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Friday, May 9, 2008

BUILDING ON ROCK, NOT ON SAND

NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR A
June 1, 2008
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection

Readings: Dt 11:18. 26-28,32 / Rom 3:21-25, 28 / Mt 7:21-27

N.B. I am posting well in advance these reflections and homilies as I am not too sure I will have the time and the opportunity to do any posting from May 9 – June 3, 2008.

Reading 1 (Dt 11:18, 26-28, 32)

Moses told the people, “Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead. “I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse: a blessing for obeying the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today; a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, but turn aside from the way I ordain for you today, to follow other gods, whom you have not known.”

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 31:2-3, 3-4, 17, 25)

R. (3b) Lord, be my rock of safety.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me,
incline your ear to me,
make haste to deliver me!

Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety.
You are my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.

Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your kindness.
Take courage and be stouthearted,
all you who hope in the LORD.

Reading II (Rom 3:21-25, 28)

Brothers and sisters, now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, though testified to by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood. For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Gospel (Mt 7:21-27)

Jesus said to his disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?
Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’
Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”

Homily/Reflection:

BUILDING ON ROCK, NOT ON SAND

As I write, there is that nagging feeling that I cannot ignore, nor gloss over what tens of thousands of people in Myanmar are undergoing right these days in the horrific aftermath of the tropical cyclone that devastated a big swath of the country over the last weekend (the first week of May, 2008). Neither can I ignore the worsening scenario of the growing menace – and – reality, of the food insecurity all over the world. From where I sit, in prosperous USA, I am apprised of the doubling prices of rice, the unabated rise in the price of oil and its related products, and the disturbing fact that even in big wholesale stores, there now is a limit imposed on everyone to buy only a maximum of two 50 pound bags of rice per customer.

As I write, I am reminded of what Peter Senge so wisely said more than 14 years ago: “The solutions of today are the problems of tomorrow.”

We postmoderns have been a little too sold out to the so-called magic of management gurus and management wisdom. We have taken the principles of scientific thinking, and management principles whosesale, that is, lock, stock, and barrel. We have fallen for the easy solutions that come from very logical and cogent-sounding reasoning that really is basically an offshoot of too much reliance on science and technology.

Whilst I have no axes to grind with science, neither with management, nor with technology per se, (I use them all, having been in leadership myself, too, and being a therapist and counselor), I would like to think that Pope Benedict XVI is right when he referred to concepts like “lesser hopes and greater hopes.” At the risk of trivializing what the Pope alludes to, I personally think that we postmoderns have gotten it all wrong in pinning all our lesser hopes to science, technology, and so called progress and development. Elaine Robinson (2004) even speaks of the same tendency as really nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else but part of what she calls the “contours of hopelessness.” Hopelessness, she says, surrounds us like the air we breathe, and part of these emerging contours is an over-reliance on what science and technology can offer.

So what did science tell us over the past decades? In our desire to fuel our desire for more and more, we needed more fuels –fossil fuels and the craze now all over the world – the mad rush for “bio-fuels.” Acres upon acres of rain forests are being cut down in the Amazon, and beyond, to be transformed into huge plantations of corn, not for human consumption, but to be transformed into ethanol. And what did science tell us was going to be the benefit of all this? We need bio fuels to fuel our technology that feeds the cows that, in turn, feed a hamburger-hungry world. We need bio-fuels to make the engine of production all over the world run – to satiate the hunger and thirst of a consumerist society for more and more creature comforts and the desire for more and more luxury and ease.

All this sounds cogent. All this seems logical. All this calls for solutions. But as Senge wisely prophesied in the early 90s, the solutions of today are the problems of tomorrow.

We beg the Lord today to be our rock of safety (Responsorial Psalm). We are reminded today about how God sets before us a blessing and a curse. And the blessing, mind you, has to do with obeying the commandments of the Lord, instead of turning away from God and turning to other false gods.

We are therefore, faced with the reality of the need for us to make choices – choices that are life-giving, ultimately, instead of choices that are life disabling. Our Opening Prayer would have us beg from the Lord, “Keep us from danger and provide for all our needs.” Maybe we need to think about the dangers that we heap upon ourselves, the dangers what we keep on producing in our lives and in our society that ultimately destroy the world as God knows it, as God has created it, and as God has willed it to be from the very beginning. One wonders whether in our over reliance on science and technology, we have unwittingly destroyed the very world that is the source of what God provides for us “in all our needs.”

The call of “hamburgerization” or what one author aptly calls the “Mcdonaldization” of society is perhaps something we need to take a second look at, given the contribution the whole process makes toward global warming. Perhaps, we need to take a second look at what we hear the Lord tells us today: “Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead.”

The handwritings seem to be very clearly emblazoned on the walls. There is no turning back the clocks of time. The food insecurity that we experience right now is one such handwriting that needs to be decoded. Maybe we need to pay attention more to what the Lord says, rather than what scientists, economists, and the gurus of globalization and postmodernity say.

The voice of globalization is one example, among many. For far too long, countries tried to join the bandwagon of consumerism. Everybody thought of the same thing – import food when food is lacking. But every country thought of doing the same. Nobody minded the store. People went their merry way thinking they could just buy food from other countries. But the fact is that all over the world, farmers stopped farming; food producers stopped producing food – except those staples that the world considered as such: beef (hamburger), highly processed and refined foods, like flour, etc. … We woke up one day to the realization that the drought in Australia, the floods in Vietnam, the cyclones that attacked Bangladesh, Myanmar, and elsewhere, has veritably put the whole process of food production to a halt.

We need to listen to the beatings of a different drummer. We need to listen to the voice of him who can lead us to liberation – the same voice that Moses and the Israelites of old listened to. “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”

The solutions of today are the problems of tomorrow … Very true, indeed … especially if the house we build, the solutions we work for, are not exactly those that are based on solid rock, but on sand.

Our closing prayer today shows us the way. We cannot afford to pay lip service alone to what Pope Benedict XVI calls merely “informative” hope. We need “performative” hope to lead us through the welter of these confusing times and days. “Guide us with your Spirit that we may honor you not only with our lips, but also with the lives we lead, and so enter your kingdom. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.”

Hayward, CA
May 8, 2008

REMEMBER

SOLEMNITY OF MOST HOLY BODY & BLOOD OF THE LORD – YEAR A
May 25, 2008

Reading 1 (Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a)

Moses said to the people: "Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God,
has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger,
and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.
"Do not forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery;
who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its saraph serpents and scorpions,
its parched and waterless ground; who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock
and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers."

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20)

R. (12) Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.

Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.

He has granted peace in your borders;
with the best of wheat he fills you.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!

He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them. Alleluia.

Reading II (1 Cor 10:16-17)

Brothers and sisters: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Gospel (Jn 6:51-58)

Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever."

REFLECTION/HOMILY:

There is so much hunger all around us these days. We hunger for almost anything. The country is hungry for foreign investors. With globalization in place, and tough competition from huge economies like China, manufacturing and production gradually shrivel up in this country of ours that is fast becoming a consuming, and a non producing society. With the undeniable food insecurity gripping the whole world (not only the Philippines), we witness long lines of people waiting to buy cheaper food – if not riots elsewhere in more unfortunate poorer countries. But there are other levels of hunger that emerge with postmodernity. Entire families now seemingly cannot get enough of the popular telenovelas. Like food, soap operas form part of the daily fare of so many, young and old alike, apparently everywhere in the world. No wonder their major producers, the major TV networks, are now actually exporting our home-grown soap operas back to where they sprouted – Mexico, and beyond, - even to Malaysia and Indonesia. Young people crave for more: more action, more adventure, more speed, more power. The much publicized coming back of the movie E.T four years ago, a 24 year-old classic, failed to attract the fancy of the young. It was too laid back, too staid, too static in comparison to the fast-clipped action of the likes of Spiderman, Star Wars, - even Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings! Happily, too, covenanted communities and charismatic groups, mostly led by lay women and men, hanker for solid food from their pastors and ministers. They hunger for solid teachings from the Church. They look for sure guidance from their pastors and not watered down pronouncements from their leaders.

The search for the more, the better, the deeper, the greater – they all point to the same basic hunger we all have. As humans, we all long for the ultimate; we all are drawn towards what philosophers call perfection.

Hunger figures in prominently in our readings today. It is just as well, for the very same readings speak of a satisfaction of that hunger. But lest we get mired and lost in the idea of being satisfied, the same readings admonish us to REMEMBER!

REMEMBER! How easy it is for us to forget. When, in the midst of plenty, surrounded as we are by a plethora of just about anything, by a surfeit of all that appears to fulfill us, we are told to REMEMBER!

Allow me for a while to do some remembering… As a child, I grew up with two strong- willed grandmothers from both sides who had pretty vivid memories. They lived the horrors of the second world war. And the memories of the unpleasant experience stuck in their minds irreversibly. How the two of them, at times almost in unison, would remind us when we wasted food or other stuff, or when we did not appreciate what we had at the moment, to remember that there could be a time when what we have might not be there at all, when everything we took for granted would all suddenly be gone. They remembered…and were wiser for the vivid memories of want and privation they had to undergo.

“Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert…remember, the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…who brought forth water for you …and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers.” It is good for us to remember. We ought to remember that behind all that hunger we are experiencing, behind all that want, all that longing, that drives us towards the more, the better, the higher and the ultimate, is a real longing for that which no creature and material goods on earth can ever satisfy. It is good for us to remember that it was God who planted that deep, basic desire in our hearts, the same One who took steps to satisfy it fully, like no other can do.

The Gospel passage today reminds us how Jesus took pains to feed the crowds. Using concrete experience, making use of material bread to satisfy the hungry populace, Jesus then leads them to higher plane. He speaks of food which satisfies fully. He declares himself the bread come down from heaven. He is the living bread and anyone who partakes of it shall have eternal life. In effect, Jesus reminds them of the real hunger they have. Their physical hunger is not half as bad as their real, deeper hunger which cannot be satisfied by material food alone.

It is good for us to remember that, in the midst of so much, or in the midst of so little or nothing, the only real famine that matters, that needs to be attended to is that about which the prophet Amos spoke of: “Yes, days are coming when I will send famine upon the land: not a famine of bread, or thirst for water, but for hearing the word of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11)

Today, as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Body and Blood of the Lord, it would do us good to remember how the Lord answers for the basic and deep hunger that is in us. He offers himself to us as food. We who hunger and are fed are blessed twice over. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst…for they shall be satisfied.” Later in this mass, we will be declared blessed yet one more time: “This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Happy (blessed) are those who are called to receive him.” Those who are invited to take part in his supper are those who acknowledge they need the Lord. They profess their hunger for Him and His righteousness and justice. Those who hunger for him are those to whom the Lord directs His solicitude and love: “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because…they have nothing to eat.” And those who accept their need and follow the Lord in their need, shall never be sent away empty-handed. They shall be satisfied.

Whatever situation we may be in, remember. In times of plenty, remember… there is a very deep hunger in you that mere material things cannot satisfy. In times of want and privation, remember…the worst form of deprivation is to live a life without God, to live without even knowing what you are missing. In good times and in bad, remember that there is food to fortify us in the journey that is life. We know and are sure of its outcome. “He who eats this bread and drinks this cup will have life everlasting.” “Happy are we who are called to share in his meal.”

Revised May 8, 2008
Hayward, CA 94542

Thursday, May 8, 2008

FOCUSING ON THE WHY, NOT ON THE WHAT

Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity
May 18, 2008

Readings: Ex 34:4b-6,8-9 / 2 Cor 13:11-13 / Jn 3:16-18


Reading 1 (Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9)

Early in the morning Moses went up Mount Sinai as the LORD had commanded him,
taking along the two stone tablets.
Having come down in a cloud, the LORD stood with Moses there
and proclaimed his name, "LORD." Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out,
"The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity." Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.
Then he said, "If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company.
This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own."

Responsorial Psalm (Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56)

R. Glory and praise for ever!
Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages. (R)
Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and glorious above all forever. (R)
Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (R)
Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.

Reading II (2 Cor 13:11-13)

Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace,
and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Gospel (Jn 3:16-18)

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

REFLECTION/HOMILY:

All three readings today are short, pithy and direct to the point. No discourses; no lengthy treatises; no high-falutin analyses of what God is like. All three readings, however, for their brevity, actually provide rich fare for reflection. Never mind the tomes and pages written by theologians that describe the nature of God ad intra. Never mind, for now, all that has been handed down by centuries of deep theological reflection on the Trinity. As a mystery, there is nothing anyone can do to make this important tenet of our catholic faith become other than what it really is: a mystery to be accepted in faith, before it is an object of scrutiny of even the most perspicacious of minds to unravel.

Mystery, however, does not mean utter unknowability. Mystery does not make of the Trinity something to shove under the rug, as it were, for it to be relegated to the deeper recesses of our mind, kept in a special compartment where all things unexplainable, all things abstruse, all things that defy explanation, find convenient storage.

Some time in my theological formation, we were told that there are basically two approaches by which we can speak of God. (Yes, there is a whole lot we can know about God. For there is a whole lot He revealed about Himself. And therefore there is much we can say about Him.) The first method starts from above, so to say. All talk about God starts from His nature. We start with the kind of discourse that begins with who He is, what God is like, etc. This type of discourse capitalizes a lot on what the human mind can say about what He is not. Thus, we can speak a lot about His so-called Divine attributes.

But there is a second approach that begins from where we are… our human experience, our own human historical trajectory. It makes much of our human condition. It starts from who we are, our earthiness, our embodiedness, our finiteness - if you will - but also our experience of longing for something beyond us, something that transcends our daily life, something that goes beyond mere existing in a world so limited, so taken up by physical, moral, and psychological constraints.

Let us start with one such human experience. Let us take the case of something that all three readings speak so glowingly about: human warmth! Warmth refers to closeness. We also call this intimacy. Intimacy is all about the wish to get closer, and closer. It is about drawing nearer. People who love strive to get closer to the one they love. And that closeness engenders warmth. For a non-Biblical scholar that I am, I certainly see something significant in the fact that the Lord revealed Himself to Moses as a burning bush. Fire. Warmth. How else does one interpret that passionate description that God gave Himself? “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” From the utterance of God, we get to know who He is, a God of love, of mercy, and of graciousness.

And what do we make of Paul who, having basked in the warmth of this same love writes with so much solicitude to his very own spiritual daughters and sons from Corinth, to whom he dedicated two lengthy letters? In a mixture of fraternal warning, an expression of a wish, and of hope that ends with a blessing, Paul extends to his beloved Corinthians that same warmth that can only come from one so blessed, so exposed, and so appreciative of what he himself has learned at the feet of the Lord. He thus could speak of harmony, peace, grace, love and fellowship, from God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The short Gospel passage today is the real clincher. To Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night, possibly someone who nurtured a secret wish to be his disciple, the Lord explained in no uncertain terms the nature of God as love. “Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life.” How can anyone of us not have any experience in our lives that does not resonate with this expression of divine solicitude? How can we remain unmoved by the knowledge that God has not only drawn near to us, but has given us all, including his only Son?

There is much here that we could dwell on for our enrichment. There is much in this powerful self-revelation of God that we need to re-appropriate given the fact that we were baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We started out our Christian lives with the mark of the Trinity. We were enrolled in this loving relationship when the love of God took possession of our hearts and souls on the day of our baptism. Theologians call this the Trinitarian dimension of our Christian faith. Simply put, we belong to this inner circle of divine love. We, too, like the Corinthians, like Paul himself, are continually basking in the warmth of God’s love.

What then do we make of all this at a time when intimacy and interpersonal warmth seem to be sidetracked? Look at what we have now? We have plenty of gadgets that are supposed to foster communication but there seems to be little communication between and among people, including family members. Just about the only thing that puts people together now is the daily soap opera episode on TV. Haven’t you noticed that even the Sunday Mass has ceased becoming a family activity, and that each one goes at a time and place convenient to him or her? One goes at his/her own convenience. Even family meals are becoming a rare occasion. In the daily mad rush to beat the traffic, the first casualty is family togetherness. The two recent surveys of youth in the Philippines refer to the fact that the peer group, gang, or barkada rather than the family exercises more influence on the young. Given the high and still growing percentage of single parent households in the Philippines due to out-migration, there is indeed a whole lot about family intimacy that we all ought to re-appropriate.

Just how do we do this? Allow me to go back to today’s readings for clues as to concrete courses of action we can take. First of all, let us not be distracted by the what of today’s solemnity. God is not about quantity. Let us not get lost in the content of the mystery, the what of it all. Let us focus on the why of it. God is all about quality! It is about the depth, width and breadth of His love for the world, for each of us. Let us then go qualitative! Let us imitate Him for what He is to others, to us above all. The first reading would have us see God as gracious, merciful, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity. What about us? How have we been faithful to our friends and loved ones? Have we been talking behind their backs? Have we been stabbing them in the back? Just how do mercy and compassion characterize our daily lives? How forgiving have we been?

The second reading adds two more traits of God for good measure: He is a God of love and peace. One wonders just how loving and peaceful we now could be given the daily dose of vengefulness and violence in all the TV shows we watch! Just how hard are we trying to make of our homes a haven of love and peace? Remember? The family is an image of the Trinity! The family must reflect the Trinitarian spirit of communion and love. Big words you say? I can name so many families right here, right now who, despite so many odds are trying their best to live that Trinitarian character in their lives!

The Gospel adds that final, essential note about what God’s love is like. Again, there is no quantity involved here. It’s all about quality. That love, the Gospel says, is not a self-centered type of love that remains only within the Trinitarian communion. It is not love that exists only between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is all that… and a whole lot more! It is not primarily turned inward, but outward. To us, to the whole world. Yes, God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son!

And then you say, there is little warmth and caring in the world! There is so much selfishness and greed in the world, you say? Why, there is so much of their opposites! There is so much love in the world. There is so much graciousness, mercy, kindness, and fidelity. For those who bask and live in the glow of God’s love; for those who try their best to see through things and events and allow God the space and the freedom to work through them and in them, there is so much love, so much warmth, so much gladness. And it is bound only to increase and grow, the closer you get to the source of it all, God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!

Revised May 7, 2008
Hayward, CA 94547

Monday, May 5, 2008

GIFTED, EMPOWERED, & SENT FORTH!

Pentecost Sunday
May 11, 2008
Readings: Acts 2:1-11 / 1 Cor 12:3b-7,12-13 /Jn 20:19-23

Reading 1 (Acts 2:1-11)

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome,both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34)

R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!
How manifold are your works, O Lord!
the earth is full of your creatures;
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth
May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD be glad in his works!
Pleasing to him be my theme;
I will be glad in the LORD.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth
If you take away their breath, they perish
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth

Reading II (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.”

REFLECTION/HOMILY:

Filling, pouring, kindling, sending, and living – all action words – dot today’s liturgical and verbal landscape. “The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world … The love of God has been poured into our hearts by his spirit living in us … Come, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.” There is no mistaking it … Pentecost has to do with roaring action.

We’ve had enough of all that pious talk about today, Pentecost Sunday, being “the birthday of the Church.” (Somewhat inappropriately, some priests I know even go so far as to make people sing “Happy Birthday” in church, during, before, or after the homily, just as these same priests do during the feast of Our Lady’s nativity every Sept. 8!). We might ask ourselves: “what’s so exciting about celebrating a birthday?” After all, for well over two thousand years, we have been celebrating this “birthday” year in and year out.

I am afraid, that, by focusing on the celebration, we run the risk of missing the real spirit of today’s solemnity.

Pentecost is all about action, rather than celebration. As our readings today show, Pentecost has to do with God manifesting Himself in concrete signs. “And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were” (1st Reading). Pentecost is all about movement. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (Jn 20:19-23).

But as the same readings for today show, there is more to Pentecost than mere action and movement. All that action is motivated by passion, by a mysterious force and strength that comes from above. That passion shines through in God’s choice of images with which He revealed Himself: a strong wind along with flames. “There appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” That same passion shines out in proclamation: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3b). Action and passion meld and jell, and spill over into dedication to God’s own passion – His predilection for the least, the last, the lowest, and the lost sinners that He has come to save. “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Forgiveness, that which God has gifted us in Christ our Lord, is a divine activity. It is the virtue of the strong, of the powerful, of the brave. Forgiveness is not human, for the world of nature revolves around the principle of retribution. Destroy trees and denude forests, and nature strikes back, as our recent history of “natural calamities” show! Forgiveness is supra-human. It comes as a gift, first of all, from above. It comes as part of the package of supra-human gifts that we, as members of the Church, received along with the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day.

Two Sundays back, the 6th Sunday of Easter, the liturgy reminded us of one important promise from the Risen Lord. We were told never to be afraid, for someone will come to stand by us, with us, and speak on our behalf: “I will not leave you orphans … I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth …”(Jn 14:15-21)

Today, we celebrate this promise come true on Pentecost day. We celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit as our comforter, consoler, and counselor. But this celebration goes beyond singing a silly Happy Birthday song. A celebration that does not spill over into action remains on the level of commemoration. A commemoration that does not bloom into dedicated action that springs from a divine commission does not lead to salvation.

It is this divine commission and the Church’s commitment to action-cum-passion that make Pentecost day become what it is meant to be. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” It is this reality of the church’s being gifted, empowered, and sent forth that ought to take center stage in our thoughts and reflections for today.

The coming of the Holy Spirit, as Scriptures tell us today, was not meant to produce a mere static gathering of gifted people. The celebration of Pentecost was not meant to be a mere convocation of people who reveled in their giftedness. No… Giftedness comes with empowerment. And being gifted and empowered entailed a responsibility. And that responsibility was to go forth, and facilitate the fulfillment of the messianic vision of the great gathering together of all nations and peoples, as seems clear in the greeting of the Lord that was filled with messianic undertones: “Peace be with you … Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The disciples were being commissioned to go forth and proclaim salvation and judgment. “Whose sins you forgive, are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Forgiveness is a supra-human activity. It entails a supra-human power. It can only happen if we see ourselves as empowered from above, empowered by God in the Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them …”

It is in this light that I see supernatural power from above that made it possible for the character of Sylvia Broome in the movie “The Interpreter” that, in turn, made it possible for her to resolve her grief, and her natural tendency to exact revenge. Alone by our lonesome, pusillanimous human selves, without the gift of power from above, it is impossible to forgive, impossible to love the unlovable, and the utterly despicable. We all know what it means to be treated unfairly, even unjustly, and/or cruelly. We all know what it feels to be downtrodden, to be hit hard even when you’re down. We all know what it means to hit rock bottom, and be alone in the dark basement of disappointment and despair. At such times, we can easily identify with Sylvia Broome, who, earlier in the story tells Tobey Keller, who was sent to both investigate her and guard her: “Everyone who loses someone wants revenge on someone, if no person, God.” Having lost all her loved ones to the whims of a tyrannical and cruel dictator, all she could most naturally think of doing, were it not for that supra-human power from above, would be to exact sweet revenge. Obviously, her utter grief was tearing her moral fibers to smithereens, and her statement “vengeance is a lazy form of grief,” could have been something that at least initially, she probably was not fully convinced of. At the end, having that singular chance to exact the perfect revenge against the tyrant, what she could not have done from her purely human powers alone, she was finally able to do, thus giving reality to her other earlier statement: “The only way to end the grief is to save a life.”

Today, Pentecost day, the Lord calls us to task. Frightened and disheartened disciples, upon receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, went out in full force and became “disciples-in-mission,” commissioned and committed to action with the full passion of their Christian conviction. We are called to no less than this passionate dedication to action on behalf of evangelization.

Our mission, of course, quite unlike that of Sylvia Broome, is not just to resolve a personal grief. With the Risen Christ having finally fulfilled what was promised from of old, with the Spirit sent from above, with him now seated at the Father’s right hand, with the Comfoter, Consoler, and Counselor standing by us, the world is charged with divine power and limitless energy. Ours now is the task to share in this power and allow it to “renew the face of the earth” (Responsorial Psalm).

Gifted now and empowered, we are also sent forth to proclaim salvation and mediate forgiveness, to save not just a life, but to work “so that all might have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).