Sunday, 31 May 2020

Pentecost Year A 2020

The Father and the Son are both conspicuously highlighted in the Bible whereas we get an inkling of the Holy Spirit. Today is His feast. Who is the Holy Spirit for sometimes we still hear people pray, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost”. The word “spirit” comes from either the Hebrew “ruah” or Greek “pneuma” denoting wind or breath. Both these words connote or imply the giving of life as we read that when God created man, He breathed into man’s nostrils to give him life. Ironical is it not, that in our mask-compulsory masses, that is gathering of people, imagine that nothing is more deadly than a breath of life. 

But, for now, just suppose that the Upper Room is filled with frightened folks, cowed by the spectre of barging-in Jewish authorities. In the quiet Cenacle, visualise the instance, when lighting in the room changes and tongues of divided fires appearing to rest on the heads of those gathered around Mary the Mother of Jesus—a flaring flame that neither burns nor scorches. But the effect was beyond radiance or brilliance—for from a dispirited and petrified band of followers, a vitalised and vivified company of Apostles emerges. 

Caged by the lockdown, afraid of contagious contacts, we sense a similarity between the Upper Room and our homes. We read of police arrests for those daring to flout the CMCO. Perhaps waiting despairingly or anticipating eagerly to break free of this oppressive prison, we can highlight the enthusiasm that the Holy Spirit is as we recall the revitalisation and the revival of a group of frightened men into fearless messengers. In an age of victims (note the burning in the USA), diversity and inclusivity, it is easy to latch onto the excitement of change or progress promised by the Holy Spirit. 

Our idea of progress or change is tied to the notion of novelty. In changing, we want to see the world a better place. Associated with this developmental notion of change is that life will become easier, safer and pleasurable. The movie Elysium depicts the human masses who are suffering on earth and aspiring desperately to live in this created habitat up in the sky where life is just fabulous. Imagine, cancer can be cured not even with a touch of a button but by voice activation. Just tell the artificial intelligence to alter the DNA of your genetic make-up, reverse your ageing body and when a body part breaks down, you can 3-D regenerate one. Would you not say that our lockdown whose aim is to prevent death is but a pathetic copy of this Elysian fantasy of blessed bliss? 

What the Holy Spirit did was not the shift we think change is supposed to be. Yes, there was change as the 1st Reading narrates how a group of devout men from around the Mediterranean basin suddenly understands these excited Apostles, each in his own language. But the Holy Spirit did not change the circumstances in which these men carried out their preaching. The Roman Empire did not suddenly become a better place to live in. If anything, the Roman Empire became even more violent toward those who were called Christians. What the Holy Spirit did was to transform the Apostles into fearless witnesses. 

The mission of the Holy Spirit is to assist us to become better Christians. Whilst He does not make this place hip or hunky-dory, He does apportion gifts. We hear this in the 2nd Reading. The diversity of gifts is not “personal” the way we understand personal as pertaining to the individual. Thus, gifts are remotely individualistic in terms of personal expressions as in what the ideology of inclusivity wants us to accept. Instead, there is a Body which the Spirit wants to create. 

It is the same Spirit that hovered over creation at its beginning who now ushers in a new dispensation or economy of salvation that is concretised or actualised through the birth of the Church. The Church assisted by the Holy Spirit inaugurates the new creation of humanity. As we heard in the reading, out of every tongue, the Holy Spirit forges of a new human family in the praise and service of God. Hence, the different or diverse gifts are all for the good of the Body which is the Church. 

So, in desiring change, creativity, or novelty we may miss the forest for the trees. Yes, we do not read a lot about the Holy Spirit, but He is right there at the beginning of creation and as well as the birth of the Church. For in the midst of the new dispensation or direction of which the Church symbolises, the presence of Holy Spirit is both a testimony of Christ’s work done on earth as well as the continuation of His work. If Pentecost is Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit, then the Spirit is the continued presence of Christ in the Church. 

To say that we know practically nothing of the Holy Spirit only reveals how little we know of our faith. The Catechism reminds us that through the Church we know the Spirit and there is an aspect of the continuity of Christ through the Spirit which we all may have taken for granted. And it is highlighted for us these days of the lockdown and social distancing. In the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ. 

For many of us, one word to describe the Sacraments could be this: boring. It is ritualistically rigid and formally flat. Surely the Holy Spirit cannot be contained by such constraints. As we crave creativity and change, we may have forgotten that progress is not just novelty but also continuity. So, if Pentecost marks the birth of the Church, then she is the living Body of Christ. As the Sacrament of His salvation, she continues in her pilgrimage to heaven through the exercise of Christ’s ministry in the world, so as to bring humanity into greater conformity with Him. St. Augustine taught us, "what the soul is to man's body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church. The Holy Spirit does in the whole Church what the soul does in the members of the one body." The Spirit is “boringly” a Spirit of continuity. 

Through the Holy Spirit, every Sacrament is the liturgical action of Christ Himself through the instrumentality of the Church. Thus, the bread and wine are changed truly, really, and substantially into presence of Jesus Christ—for we must eat and drink of Him in order to have eternal life. Many people have been deprived of the Sacraments. Whilst in these days of the pandemic, where the preservation of life seems to have become the paramount goal, the celebration of Pentecost reminds us that the Spirit’s power is not the prolongation of earthly life but rather the gift of the Holy Spirit is to fulfil Christ’s promise for us to enter into heavenly life with Him. We continue to pray for the end of the pandemic so that the Sacraments of eternity may be restored to all who are struggling on this pilgrimage to eternity.