Friday, May 29, 2009

Solemnity of the Pentecost

"Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth!"

These words from the Responsorial Psalm eloquently capture the atmosphere of joy and thanksgiving that characterizes our gathering today. It is the Solemnity of Pentecost, or the descent of the Holy Spirit upon God's People. On this day, we also commemorate the birth of the Church because this very occasion signalled the spreading of the Gospel of Christ among the nations under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost opened a new dimension in the life of the Church. With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles who were assembled with the Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the era of the Church began. The Holy Spirit brought together all humanity and formed them into one body, the Mystical Body of Christ. Likewise, the same Spirit became the guiding principle of the Church into all truth and unity in communion and in service. And through the centuries, the Church continues to exist and journey by the power of the Holy Spirit which bestows different gifts or "charisms" on each and every member of the Church in order to perpetuate the mission entrusted to her by Jesus Christ.

Moreover, Pentecost is also a time of commissioning. Jesus Christ sent by the Father was anointed by the Spirit and fulfilled His mission. But as He returned to the Father He entrusted His disciples with His own mission to continue. So, the disciples too received the Holy Spirit so that they could discharge their mission as Jesus did. Hence, this feast of Pentecost reminds us anew of our apostolic mission to proclaim the Good News of Salvation in words and in deeds. Eventually, this must lead us to the realization of the continual presence of the Holy Spirit not only in the Church but also in each and every one of us, as Christians and as members of the Church. We all know that the Holy Spirit was infused in all of us when we were baptized and especially when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation. This is the reason why we consider the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation as our personal pentecost.

Today, therefore, as we commemorate the day of Pentecost, we need to recall and renew the graces that come to us that moment when we received the Holy Spirit, graces which we perhaps long forgotten, graces which we have not used, and graces which we need today in our disunited and turbulent times.

"Receive the Holy Spirit!" Today, Jesus re-echoes his words to all of us. He offers us the Life-giving Spirit, who is the manifestation of the love between the Father and the Son. And this same Holy Spirit impels each and every one of us to manifest also our love through our sharing in the mission of the Church and our sharing in the communion which is inherent to the life of the Church.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Today we celebrate what is often called the birthday of the Church. We also bring to completion our celebration of the Paschal Mystery - the suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and coming of the Spirit on Jesus’ disciples.

Full of symbols

Most of us are more familiar with the account given in the Acts of the Apostles which is the First Reading of today’s Mass. In this account, the apostles are all gathered in one room at the time of the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which in the Jewish calendar traditionally falls 50 days after the Passover (or Easter in our Christian calendar). What follows is a scene filled with scriptural symbols. First, there is the sound of a mighty wind from heaven filling the whole house. The word in Greek for ’spirit’ and ‘wind’ is the same, so the wind clearly indicates the Spirit of God. Then there appeared tongues of fire which rested on the head of each one present. Again we have a symbol of God’s presence. We remember Moses speaking to God out of the bush which was on fire. We remember that, as the Israelites wandered through the desert, they were accompanied during the night by a pillar of fire - God was with them. All present are then filled with the Spirit. The sign of this presence is their ability to speak in different languages.
A message for all
Immediately, the apostles go out and begin to speak to the crowds of people. Jerusalem is filled with Jewish and convert visitors from all over the Mediterranean, from Asia Minor, Egypt and North Africa, even Rome, to celebrate the feast. These people are amazed to hear men, who are clearly relatively unlettered people from the province of Galilee, speaking to them in so many languages. The meaning is clear. What the apostles are preaching is a message destined for the whole world and not just for one people. A long time ago, as described in the book of Genesis, men tried to build a tower right up to heaven. For such arrogance they were punished by having to speak in a myriad of languages unintelligible to others. Humanity became deeply divided.Today, Babel is reversed. All are speaking and hearing the message with full understanding; people are being brought together in unity under God.
Receiving a mission
And then he gives their mission: “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” Their mission is the same as his; they are to continue doing what he did.Then he breathes on them. Breath symbolizes life. In the creation story, God breathed over the waters. He also breathed on to the clay of the ground and formed the first human being. Today he breathes on his disciples and gives them a new life, making them a new creation, giving them the life of his Spirit, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Then he goes on to say, “Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven…” This is no mere juridical authority in which people are declared free of guilt. It is much more than that. The disciples are being given the authority to bring people back to God, to reconcile those who have become separated from their God to renew their unity with the Beginning and the End of their lives. They also have the authority to decide which people are not yet ready for reconciliation.
Ultimate mission
This is ultimately the mission of the Church, to bring people to God. It is not primarily to make converts to Christianity or to build up the Church but to work with God in building the Kingdom. The Kingdom realized is the whole world acknowledging the lordship of God our Creator and people directing their lives to be one with him. This was the mission given by Jesus to his disciples and the same mission has been given to each one of us. So, as soon as a person becomes reconciled with God as Lord and Jesus as Savior, that person in turn accepts the obligation to become in turn a reconciler of others.
Special gifts
So, today’s Second Reading speaks of the gifts that the Spirit of God and Jesus gives to each one for this work. We are not all called to the same thing in the same way. “There are all sorts of service to be done but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them.” We all have exactly the same ultimate goal, energized from the same Source, but, with our different qualities of character and ability and depending on the environmental situation in which we find ourselves, we aim at that goal in different ways. Working together in different ways towards a common aim, Paul compares us to a human body. It consists of many parts but each part is ordered to the well-being of the whole. That should be a picture of the Christian community, of our diocese and of each parish and of each community within a parish. We are all equal in dignity - Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, man or woman, cleric or lay - but different in calling and manner of service.
On this feast of Pentecost, as we celebrate the formation and the mission of the whole Christian community, we also need to reflect on the particular role that God has for me, to reflect on the particular contribution that I can make to the corporate mission of the Church and of the particular group with which I am involved.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Have you ever wondered whether Jesus was really with his Church? Or have your ever doubted whether Jesus is indeed present in the Church? For example, when you see some Church leaders failed to live up to the teachings of Jesus, or when you see some members of the Church ignore needy brothers and sisters. Do you ever asked yourselves whether Jesus inspires the faithful to lead lives of love and generosity?

Let me share with you a true story that might help clarify the question about Jesus being with his Church. It is about a seven year-old boy who was taught by his father how to take a bus in going to his school from their house and in going back. One day, the father told his son that he will just accompany him going to the school but in going back to their house, the son would do it alone. So, the father explained very well to his son the route by showing all the landmarks and how may stops there are before arriving the final bus stop. So, when they arrived at the school, the father left him with the final instruction to follow all what he instructed.

The whole morning was for the boy full of worries, he has been thinking of how to go home all by himself. When the time came to go for home, the little boy took the bus, with some question in his mind whether if it was the right bus or not. But he continued, looking for all the landmarks and counting all thebus stops. But as the trip continues, the heart of the boy beats faster, especially when sometimes the bus took turns and he was not able to see the landmarks and was confused in his counting of the bus stops. Until he recognized familiar streets and buildings, and finally he reached the right stop. The boy stepped off the bus and he was so proud and happy. He had actually made it home all by himself.

What the boy didn't know, however, was that his father was also riding at the back seat of the same bus watching over him all the way. He had been with him every foot of the trip just in case he needed help.

The story somehow resemblances the story about Jesus and his Church. Before departing on the day of Ascension, Jesus gave his Church all the directions we needed to journey through life to our heavenly home and final destination. Like the little boy, however, we sometimes notice the Church taking unexpected twists and turns. When this happens, we should recall the promise of Jesus to be with us always. Even though we can't see him, we know he is there, ready to help us, just in case the need arises.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Where there is love, there is God

St. John says, “Wherever there is love, there is God”. He does not say, “Wherever there are Christians, there is God” or “Wherever there is a Christian church, there is God”. But, wherever there is a person filled with real agape-love for others, God is there. That is the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan. He was called “good” not because he was a religious person but because he reached out in compassionate love for someone who was supposed to be his enemy. Wherever in the world there is truth, compassion, justice, true freedom and peace, God is certainly there.
Jesus gives us just one commandment. He does not say, “Love Jesus or love God as I have loved you”. No, he says, “If you want to be my disciple, then you must love one another, as I have loved you.” If we really love our brothers and sisters, including strangers and even enemies, we do not have to worry if we love God. But, if we do not love everyone unconditionally, then there is no other way I can claim to love Jesus. I need to love those God loves (with agape) and God loves every single person without exception, even the most wicked.
In practice, of course, it is not always so easy. We need to learn slowly how to love people unconditionally. Our lower instincts and the prevailing culture around us think differently. Yet, we need to learn that the way of Jesus is in fact more in tune with our deeper nature. It is more human to be loving than hating (yet we often excuse our outbursts or anger or hatred as being “only human”). Deep down, we all want to love people. We do not like to hate people and hating does terrible things to our minds and our bodies. We like people to be our friends and do not like them to be our enemies.
Love is not a question of keeping rules and commandments. Love is a way of life. It is an internal attitude which influences every single thing we do and say and think.
The love of a Christian needs to be unconditional. Sometimes people will love us back; sometimes they will not. Sometimes, even though we want to love people, they may reject us. If they do reject us, we need not necessarily think that we have done wrong. When people cannot return genuine love, it is they who have the problem. Sad to say, not everyone is capable of loving. All the more reason why we need to reach out to them. People often learn to love by being loved.
The most important thing is that I am someone who really loves. When I genuinely love others, there will always be some who cannot love me back but there will be others who will really respond in love. And it may be that my love has empowered them to be loving too.
To be able to reach out in love and to experience being loved is God’s greatest grace.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Love in Action

Love is shown in ACTION, in DEEDS. Only when we are loving in deed can we know that Jesus lives in us.

For me to experience God’s love, others have to experience mine. And I cannot make an exception of even one person, because God doesn’t. And that is how we become “good”. We are good because God’s love and goodness is acting in and through us. We usually put it the other way: if I am first good, then God will love me. But God always loves me, whether I am good or bad. When I am good, it is because I allow his love to act in me; when I am bad, it is because I have blocked off his love.

We must abandon entirely the idea that we “earn” God’s love by our “good deeds”. God does not love me because I am good; I am good because God’s love is working in and through me to others.