Fr Cyprian’s Weekly Reflection
Pentecost Sunday – 31st May 2020.
This year, many Christians; precisely Catholics might feel rather shortchanged and rightly so, when we reflect on our Lenten and Easter period experience. The very necessary suspension of liturgies and closure churches last March in the wake of COVID 19 meant that we miss out on our most sacred of days on our liturgical calendar; namely, Holy Week. During Holy Week, bishops around the world gather in their cathedrals to celebrate Chrism Mass or as it is otherwise known, Mass of the oils. This for me, has for years since I started to appreciate the liturgy and my faith in general, been the start of Easter celebrations.
Something quite profound happens during the Mass of the oils. It is when the bishop breathes on the oils of chrism and then prays the consecration prayer over it with all his priests extending their right hands over it. In this action and prayer, the bishop brings to life the action of Jesus as is recorded in the gospel of Saint John 20:22. This gospel, complimented by Saint Luke’s account in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11 provides us key theme and appreciation of the solemnity of Pentecost.
Pentecost marks the conclusion of Easter days when the Lord Jesus, pours down the Holy Spirit upon His apostles and indeed up on us. Easter as we would already know, is a most fruitful time of our annual faith experience that flows from Easter Vigil into the end of fifty days; hence Pentecost as taken from the Greek language. But that is not all, Saint Pope John Paul II commented on Pentecost saying that when we celebrate it, we are in fact following the example of our ‘elder brother’ the Jewish people. The Jews celebrated, or rather celebrate this feast fifty days after the Passover.
In the Passover feast, the sons and daughters of Israel keep a thanksgiving memorial for when God spared their firstborn sons from the angel of death when he saw the blood of the lamb applied on Israelites’ doorposts (Exodus 12:1-30). For us Christian people, Christ Jesus is the sacrificial lamb by whose blood our life has been spared. He so rightly reminds us elsewhere; I have come so you may have life and have it to the full Jn.10:10. For such an enormous and unmerited gift, the joy and gratitude of the Christian people flows beyond Easter Sunday to culminate on Pentecost Sunday – the day of down pouring of the Holy Spirit.
Traditionally, Pentecost has been known to be the birthday of the Church. Why? Until Jesus breathed on His apostles, giving them the Holy Spirit and sending them forth, they were locked away in a room in Jerusalem. It is only after Jesus commissioned them that they came out and started spreading His message to other parts of Israel and beyond. This was the case for the other Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem and heard the apostles speaking in their own native languages about the marvels of God. These were amazed and went back to their communities with this message of good news. You and I are equally empowered by the Holy Spirit as were the apostles and disciples in Jerusalem on Pentecost day. By virtue of our baptism and confirmation, the Holy Spirit has been poured into us. We therefore have the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit which we must use for the building up of the Church. So, the question you and I must ask ourselves on this Pentecost Sunday is this: What does the Holy Spirit prompt me to do? Am I in fact doing it?
One of the key roles of the Holy Spirit is to unite the people of God so that the words of Jesus may come true: That He has other sheep that do not belong to this fold. He wishes to lead them too; that they may heed His voice so that there may be one flock under the one Shepherd; Jesus Christ (John 10:16). Pentecost rewrites the story of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). In this story, the people ignored God their creator and wanted to live life their own way. They were making themselves into gods or creators in their own right and not creatures. To correct them, God did confuse their language so they could not understand each other and that resulted in them not being able to build the tower they had wanted to. On Pentecost day, though people were speaking in foreign languages, they could all understand each other. What had changed? What was in this Pentecost language that wasn’t there before? The Holy Spirit bears love; and in love there is unity. It is for this reason; the greatest commandment of Jesus is of love – love one another as I have loved you. On Ascension Day, Jesus commands His Apostles to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all His commandments (Matthew 28:19-20). Those commandments are summed up in the love of God and the love of our neighbor (Mark 12:28-34).
As we wrap up this Easter period, let us take solace in the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts. Let as seek His guidance as we go through these difficult times with trusting patience. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God remains with us as Jesus has promised: And behold, I am with you always, until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). With the Lord by our side, we shall resume those beautiful public liturgies of ours when we can sing His praises. We shall with renewed spirits and vigour celebrate future Easters glorifying God for sparing us the wrath of this pandemic. We shall pray for our loved ones who have succumbed to the pandemic that in the power of the Holy Spirit in the hope of the resurrection, they are in eternal life with our blessed Lord in heaven. At His prompting let us implore Him in the quite of our hearts: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful…. Amen.