(Homily for Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2013, Asian Institute of Management Chapel)
Reading 2. 1 Cor 12:3B-7, 12-13
Brothers and sisters: No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. As a body is one though it has many parts,and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
Gospel: Jn 20:19-23
On the evening of that first day of the week,when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Today is Pentecost Sunday—literally the fiftieth day after the Resurrection of our Lord. On this feast we commemorate the imparting of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and their commissioning to spread the good news to all men. Therefore, the feast is also traditionally seen as commemorating the birth of the Church. At the center of this feast is the Holy Spirit.
There are three topics that I feel we can profitably reflect upon on this feast of Pentecost:
1. The Reality of Spirit
2. The Spirit within us and personal transformation
3. The Spirit in the Church and the transformation of the world.
The Holy Spirit is God, and the only way we can gain some kind of an inkling of what the Holy Spirit is like is through our experience of the reality of spirit. Now when we talk of “spirit”, as for example, we talk of our souls as “spirits”—one is liable to imagine some kind of a nebulous cloud, as in the TV series of the Ghostbusters. And if one is told that spirit is nothing material at all, then because one cannot see, or touch, or taste, or hear it, then it is not real. But because it is mentioned often in the bible, one may just take it on faith that there is such a reality as “spirit”although one has no notion whatever of what it might be.
But spirit is real. In the material world, there are things we cannot see or touch or feel, and yet are real. Scientists use sophisticated instruments to expand the reach of our senses—like the electron microscope, or the Hubble space telescope, or the huge particle accelerators of CERN, The European Organization for Nuclear Research. And what they see are data, like streaks on a photographic paper, from which they conclude to some underlying reality like the so-called God particle or a black hole. Similarly, we need the appropriate instrument to discover the data of spirit—and that instrument is self-awareness. Indeed, the term “instrument” in this case is a misnomer because the very act of self-awareness itself is already the experience of spirit.
What is self-awareness? It is not looking into one’s self, because the one who is looking is the one who is self-aware. If, for example, one is worried about something as he is listening to me speak, even while he listens to me, at that very same time he is self-aware that he is worried. And these are some of the tell-tale signs of spirit: having hope or burdened by despair, being at peace or disturbed, being happy or sad, and so on (see Gal.5:22-23). Like streaks on a photographic paper experiences of such states of soul reveal the reality of spirit, But what is needed for us to experience such states is to be self-aware, or reflective, or introspective in the sense of becoming aware of what is going on in our psyche.
Now to enter into the realm of the spirit—to be self-aware in a sustained continuing way—can be uninviting. Indeed, mental illnesses have been traced to the unhealthy refusal to become self-aware of unwanted portions of consciousness. And the reason one may wish to avoid being self-aware is because spirit is not bound by time—one can remember the bullying one received in the grade school as clearly as one can bring up one’s dreams for the future. Nor is it bound by place, for example, one may still remember the squalor of the neighborhood one may have grown up in. Nor is there any hiding from it or fooling it. When I lie, even if the whole world believes what I say, I am still self-aware that I am not telling the truth. And like the “cloud” of the computing world, one’s spirit saves all experiences; but unlike the cloud, one cannot delete what has been saved.
And so, my consciousness, even more than my body, defines who I am. Once I appear to lose self-consciousness in a body that is still functioning, doctors will describe me as a vegetable—I seem to be no longer there. And so, in my self-consciousness I carry myself: I can recall my successes, as well as my failures; there are happy moments, but also very sad ones; there are wonderful experiences, but also frightening ones, there are friends, but also foes; faithfulness but also infidelities, honesty and integrity, as well as dishonesty and deception—both of others and of myself, and so on.
And as I become aware of all these experiences, my intelligent self-consciousness kicks in and asks all sorts of unsettling questions and arrive at some hard realizations. I have been betrayed or rejected or forgotten . Am I really worth anything? The whole thing will end in death: what’s the value of all these strivings? Am I indeed lovable, or is it just me puffing up my chest in self-delusion? Such are the states of the human spirit. And when we talk of being saved by Jesus Christ, it is not some floating polluted cloud that somehow gets cleaned up: it is my spirit that is saved, and I become aware of it in my self-consciousness. “My peace I give to you: not as the world gives do I give it to you.” And how does my spirit find such peace? It finds such peace in the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15);
Love, St. Paul says again, has been poured out into our hearts through the HolySpirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5). In the Holy Spirit whom we have received, and who reminds us of all that Jesus has taught, we are assured that the Father loves us—and even while we were yet sinners, He gave his own son for our sakes. Because God is the creator of all, when we can call him Father, after we have done what we can, we can leave all our concerns and worries in His hands—He will take care as He takes care of the birds of the air and the lillies of the fields. Because we are one with Christ, just as He raised Jesus from the dead, so will He raise up our mortal bodies. When accept God’s love and forgiveness for us, we are able to accept ourselves as we truly are, greater and greater transparency becomes possible and there are less and less skeletons in the closets of our souls which more and more opens up in self-awareness. And being at home in the self-consciousness of ourselves, we find peace—which is the Holy Spirit within us.
Finally, such love of God for us that is poured into our hearts, such trust in a Father who always looks to our welfare is a very expansive force. It not only liberates us from out fears and pettiness, but also impels us to share that peace and joy with others.
Now all love and goodness come from the Father, and all love and goodness operative in human history comes from the Son of God made man. And there is only one source of peace and joy—and that is the Holy Spirit that affirms us as we share God’s goodness and love with others.
There is much evil in the world, true, but also there is much good. There are a lot of angry quarrelsome people, but also many persons of peace—if not all the time, at least at some times. Now this multitude of the followers of Jesus is the Church as the union of hearts and minds with Christ. It is a leaven that is operative in the world, even as the world groans. It would be a mistake to simply equate this union with Christ with the organizational Church, for as St. Paul says in the second reading:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.
And we should recall the words of Jesus Himself to the Samaritan woman:
“Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. ..the time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21-24)
Reality is far more than what we can see in CNN or read in the papers or in the internet. The feast of Pentecost reminds us that there is the world of the spirit—indeed the human world is basically a world of the human spirit operative in the world. Our world—particularly our little corner of the world in the Philippines—is not hopeless despite what others may say about our last elections. There’s a lot of work to be done, and it cannot be done overnight. There are many things to learn, and the Filipino seems to be taking his time learning them. But things are not hopeless, because operative in all the unfolding of human history is the silent but pervasive work of the Holy Spirit in each of us, restoring all things to Christ. As the Spirit transforms the individual, so also the individual in turn, in union with Jesus and following the mission of Jesus, transforms the world around him.
And so, despite setbacks and difficulties, we can resonate with the vision of the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89):
“There lives the dearest freshness deep down things/…Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast, and with ah! bright wings.”