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 B)

May 19, 2024 Views 334 Listen 5 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles (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 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."

(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 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 holy 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

There is a story of an old beggar who lying on his deathbed spoke his last words to his young son who had been his constant companion during his begging trips. "Dear son," he said, "I have nothing to give you except a cotton bag and a dirty bronze bowl which I got in my younger days from the junk yard of a rich lady." After his father's death, the boy continued begging, using the bowl his father had given him. One day a gold merchant dropped a coin in the boy's bowl and he was surprised to hear a familiar ring. "Let me check your bowl," the merchant said. To his great surprise, he found that the beggar's bowl was made of pure gold. "My dear young man," he said, "you don't have to beg for money in the street. Your bowl is worth thousands of dollars." Like this young boy who did not recognize the value of his bowl, many of us fail to recognize and appreciate the infinite worth of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

According to the Old Testament there are three major annual feasts that the Lord had commanded all of the Israelites to celebrate in Jerusalem: the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Shavuot. Shavuot is celebrated seven weeks or fifty days after Passover as a post-harvest thanksgiving and as a remembrance of God's covenant with Noah and his descendants after the flood and His covenant with Moses after giving him and the people of Israel the Torah or The Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai during their exodus from Egypt. Since about the second century, Christians started to celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus over His Apostles and other Jewish followers who were gathered together to observe Shavuot, and it was named pentekoste in Greek from which comes Pentecost meaning "the fiftieth day." So, today's feast marks fifty days since Easter Day and the end of the Easter Season and also the beginning of the Church by the apostolic preaching by St Peter, which resulted in the conversion of three thousand Jews to the Christian faith. Thus, Pentecost is also the official "birthday" of the Church.

Now the question may arise if Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, which Church's birthday are we celebrating? Because there are thousands of different churches in the world. In 2023, it was reported that there are over 35,500 officially recognized independent or non-denominational churches in the world. These churches do not affiliate with any established denominations or mainstream churches, such as Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican or Methodist. So, the Church which was born at Pentecost is not primarily a particular community but the universal Church which is in Greek katholicos or Catholic. From her other Christian communities have been born around the world and they are all actualizations of the one and only Church of Christ. While the Church is made up of believers in Jesus Christ, it is the work of the Holy Spirit which has formed the church and has made it function properly as well. Therefore, Pentecost is also a powerful yearly reminder of the work of the Spirit past, present, and future.

Today's readings remind us of the role and the gift of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers and of the Church as well as of the need for sharing this gift with others. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-11) recounts in detail the miraculous transformation that took place during the first Pentecost, thus fulfilling Jesus' promise to his apostles before His ascension that they would receive "Power from on high", Luke (24:49). First, like a "strong wind", the Holy Spirit came in suddenly and seemingly from nowhere, filling the room in which the apostles and other believers were. In fact, the Book of Genesis tells us that this "wind", ruah in Hebrew, which can also mean the "spirit" or "breath" of God was already present at the beginning of creation. God breathed His own breath into everything and brought forth life, order, and beauty, Genesis (1:2). Then in the form of "tongues of fire" the Holy Spirit came down upon them. Their reception of the Holy Spirit was manifested when they boldly began to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and those who heard it were able to understand the apostles regardless of the languages spoken by them. It is believed that the supernatural ability to speak in tongues on that occasion reversed the confusion of languages God had inflicted on the builders of the Tower of Babel and dispersed them around the world as a punishment for their pride, arrogance and their desire to be like gods, as described in the Book of Genesis (11:1-9). Thus clearly, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit enabled the believers to communicate and understand the Gospel message across ethnic, cultural, and linguistic barriers.

Furthermore, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the believers was evident in their effective witness for Christ by their sharing of love and strong faith, and by their acceptance of the violent persecution and discrimination that followed. And also, the power of the Holy Spirit was manifest among all believers of the early church through the dispensation of spiritual gifts, such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, prophecy, healing, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, Corinthians (12:9-10), production of spiritual fruits such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, Galatians (5:22-23a), and renewal of hearts and minds to reflect Christ more closely.

In today's Second Reading, Corinthians (12:3-7, 12-13), St Paul explains how the Holy Spirit led to spiritual transformation within believers; granting diverse spiritual gifts to build up the Church. Paul emphasizes that these spiritual gifts are coming from the same Spirit Who activates all of them in the believers for the benefit of everyone, for the common good and for the building up of the Church, the Body of Christ. For instance, God has given each and every one of us different gifts that we can use to help make the Holy Mass a special celebration. Some are good singers, some are good readers, some are good ushers and greeters, and others like priests, altar servers, extraordinary Eucharistic ministers, commentators, flower guilds, and sacristans who are gifted at arranging and preparing the church for worship and prayer. So, whatever our gift is, every gift comes from God and it is used to serve one another and bring honour and glory to God the Father.

Today's Gospel from John (20:19-23) tells us of Jesus appearing to his disciples on the day of the resurrection and "He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Now, the question may arise, however, as to why Jesus breathed on the disciples to give them the Holy Spirit if they would receive the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Did they receive the Holy Spirit twice? If so, why? The Bible does not directly answer this, but from the contexts, we can believe to a large extent that the disciples did receive the Holy Spirit twice. However, on the very day of Jesus' resurrection, only Jesus' closest disciples received the Holy Spirit to overcome anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness and fear following the crucifixion and death of Jesus, but on the day of Pentecost, the disciples and thousands of new believers received the Holy Spirit for a greater purpose. In other words, the giving of the Holy Spirit on day of Jesus' resurrection was a forestate of what was to come at Pentecost. While Jesus breathing on the disciples on the day of His resurrection was a temporary enablement by the means of the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost, Jesus fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit so as to enable them to fulfil His commission to preach the Gospel to all the nations.

After breathing on the disciples and giving them a foretaste of the Holy Spirit who would come fully at Pentecost, Jesus said, "For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained, John (20:22). These words are interpreted differently by different Christian denominations. We Catholics believe that Jesus granted His apostles, and thus their successors, priests and bishops, the power to forgive sins or to withhold forgiveness. It is a little difficult for us to understand how another man can forgive or retain sins, but Jesus gave this power to His apostles just as He gave them His authority to preach His Gospel and lead His Church. No doubt, God forgives us in His abundant love and mercy because of Christ's death and resurrection, but He Himself willed that we must obtain forgiveness and reconcile with Him through the ministry of reconciliation or confession. Therefore, let us look upon the Sacrament of Confession as an opportunity to make full reparation for our sins, and restore our relationship with God and others. Let us confess our sins to the priests, who stand in the name of Christ and the Church, and receive through them God's forgiveness and peace as well as grace to strengthen us against future temptations.

We may not have had a dramatic, overwhelming, or defining experience of the descent of the Holy Spirit just like on the day of the resurrection of Jesus, the day of Pentecost, at the time of the early Church, or even some people today claim to have. Personally, I think only a few believers have such an experience. In most of us, from the time of baptism, the Holy Spirit dwells within us, and works on us in a kind, subtle, and progressive way forward. We are not given the Holy Spirit that we might have a great emotional experience, but that we might live holy lives and be fruitful witnesses for Christ. Therefore, as we once again celebrate this major feast of our Christian faith, let us pray to the Holy Spirit to come and refresh our weary hearts. In moments of strength, weakness, and everything in between, let us invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit. Let us not be like the young man who failed to recognize his golden bowl but rather recognize and appreciate the transforming, sanctifying, and strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Let us also renew our promises made to God during Baptism and Confirmation, to profess our faith, and to practice it.

Prayers to the Holy Spirit »

(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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