adapted from illustrations of the homilies of Pentecost of: Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp, Fr Tommy Lane

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