Father Valan Arockiaswamy

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HOMILIES

Close Dear Audience,
For better understanding of the spiritual message behind this homily I kindly remind you to first read and contemplate the biblical texts before reading or listening to my preaching - a human reflection on the Word of God!

The Feast of Pentecost (Year A)

Jun 4, 2017 Views 118 Listen 9 Downloads 2
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First Reading

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-11)

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, the apostles 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 of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were 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 the apostles 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."

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (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)

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)

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)

Second Reading

A reading from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (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.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Gospel

A reading from the Gospel according to John (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."

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Homily

A young man was an apprentice to an artist who produced the most beautiful stained-glass windows. The apprentice, even after many months of training, could not attain the master's genius so he borrowed the master's tools, thinking that was the answer. After several weeks, the apprentice said to the master, "Master, I am not doing any better with your tools than I did with mine." The master replied, "So, it is not the tools of the master you need, but the spirit of the master."

Over two thousand years ago, Jesus' apostles had a similar experience. Before Jesus left the earth, He had instructed them, "Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I commanded you. I am with you always, even to the end of the world", Matthew (28:19-20). Though the apostles surely had willing hearts and Jesus' teachings, they were probably at a loss as to how to accomplish the work Jesus had given them to do. To be like Jesus, their Master, and to carry out His mission on earth, they needed the Spirit of Jesus. Today's readings tell us that they were, indeed, equipped with all the necessary means, and more importantly, the same Spirit that Jesus had in Him, to get the job done.

From the Bible, we learn that Jesus' arrest, conviction and death had left His apostles and followers confused, disappointed, disillusioned, frightened, hurt and in deep grief. But after three days, Jesus rose from the dead, and appeared to them many times over a period of forty days, and "gave them many signs to show that He was alive", Acts (1:3). He also gave them the gifts of peace and joy, and the mission to teach and baptize people, and as well as the authority and power to forgive sins and above all, the Holy Spirit, and His presence, John (20:19-23) and Matthew (28:19-20).

And, finally, He appeared to them at Bethany and enjoined them to remain in Jerusalem to bear witness to him, and then move to all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth, Acts (1:8). The apostles did as Jesus had commanded. They returned to Jerusalem and continued to gather in prayer, and to praise and worship their exalted Lord and Master, Luke (24:51-53) and Acts (1:12-14).

Ten days later, that is, fifty days after Jesus' resurrection, as usual, besides the apostles and followers of Jesus, many others, particularly, devout Jews from many regions and countries were gathered in a house. They had not gathered to celebrate what we know as Pentecost - the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. Rather, they had gathered together to observe Shavuot, one of the most solemn harvest festivals in the Old Testament times, Leviticus (23) and Numbers (28). It was also known to the Jews as the Feast of Weeks. Shavuot in Hebrew means "weeks", and it falls at the end of a week of weeks, that is 7 weeks, or 49 days after another feast called Bikhurim, the Feast of First Fruits.

Harvest festivals are universal, and the Israelite farmers probably celebrated their harvest festivals in ways not much different from others. However, by the time of Jesus, Shavuot had been transformed into something more than an agricultural celebration. From the time of their settlement in the Promised Land they had been gathering to thank God not only for the harvest of their fields, orchards and vineyards but also for the observations of the laws and traditions of the harvest which had developed from the time of Moses, Exodus (34) and Leviticus (19). Especially, they commemorated the revelation of the Torah or the Law on Mount Sinai to the Jewish people.

In the Book of Exodus we read that the Israelites left Egypt the day after the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and went to Mount Sinai, Exodus (12 - 19). On the 47th day after leaving Egypt, God called Moses up to the mountain to receive the Law. On the 50th day, Moses returned with the Law from God Himself. This was the feast that God had commanded Israel to keep every year on the 50th day after the Passover. In Greek, it is called Pentekostos transliterated into English, Pentecost, that means fiftieth. Jews, mostly all able-bodied men, from all over the ancient world of the Mediterranean, were expected to travel to Jerusalem to observe the harvest feasts, including Shavuot, Deuteronomy (16:16).

The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus records that the population of Jerusalem was around 600,000 in the first century AD, Cornelius Tacitus (55-177 AD). He recounts that this population surged to two to three million during festivals. So, it is, of course, possible that on the day of Pentecost, the disciples, most of whom had been dispersed by tragic events that took place in their lives, had gathered again after Jesus' resurrection and ascension, with joy and renewed and fortified faith, also drew a large crowd who had come to Jerusalem for the festival.

Luke points out that they were Parthians, Medes and Elamites, who were probably the inhabitants of modern-day northern Iran and southern Iraq; people from Mesopotamia, which is mostly parts of modern-day Iran, Syria and Turkey; and Cappadocia, Pontus, Phrygia and Pamphylia, which are now called Turkey; as well as travellers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans from Greece and Arabs, probably from the Middle East or Northern Africa. The result of so many Jews and non-Jews gathering in Jerusalem for Shavuot or Pentecost was that 3000 people became believers in Jesus and were baptized that day, Acts (2:41). So, it was a gathering of both apostles and followers; preachers and listeners; believers and unbelievers.

As they were probably talking with one another about Jesus, Luke writes, "suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. And there appeared to them tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each of them", Acts (2:2-3). In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is usually invisible and mysterious. However, at times He makes himself known in visible and tangible manifestations. For example, at Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit manifested Himself as a dove, and so the Church has adopted the dove as the official symbol of the Holy Spirit. However the Holy Spirit just chooses to manifest himself the way He pleases. On the day of Pentecost, He came from heaven, like a strong wind, and manifested Himself as tongues of fire that filled the house and rested on the heads of the people who had gathered there. Moreover, the Holy Spirit did not come gently and quietly but suddenly and unexpectedly.

The text does not say whether they had prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit. It appears that it came upon them of His own free will. He came because Jesus had told the apostles that He would ask God the Father to send the Holy Spirit to all who keep His commandments, John (14:16). Of course, the test of the apostles' obedience to Jesus commandment came when He instructed them, before His ascension, not to leave Jerusalem, but to stay together and wait. The apostles' subsequent return to Jerusalem and their staying together until the day of Pentecost imply they had responded obediently to Jesus' instructions, Acts (1:12). So, the Holy Spirit came upon them just as Jesus had promised.

Consequently, the apostles were given the miraculous gift of "speaking in tongues," that is, being able to speak in foreign languages which they had never learned, and at the same time, the crowds were able to hear the apostles in their own languages and thus understood the message of God, Acts (2:3-4,6, 11). Some might wonder how it was possible for the people to understand the apostles when they spoke in tongues. As Jesus said, "All things are possible for one who believes", Mark (9:23). It does not mean that God is going to give us anything we want because we believe. It rather means that if we believe, then God can do anything in our life according to His plan and His purpose and His will. So, it is quite possible that on the Day of Pentecost, God, the Father, who had already given the gift of His Son Jesus, also gave the gift of the Holy Spirit, and further gifts for His children, known as the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The gifts of the Spirit, as prophesied by Isaiah, the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord, were given to all those who truly believed in the power of God so that the apostles could proclaim the Gospel in diverse languages, and the people could understand the Gospel in their own languages, Isaiah (11:2). All these were the work of one and the same Spirit, who gave to each believer as He determined, 1 Corinthians (12:11).

What is the message for us?

God gives each and every believer in Christ the same gift, that is, the gift of the Holy Spirit, as He had given to the people who had assembled on the first Pentecost Day. We, both infants and adults, first receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism for the remission of original sin, and are sealed with the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. And the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence in us to help us in every conceivable way. He will be "with" us, says Jesus, "forever", John (14:16). However, while the Holy Spirit will never abandon us, it is possible for our sins to "quench the Holy Spirit" or "grieve the Holy Spirit" as Saint Paul says, 1 Thessalonians (5:19) and Ephesians (4:30).

Our sins always affect our relationship with God. While our relationship with God is secure through faith in Jesus Christ, being unwilling to acknowledge our sins before God and perhaps to confess it to someone else can hinder our relationship with God and effectively bar the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Therefore, it is very important that we confess our sins because God is "faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us of all wickedness", 1 John (1:9).

Otherwise, although the Holy Spirit will never abandon us, the spiritual powers of the gifts of the Spirit - wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord - which we receive through Him for our own benefit may not be active in us. These gifts are to help us to learn and know the truths of the gospel which will guide us back to our Heavenly Father. But if we disregard the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we will certainly lose the benefits of what God had meant them to do. The Apostle Paul goes still further and says, "Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ", Romans (8:9).

Hence, first of all, let us, reverently try to understand what happened on that day of Pentecost and believe in the power of the Spirit. Secondly, let us, each day renew ourselves and allow God's Holy Spirit to fill us and drive away our pride, and help us to seek forgiveness for our sins so that we can bear witness to His name in the world. Thirdly, let us, meekly call upon the Holy Spirit, to bless us with His gifts: the gift of wisdom, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, understanding, piety and the fear of the Lord. Fourthly, let us remember that without these gifts, we will not be docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit; without these gifts, we cannot bear fruits of the Spirit, such as "charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, fidelity, gentleness and self-control", and without these gifts, there can be no sanctification and salvation, Galatians (5:22-23).

(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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