Bible Reflection (19 May 2024)

Pentecost, Year B

Acts 2:1-11
Galatians 5:16-25
John 15:26-27,16:12-15

Open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. Let Him heal our relationships, our Church, and our society.

“Am I happy in life?” The truth is, if we answer this question honestly, most of us have elements of unhappiness in our lives. And for most of us, one of these would be our difficult relationships – with our family, loved ones, friends, colleagues and others. Often, we do not have good relationships because we do not communicate well. To use a Catholic term, there is no communion between us and the other party. We do not enjoy communion with one another because most times, we keep our communication superficial. Most times, our communication does not proceed beyond small talks. Because our communication is superficial, our relationships are consequently also superficial. For many of us, this is true even with my spouses, loved ones and friends.

How have we become so poor in communicating? Afterall, there is no language barrier of the kind we read in the First Reading this week. Alas, even as we speak the same language, today, communication is often difficult. While we can physically hear and understand what each other is saying, the message is not getting through. Why? Because no one is listening to the other. This is especially so when two parties have different viewpoints. In our polarised culture, we have lost the ability to hold difficult discussions. We have lost the skills to hold a respectful discourse of different opinions. We do not tolerate dissenting views and hold those whose views are different from ours in contempt. We even undermine and alienate those we disagree with. And this disaccord in our personal relationships flows on to the greater society. In our society, cancel culture is rife. People label those they disagree with with words such as “hateful” and silent them by taking away their rights to speak. In our universities, students are chanting “from the river to the sea” without understanding that they are calling for the annihilation of the entire nation of Israel. As they rightfully protest the destruction of lives in Gaza, they could not bring themselves to condemning Hama’s terrorist acts on Israel’s innocence. And most times, people could not bring themselves to listening to others with a different viewpoint. We need to be more ready to listen to others with different viewpoints from ours.

At the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9), on account of their sins, God confused the people’s language causing them to lose their ability to communicate with each other. Indeed, today, like the people at the Tower, on account of our sins, we have lost our ability to communicate with each other. This week, we celebrate Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit. More than ever, we need the Holy Spirit to come down upon us, to open our ears to listen to each other, to communicate, to enjoy communion with each other. Because, for many of us, the source of our intolerance of others is that we have allowed the desires of our flesh have overpowered the desires of our spirit. We have let the sins of pride, anger and envy took over us. It is just as St Paul said in the Second Reading this week, “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.” (verse 17) St Paul warned, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” (verse 19-21) Sadly, this is not just happening to our society, but it is also happening in our church communities and the Universal Church. It is no wonder that our Church is more divided than ever. To continue this way is to court nothing but destruction. St Paul did not mince his words when he said, “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (verse 21). Let us heed St Paul’s warning.

This week, at the Feast of Pentecost, the First Reading this week gives an account of this momentous event. We read how the Holy Spirit came down upon the people, undoing the plague they suffered at the Tower of Babel. We read, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (verse 4) The Holy Spirit enable the people to communicate once again. In the Gospel this week, Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (verse 12-13). More than ever, we need Holy Spirit to come into our community, our Church and our lives, to once again unite us. In the First Reading, after the Holy came upon the disciples, the people were saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” (verse 7-8) Indeed, let us invite in the Holy Spirit. And be prepared to be amazed. But this requires a receptive heart. Am I prepared to be receptive? Or do I prefer to hold on to my sins of pride, anger and envy?

Indeed, my brothers and sisters, we need to let the Holy Spirit takes over, to help us communicate, and most importantly, convey love in all things we say – even it is to put forward a different viewpoint. It is only then that we can experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit. In the Second Reading, St Paul enumerated: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (verse 22-23) Reading on from the First Reading in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear the disciples have reaped these fruits as they minister to the people. My dear friends, today, as we celebrate Pentecost, let us ask ourselves: Do I desire the Holy Spirit as the disciples did? In the midst of our communication breakdowns, poor relationships and a general deprivation of joy, am I open to the Holy Spirit to come upon me? Do I desire Him to come and change me? Yes, it is to change me – not to change others but me. Indeed, if I sincerely want to truly communicate with a friend or a loved one once again, let it start with me taking the initiative to listen. Let me invite the Holy Spirit to come upon me – but on His terms, not on my terms.

Come Holy Spirit, come!