GIFTS THAT DIVIDE AND THE GIFT THAT UNITES

Pentecost Sunday (Year C)
May 27, 2007

Readings: Acts 2:1-11 / 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13 / Jn 20:19-23



You would think that, with all the gifts that the early Church received on the day the Church was born, everything would go smooth as silk, and every relationship in the incipient faith-community unruffled. Paul, in his letter to the fractious and quarrelsome Corinthians (1 Cor 12), in fact enumerates a variety of gifts: being apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, assistants, administrators, and – that much coveted gift in our “charismatic renewal” times – the gift of tongues!

But alas, the Corinthians’ and our very own experience tells us that there is a shadow side to those gifts. Gifts galore bring as much jubilation as consternation. With gifts come envy and jealousy, to name just two. With gifts come additional difficulties, as later Paul would acknowledge.

But I am getting ahead of myself and the story.

Today’s story is one of gifts abounding. Today’s story, too, has to do with that one GIFT par excellence, that we would do well to heighten over and above all others. The Acts of the Apostles (1st Reading) stuns us all with that matter-of-fact recounting of Luke, about an event that can only be described as astounding. Everything in the account speaks of power. Everything in the story relates to strength and force. Luke speaks of a “strong driving wind,” which “filled the entire house,” and “tongues as of fire” which “parted and came to rest on each one of them.” Everything, too, relates to a marvelous efficacy in terms of communication, for each one understood the lowly and looked-down-upon Galileans like as if they spoke in everyone’s native language.

For this is basically the story of Pentecost. It is a story of empowerment. It is a story of enlightenment. It, too, is a story of power rising above individual stories of weakness and difficulty. It is a saga of transcendence, of a once frightened band of self-doubting disciples, who got, not just a second wind, but a driving gust, and a life-enabling breath from the Risen Lord. It is a story of the Holy Spirit being given as promised, who “enabled them to proclaim” (1st Reading).

We must be careful to distinguish our stories from the story that unfolds today, and which still unfolds for all time. Our stories are marred by human weakness. Gifts that abound do not necessarily assure a smooth sailing as we navigate through the rough seas of life. We all have our own sob stories to tell the world. We all have our own talents and capabilities many times lying buried after a tumultuous sandstorm of conflict, envy, competition, and jealousy. How many of us have not experienced being the object of scorn and contempt for speaking our mind, for pushing what appears, at least to ourselves, as a brilliant idea, only to be shot down by the opposing winds of intrigue, suspicion, and naked ambition? Truth be told, how many of us have not become instruments of the very same Darth Vader of selfish and dark motives lurking deep inside our psyche?

Our stories, like that of the fragmented and fractious Corinthians, are one of disunity and disempowerment. Good people, in and out of government, in and out the Church, in and out of the faith-community, or religious orders and congregations, are many times disenfranchised, disempowered – even marginalized – owing to the intergalactic forces of conflicting Darth Vaders rising in our midst. The saints suffered similar setbacks. St. Benedict Menni, to name just one, suffered enormously owing to confreres who, at some point, allowed themselves to be instrumentalized by envy and jealousy, which were reframed and made to look like virtues and an overwhelming desire to “do the right thing in God’s name.” Montonati, his biographer, aptly entitles one of his short works about him thus: K.O in Terra; O.K in Cielo (Knocked Out on Earth; OK in Heaven). Padre Pio of Pietrelcina did not fare any better. Some people even manipulated their way to Rome, just to get his suspension from priestly faculties.

But it is just stories such as these – our own – that became the backdrop for today’s story.

The gifts that make each one of us individually and humanly great, no matter how important, are not necessarily what would propel us to the greatness that God would have us value. Our first reading speaks of Parthians, Medes, and Elamites. It speaks about inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, Cretans, and Arabs. This is a motley crowd. This is a most disunited crowd, each one proud of each their own heritage.

I would daresay, at the risk of playing psycho-analyst, that that crowd was probably a very good illustration of what family therapists refer to as, poor “self-differentiation.” Fractiousness and divisiveness, reactivity and “negative vibes” between and among them, along with intrigue and unbridled competition, are nothing more and nothing less than signs of such poor self-differentiation. Gifted and brilliant each in their own way, they nevertheless lacked that one gift that is at the core of today’s story.

And here is the good news attached to our story of today. No… I don’t refer to downplaying nor rejecting our individual giftedness and capabilities. The Church is, and has always been, a community of gifted people. Our associations and various groups in and within the institutional Church cannot do without their members’ individual giftedness. The early Church definitely was served in good stead by the organizational and charismatic talents and gifts of Paul and Barnabas, of Peter and the rest of the original band of disciples, and more.

But we ought to speak today of two realities: the reality of gifts from the Spirit, and the GIFT of the Spirit. The Lord speaks to us, as he did to his disciples gathered in the upper room: “Peace be with you … “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (3rd Reading). Gifts from the Spirit are gifts meant to be used for others. They are given for the good, not of the person who received them, but for others, for the good of the Church as a whole. But over and above these gifts for others, is the gift for the self, the gift for the person her/himself. This is the gift of interior peace. This is the gift that makes a Padre Pio bear the full brunt of injustice and even hatred from others. This is the same gift that empowered St. Benedict Menni to walk with head high up, despite the seeming inhumanity of his fellow humans and fellow monks. This is the gift of personal integrity and holiness.

The Church is populated by people of exceptional giftedness and talents. That is a fact that ought not necessarily be a problem. But envy is. Jealousy is. Unbridled competition is, too. Poor self-differentiation from such gifted individuals, is also a big challenge. In my almost 25 years as a priest, I have seen innumerable groups fray at the edges after some productive and happy years, when personal unresolved issues that spring either from being “fused” or highly “disengaged” from a childhood caregiver comes into the picture through the mechanism of projection. Normal events become “trigger events” for such people. Otherwise indifferent events become full-blown tragedies for many of these so-called “walking wounded” in the world. And a variety of disproportionate reactions relative to the stimulus are made to lash out in full fury at the unfortunate object of one’s projection.

There is need for all of us today to appraise what today’s solemnity means for us. The phenomenon of a highly globalized world can mislead us into believing that the existence of a one-world culture that revolves around consumerism, will necessarily translate to unity and peace. But even globalization gurus speak about going global but acting local. In many senses, we really need to speak more of glocalization, rather than globalization. Local interests, like terrorism for example, are really made to ride on globalized means to wreak maximum havoc on an international, global scale. But the real motives are really “local” not “global.” And these motives have to do with personal or communitarian, ethnic hurts, with personal and collective anger, hatred, the need to do vengeance, and the need to “right” the “wrongs” in this globalized world.


Pentecost Sunday is a story of the gift, more than it is a story of gifts. Gifts refer to many individual persons. This is equivalent to going global. Gift refers to the person per se. This, on the other hand, is the equivalent to going local. Gifts are important and necessary for we are not called to mediocrity and narrow-mindedness in a Church that is called to be, like Christ, a light for all nations (lumen gentium). But, over and above all this, we are called to peace, to forgiveness, to being Spirit-filled. Gifts alone may divide us, as our experience shows. But the gift par excellence does the opposite. This gift of interior peace, the Spirit Himself, will not only lead us into all the truth, but will lead us towards unity, towards the creation of “a new heaven and a new earth.”

It may well be worth our while to take a second look at the prayer we said at the beginning of this Mass: “Father of light, from whom every good gift comes, send your Spirit into our lives with the power of a mighty wind, and by the flame of your wisdom open the horizons of our minds. Loosen our tongues to sing your praise in words beyond the power of speech, for without your Spirit man could never raise his voice in words of peace or announce the truth that Jesus is Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (Alternative Opening Prayer)

Comments

breakme said…
Fr. Chito, I added you already to the PinoyKatoliko blogroll. Thank you for your visit. Will drop by here from time to time. God bless.- Kay
jun said…
Thank you Fr. Chito for being a gift. God is using you that others may find peace. (The DBTC Grade school retreat for one. Gina told me about it.)

And Finally I found your site! I have been looking for it for a long time (I received a forward email. Please include me in your mailing list.)

PS: I've added your sites to to MabutingBalita.net.
Hi Jun and Kay,

Thanks for putting my site on your roll. BTW, Kay misspelled the URL. There's a few extra letters that makes it "introuvable."

Jun, what's your e-mail? Trying to recall your face. If you graduated in Tarlac in '86, you should have been in Manda during the years I was there.
jun said…
I was in DBTC 86-95. You were my Dean and and Theology Prof. My email is jun.asis at gmail dot com.

You still had braces then if I recall right. And you had that encounter in the mountains and "they" got your (and the DBMS's) camera and other stuff. Quite a scare in the EPC.