A Promised Fulfilled: The Spirit Of The Lord Is Upon Us!
Readings: 1st: Acts 2: 1-11; Ps 103: 24-34; 2nd: 1Cor 12: 3-7.12-12; Gos Jh 20: 19-23
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. After a period of fifty days of rejoicing over the resurrection of Christ, we have come to the definitive end of Easter Season. Pentecost is a feast which occupies a very important and prominent position in the Church’s history and liturgical calendar. This is because it serves as the bridge between Lenten/Easter Season and Ordinary Time of the year. In order words, without any further ceremonies tomorrow we return to the ordinary time of the year. A great number of scholars have suggested that the feast of Pentecost marks the beginning of the church. This is because today marks the actual beginning of the church’s missionary endeavor. Given this, then what we celebrate today is equally the birthday of the Holy Mother Church. So it suffices to say, happy birthday to all the faithful! The principal actors or agents in today’s celebration include the Lord who today has fulfilled his promise, the Holy Spirit who has harkened to the voice of Jesus and made himself available, and finally, all believers who with open minds and hearts have welcomed the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we celebrate today a great feast, when Christ filled and equipped his church with the power of his Spirit and sent us out into the world to bring peace, unity, joy, forgiveness, love and eternal life to all humankind. It would not be out of place to note here that given the boisterous and radical nature of the events of Pentecost most Christians have completely misunderstood or abused it. This is mostly with respect to speaking in tongues and the nature of the claims they make “in the name of the Holy Spirit.”
Once at a certain “Pentecostal gathering,” a young lady who was in dare need of a life partner targeted a very handsome young man, who was a fellow prayer warrior. Since she could not approach him to ask for his hand in marriage as it might be seen as contrary to customs, she started prophesying in strange tongues and equally interpreted it in songs to the hearing of the young man and the entire gathering: “Muo nso si na i ga alu m” (the Holy Spirit says you shall marry me). Though embarrassed at first, the young man caught the joke and trick, and immediately, went into his own trance and frenzy, and began to give a contrary prophesy in his own fabricated tongue and song: “Muo nso si na mu agaghi alu gi (the Holy Spirit says I should not marry you). Immediately the gathering was thrown into a pandemonium. It became obvious that both of them have lied against the Holy Spirit. What a shame and sacrilege!
The first reading of this Sunday tells the story of how Christ eventually fulfilled his promise to his disciples who faithfully heeded the injunction, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the advocate comes” (Acts 1, 5). From the perspective of this reading therefore, today’s celebration is that of a promise fulfilled, and the reward of faithful obedience and steadfastness in prayer. Like the early disciples, every true believer has been empowered specially by the Holy Spirit. We have been refilled with a new unction for function and therefore, must like them also, welcome and appreciate the various gifts made available to us by the out pouring of the Holy Spirit. It is important to note here as we see in the short story above that one of the greatest aspect of this feast that is grossly misunderstood and abused is the gift of tongue. In this regard, one must be careful in exercising or claiming to have received this gift by fabricating and learning all forms of “junk and mock speeches” that cannot be understood, interpreted or explained by anyone. The danger inherent in this is, sinning against the Holy Spirit. We must note Jesus’ warning: “Any sin against the Son will be forgiven but…against the Holy Spirit will not” (Mtt 12, 31-32). It is important therefore that we grasp very well Paul’s teachings on the issue of gifts and speaking in tongues in Cor 12 and 14. It is quite unfortunate these days that so much lies have been told against the Holy Spirit especially through the speaking of false, forced and learned tongues. It is a gratuitous gift from God and does not come through learning and practicing. Today, it is quite easy and alarming to hear people using parlance like: “the spirit says”, “the spirit moved me”, “the spirit ministered to me”, “I heard the spirit speak to me”, etcetera. Anyone who prays or speaks false tongues is both blaspheming against God and committing sacrilege – a sin against the Holy Spirit. This gift was given to the apostles to aid them spread the good news to different people who gathered from all nations to listen to them: “Now there were devout men living in Jerusalem…each one bewildered to hear these men speaking his own language about the marvels of God.” It was not given to them to boost their ego, for their own personal or selfish interests, or to break away and found their own Churches so as to extort money and materials from people. Instead, it was given to them in order to pass on the message of eternal life on to others.
In the second reading of today, Paul makes a very important statement: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.” What this means is that it is God himself that enables us through the gifts we received today to recognize the lordship of Christ, as Christ equally tells us: “No one comes to me except the Father draws him” (Jh 6, 44). Recognizing the lordship of Christ is one task that was very difficult for Satan the tempter, because, he was without the Holy Spirit. The obvious fact is that when Paul uses the phrase “say Jesus is Lord”, he is not simply referring to the literary pronouncement of the lordship of Jesus as one could easily pay lip service to it. Instead, what Paul means by “say” here is, making Jesus the Lord of one’s life. To do this one needs the power, and conviction of the Holy Spirit. To say Jesus is Lord is to live it, and to actually have him as the lord of our lives. Only those who are being led by the Holy Spirit are truly sons and daughters of God (Rom 8, 14). It is the Spirit that we receive today, that will therefore prompt us to proclaim the lordship of Christ from our bowls and with utter conviction. This is why Paul says: “But you received the spirit of sonship and by him we cry Abba Father. The spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom 8, 15-16).
In the gospel of today we see the synergy of the Trinitarian God in action, each doing and completing His action. They operated as though they were involved in a relay race where each hands over the baton to the other. However, in spite of this hand over, none of them becomes passive. To say others are passive at a time could amount to one falling victim to the heresy of millenarianism as did Joachim of Fiona who thought that there were three eras, each dominated by a particular member of the Trinity while others went to bed or into passivity. Jesus says “as the Father sent me so I am sending you, receive the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit we received today has in no way come to replace Christ. Rather, as he was with Christ, He has come to help us achieve what he helped Christ achieve. For example he has come to help us forgive the sins of one another, for without his aid we can do this. This is why having breathed the Spirit on his disciples, Jesus commissioned them as ministers of the Sacrament of Penance, “…whoever sins you forgive are forgiven…” This day therefore, the Spirit we have received commissions and empowers us to move out in full force yet, with wisdom and gentility in order to testify to the lordship of Christ. Today we have a new Pentecost. Let us therefore beckon on the Lord: “Send forth your spirit O Lord and renew the face of the earth.
Peace be with you all!!