PENTECOST SUNDAY: CELEBRATING PENTECOST IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC

 

The world continues to reel from the negative impact of the covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic jolted and disrupted our “normal” life and caused unprecedented distress and hardships.

In the midst of the pandemic, we celebrate the Pentecost which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, the Blessed Virgin Mary and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1–31). Pentecost also jolted and disrupted the disciples and ushered the beginning of the church. Pentecost transformed the followers of Christ from timid and fearful to bold and daring disciples.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down “like a strong driving wind,” and appeared as “tongues of fire”, and finally rested on each of the disciples. This emboldened the disciples and gave them the gift to speak in every language of all the people gathered at Jerusalem during that day.

The coming of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning of the church. Pentecost is our birthday as a church. This means that the church, as St. Luke has shown in the whole Acts of the Apostles, is a spirit-led church. Actually, the Acts of the Apostles could have been more appropriately called the Acts of the Holy Spirit: It was always the spirit who had the final say where the early church should go, what the church should do. In every major decision, the early church would listen to the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit the church could have fallen apart a long time ago.

Today the Spirit continues to lead us, to guide us. to shake us out of our complacencies, to disturb us out of our passiveness.  But do we listen? Are we like the early church who always sought the direction of the Holy Spirit, who discerned always where the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives and work?

In today’s chaotic world stricken by the covid-19 pandemic, the temptation for us and the church is to freeze in fear and be content solely with our own security and self-preservation. Another temptation is to go back to the old normal after the pandemic is over as if nothing happened and continue to rely on our human capacity and wisdom. These times calls for more solidarity of all people and discernment and reliance on the surprises and creativity of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit re-created the disciples. The Holy Spirit set the disciples on fire. Compare the apostles before and after Pentecost, oh what a difference the Spirit makes. From timid they became bold, from lethargic they became energetic  and from fearful they became courageous – all for the sake of the good news of Jesus.  As Pope Francis has said about the church of Pentecost, “She is a Church that doesn’t hesitate to go out, meet people, proclaim the message that’s been entrusted to her, even if that message disturbs or unsettles the conscience.”[1]

For all the chaos and suffering brought by the pandemic, there is hope. But only if we become bold in transforming our lives and listen to the promptings of the spirit. As Pope Francis reminds us, this contagion of infection with the Coronavirus can lead to a contagion of fear, of isolation, of ‘self-protection’. He calls us to welcome instead the ‘contagion’ of the Holy Spirit – a contagion of prayer and service, of solidarity and welcome.” We need discernment and openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Where is the movement of the spirit in this time of pandemic? How can we listen and discern the promptings of the spirit in this time of pandemic?

Despite the suffering and death caused by the pandemic, God will re-create the world through the Holy Spirit. “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Isaiah 43:18, Isaiah 43:19, Revelation 21:5, Isaiah 65:17, Ephesians 2: 15). As in the first Pentecost, we have in need now more of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In a prayer in preparation for the Second Vatican Council in 1962, Pope John XXIII prayed, “Renew Your wonders, O God, in our day — as in a new Pentecost!”

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

 


 

[1] Pope Francis, By the Power of the Spirit the Church Astounds & Confuses,” Angelus, June 8, 2014

6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: THE ABIDING PRESENCE OF CHRIST

christ10
I will not leave you orphans

In today’s pandemic, one of the most ab/used word is social distancing. While “social distancing” is essential to help avoid getting sick and “flatten the curve” in the spread of COVID-19, it may be sending the wrong message and contributing to social isolation. What the pandemic has actually done is not separation and isolation but has heightened the need for support and connection with one another. For example, we siblings, 6 of us, have not physically reunited for a long time, but thanks to the pandemic, we had a long and spirited conversation via zoom just recently. We do not actually want to distance from one another but to build solidarity in this time of unprecendented suffering. Thus, the conversation is shifting from “social distancing” towards “physical distancing.”

One of the best song that expresses this irony is Joey Ayala’s “Walang Hanggang Paalam” (Never Ending Farewell). The haunting and melancholic melody truly expresses the pain and sadness of separation while at the same declares the undying unity between lovers. The lyrics are so beautiful that you would think it was a poem before it was a song. The chorus expresses the intense tension between physical separation and unbreakable emotional and spiritual bond:

Ang pag-ibig natin ay (Our love)
Walang hanggang paalam (is an everlasting farewell)
At habang magkalayo (And while we are far)
Papalapit pa rin ang puso (Our hearts draws near)
Kahit na magkahiwalay (We may be apart)
Tayo ay magkasama (Yet we are together)
Sa magkabilang dulo ng mundo (On the opposite ends of the world)

This song may also remind us of a sad experience about someone whom we truly love has to say goodbye to us. We really want to spend our lives with her/him but it just couldn’t  be. So we try our best to become the best persons that we are, thinking that that person we love is not gone and is not separated from us but always with us. His/her abiding presence has become an inspiration, advocate, comfort, consolation and help.

In the gospel today, Jesus tells his disciple on the night of his departure, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.”  The Risen Lord continues to be present and remains alive manifesting the Father’s love and kindness in the world through us His disciples and friends. He has given us His Spirit to enlighten, empower and encourage us that we may be able to love one another as He has loved us.

The word “Advocate” comes from the Latin “advocatus” which translates the original Greek word “paraklētos”; both words literally mean “one who is called alongside” somebody. An Advocate/Paraclete can mean a spokesman, a mediator, an intercessor, a comforter, a consoler or a helper.  Jesus said the Holy Spirit is “another” Advocate because he is the first Advocate (see 1 Jn 2:1b). The Holy Spirit, as the “second” Advocate, will continue Jesus’ presence among the disciples and His saving action for the of the disciples, e.g., guiding them and nourishing them with His word and defending them against those who will persecute them (see Jn 15:18-27).

Jesus assures us, “I will not leave you orphans.” In Jesus’ time, the orphans were the weakest members of the society. Having lost their parents, particularly their fathers, orphans or the comfortless ones had no means of protection and provision and so were easy targets for exploitation and harm. One of our most basic needs as human beings is the need for comfort, empathy, and presence of our loved ones. This is also what we ask most of God. More than material things, God’s advocacy, consolation and presence, is one of the most frequent petition that we ask of the Lord especially in the lowest moments of our lives. Jesus gives us assurance that God never leaves us orphans. This gives us the greatest hope—the never ending presence, protection and support of God. We are confident even in today’s hostile world because it is the Spirit who gives us the grace and strength to believe. This is the same confidence that St. Peter proclaimed in the second reading: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (I Peter 3: 15).

Jesus may be “physically distant” but he is not “socially distant” from us. Jesus is so far yet so near, absent yet present, because the Holy Spirit is sent for us. God never left us. God remains with us, forever. And we should, therefore, not be distant from one another. We are all united in solidarity in the abiding presence of Christ amongst us.

PENTECOST SUNDAY: THE BIRTHDAY OF THE CHURCH

pentecost
from https://www.stpeterslutheran.org/2017/06/day-pentecost-sunday-preview/

Birthdays are a wonderful occasion to celebrate and go back to who we truly are, our beginnings and our own unique mission. However messy and crazy our lives have been, despite all the mistakes and failures we have made, birthdays reminds us that life is precious, we are good and God love us so much. A birthday, therefore, is an important and momentous occasion to celebrate, reflect and give thanks.

Today, on Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the birthday of the Church. Pentecost Sunday reminds us of the foundation the church–the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We commemorate on Pentecost the formal inauguration of the church through the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles likes balls of fire. Immediately the spirit-empowered apostles went out of their room into the city square and were on fire in proclaiming the good news. The birthday of the church were spent not inside the church but in the streets, going out to the people, speaking their language that they too may discover the spirit of God actively moving them towards fullness of life in Jesus. Indeed, the birthday of the church depicts a church-in-mission.

The Holy Spirit re-created the disciples. The disciples became bold and daring. Compare the apostles before and after Pentecost, oh what a difference the Spirit makes! From timid they became bold, from lethargic they became energetic  and from fearful they became courageous – all for the sake of the good news of Jesus.

Pentecost reminds us of that our true identity as church is that we are Spirit led. The church is not ultimately led by the Pope, the bishops and the hierarchy of the church. It is the Holy Spirit–sent by the Father and the Son–who leads the church in every generation in its ministry of proclaiming and living the good news of the Kingdom of God.

It is, therefore, fitting and opportune, on this day of Pentecost to reflect on our identity as a Spirit-led Church. American Professor of Theology, Roger Olson, shares some thoughts of what a Spirit-led Church is:

A Spirit-filled and Spirit-led church will be alive, “crackling” with energy and passion, without fanatical extremism that focuses attention on ecstatic experiences rather than on the grace and glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Its people will come to worship and other meetings with excited expectation and not out of a sense of duty or with unhealthy fear. In a truly Spirit-filled and Spirit-led church visitors will come to see what God is doing among them. They will testify that “God is busy” (Hauerwas) there. Lives will be transformed in noticeable ways.

Such a church will be open to the “sovereign unpredictability of the Spirit” (Du Plessis) even as it celebrates tradition. This requires risk on the part leadership; leadership will leave space for the Spirit to move and work in ways that transcend traditional forms.

Such a church will lay all decisions before God for guidance and direction and move only through consensus of the spiritually mature people of God within the church. It will not be led by a dictatorial individual or small group that serves his, her or their interests.

Finally, such a church will be outwardly-focused with a strong sense of participation in the mission of God in the world. It will expend much of its energy and resources on meeting the spiritual and material needs of the communities outside the church. [1]

Today the Spirit continues to lead us, the church, to guide us, to shake us out of our complacencies, to disturb us out of our passiveness, to empower us to speak the language of today in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus.  But do we listen? Are we like the early church who always sought the direction of the Holy Spirit, who discerned always where the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives and work?

In today’s chaotic, hostile and terror stricken world, the temptation for the church is to freeze in fear and be content solely with its own security and self-preservation. Worst is to rely more on our human capacity and wisdom rather than on the surprises and creativity of the Holy Spirit.  This is not the church of Pentecost. Pope Francis has said about the church of Pentecost,

“She is a Church that doesn’t hesitate to go out, meet people, proclaim the message that’s been entrusted to her, even if that message disturbs or unsettles the conscience.”[1]

Despite all its craziness and messiness, God will re-create the world through the Holy Spirit. “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Isaiah 43:18, Isaiah 43:19, Revelation 21:5, Isaiah 65:17, Ephesians 2: 15). We have in need more now of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We need a new Pentecost, as St. John XXIII prayed in preparation for the Second Vatican Council in 1962, “Renew Your wonders, O God, in our day — as in a new Pentecost!”

Let us celebrate the birthday of the church today by being fully open to the promptings of the Spirit. Let us ask the Holy Spirit, to recreate us once again so that we may become creative and brave in proclaiming the gospel in every language, in every avenue of communication, in every culture and in every situation we find ourselves today.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

 


 

[1] Roger Olson, What Is a “Spirit-filled” and “Spirit-led” Church? Pantheos.com. October 23, 2014. Accessed at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2014/10/what-is-a-spirit-filled-and-spirit-led-church/