homilies

Pentecost Sunday - Year C
John 20:19-23

Desire to do God's Will

Today is the Feast of Pentecost and all of us are familiar with what we just heard in today’s Gospel of St John. We know how the apostles were hiding behind doors for fear of being persecuted by the Jews. But, as soon as Jesus appeared to them and as soon as He showed them His hands and His side, they were all filled with joy and the peace of the Holy Spirit. I am sure all of us here would want to feel this deep joy and peace of the Holy Spirit which the apostles felt on Pentecost. As we each desire to have this experience, do you think Our Risen Lord would not want to grant us such desires? I am sure Our Lord wants to give us the fullness of the Holy Spirit. If this is so, we may then ask, “If the Lord wants to give us the full power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, why then are we not experiencing it?”

If we are colour blind, we should not blame the artist if we cannot see the beauty of his masterpiece. If we have ulcers in our mouth, we should not blame the cook if the food does not taste good. If we have a husband or wife who loves us deeply, but we are blind to their love because we have taken their love for granted, then we can only blame ourselves. In the same way, I believe it is not Our Lord who is keeping the Holy Spirit away from us, it is we who are not open enough to receive the Holy Spirit.

My sisters and brothers, in our daily lives we are often not aware that we are putting the blame on God for not experiencing Him enough. In fact, what often happens is that we ourselves are not really open and receptive enough to God who wants to give us the Holy Spirit. St Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises for retreats tells us that there are three types of people in this world. In simple terms he says that the first type are those who desire to do God’s will, but they keep on procrastinating. By this St Ignatius is referring to those of us who are constantly finding reasons to postpone doing God’s will. For example, we want to pray more, but every time we try to pray, there is something else to be done – there is housework to do, a good TV programme to watch or a phone call to make. And when we finally get to bed, we find ourselves too tired to pray. We then console ourselves by saying, “Well, I suppose God understands. I have been working hard all day for my family’s sake, or serving Him in the parish. So, I suppose being too tired to pray is only natural.” What happens next? The expected. His postponing goes on and on and in different areas of his life. Such postponing for this “first type of person” continues throughout his life. And at the time of his death, he has done nothing to do God’s will except postponing it all the time throughout his life.

The second type of person is better. They are those who desire to do God’s will, but are only prepared to do God’s will on their own terms. In other words, our love for God is conditional. We would for example tell ourselves, “I will serve the Church, go for Neighbourhood meetings and participate in Parish activities only when I am free; perhaps only after I retire from my work. or when my children grow up. Or I will make a big donation to the poor if my son passes his examinations with flying colours, or when I win the million dollar lottery. Or I will join the priesthood and religious life, after I have had enough fun in the world and travelled around enough.” At the time of his death, he too finds that he has not done God’s will at all. He was busy doing his own thing and had not put God first in his life.

The third type of person is the one who has the deepest desires and relationship with God. He desires to do God’s will unconditionally. His deepest desire in life is to do only what God wills of him; nothing else matters. For such a person, his main focus and motivation in life is to strive to serve and praise the Lord in every way. His whole life is grounded on God and lived for God. His daily challenges are really to live his life to the full by doing only what God wants of him.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, from the three types of persons that St Ignatius mentions, it is good to ask ourselves, “Which type of persons are we?” “Are we the first type who desires to love God, but stops only at the desiring stage because we constantly postpone our love for God throughout our life? Or are we the second type of person who loves God conditionally and only on our own terms, time and ways? Or are we the third type of person who loves God unconditionally and fully at all times?” If we belong to those who constantly postpone our love for God or those who loves God conditionally, then I am afraid we are unlikely to experience the full power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts today on this Feast of Pentecost. This is so because if our love for God is unimportant and conditional, then we are going to be like the blind man who cannot appreciate the full beauty of the master piece of the artist, or the person who has ulcers in his mouth who cannot appreciate the gourmet food of the cook, or the husband or wife who cannot experience the deep love of the spouse because he or she has taken the spouse’s love for granted. It is not the artist, or the cook or our loving spouse that is the problem. It is us who are the cause of our problems. And thus, it is not God who does not want to give us the fullness of His Holy Spirit, but we who are not open and receptive enough to what God wants to give us.

My sisters and brothers, for those of us who love God unconditionally even though we know we are weak, I am sure we have no doubts that God’s Spirit will certainly touch and fill our hearts in a special way today on this Feast of the Pentecost. In fact, for those of us who have an ongoing intimate relationship with the Lord, celebrating today’s feast is like celebrating an anniversary. If we truly love our spouse, or our parents or our priesthood and religious vocation, then the natural thing for us to do is to celebrate and renew what we cherish when celebrating anniversaries.

Celebrating today’s feast of the Pentecost can be seen as celebrating the first time when we were deeply touched by the Spirit of our Lord. The Holy Spirit could have touched us deeply at the time of our Baptism, or Confirmation or even at the time when we were converted back into the Church. During such deep experiences of the Holy Spirit, we would have felt totally transformed into a new person by the Spirit. Such deep experiences are milestones in our faith journey. St Ignatius would advise us that we keep these invaluable experiences constantly fresh in our minds, especially when we are feeling spiritually down. And, on such an important Feast of Pentecost, we should specially recall, renew and re-experience these significant events in our lives.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, our Risen Lord truly wants to give us the fullness of His Holy Spirit. We should not hold back, place obstacles or love God conditionally through living our faith half-heartedly, like those of the first type and second type of persons that St Ignatius spoke of. If we truly want to feel the fullness of the Holy Spirit within us, then we must decide decisively once and for all, to live the life of the third type of person where our love for God is totally unconditional and truly grounded in Him. And in choosing to commit ourselves to God so fully many of us may need God’s graces to heal us of our blindness, our ulcers and our un-Christian attitudes like taking our loved ones for granted and the like. However, what is important for us today on this Feast of Pentecost is that we not only desire to do God’s will and live our lives in His ways, but that we decide once and for all, to love God unconditionally, like the third type of person.

Is this possible? We may ask. If we rely solely on our own strength and determination, then living the third type of person, will not be possible. But, if we choose to rely on God’s strength, then such total transformation will certainly be possible.

Perhaps, some of us present here are still doubting whether it is really possible to love God unconditionally by choosing to live out the third type of person. Let me assure you there are many of us here who willingly and truly live our lives such committed lives. Believe me when I say that I personally know of many such wonderful persons who are fully focused on doing God’s will in everything they do, whether they are lay, priests or religious. I believe such persons are not rare. In fact, I can name quite a number of them whom I know personally in our parish alone.

As I conclude, let us remind ourselves that as we are each challenged by the Feast of Pentecost today to become the third type of person, let us also remember that to love God unconditionally does not mean that God expects us to be perfect, pure and sinless. God knows that we are sinners. God knows that we are frail and weak in our own ways. When the apostles were hiding in fear from the Jews who were probably out to persecute them, these apostles were not cowards or faithless. They appeared to be cowards and faithless only because they were trying to struggle on their own. But, with the power of the Holy Spirit we know they became fearless. A Jesuit once wrote,

Alone we are only a spark, but in the Spirit we are a fire. Alone we are only a string, but in the Spirit we are lyres. Alone we are only a feather, but in the Spirit we are a wing".