REFLECTION FOR THE FEAST OF PENTECOST
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Some time ago, I came across a riddle where a man was asked if he would save his mom or his wife if both were to be in danger of drowning in a river at the same time, and he could only save one person. It was tough for the man to answer because both persons appear to have equal importance to him.
In life, we often relate to people according to the level of importance we attach to them. As we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, we need to reflect on the person and the importance of the Holy Spirit. Put more directly, “is the Holy Spirit important in our lives are His roles, indispensable?” The following questions are key for us: who is the Holy Spirit, what are the functions of the Holy, and how does the work of the Holy Spirit affect our lives?
Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is not a “thing” that is why we are talking about “who” in this segment. There are some misrepresentations of the Holy Spirit as a “thing” to the extent that some people use the pronoun “it” to describe the Holy Spirit due to some manifestation of His presence in the form of fire, dove, wind, force, etc.
The Holy Spirit is a Person, in fact, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity who shares One Essence with the Father and the Son; that means the Holy Spirit is God (2 Cor. 5:5). As God, the Holy Spirit is Omnipotent (Micha 3:8), He is Omnipresent (Psalm 139:7), and Omniscient (1 Cor. 2:10) and Eternal (Hebrew 9:14).
As a person, the Holy Spirit could teach (John 14:26), He advocates (John 16:7), He convicts (John 16:8), and He helps (Romans 8:26), among other things.
What are the Functions of the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit, as the third Person of the Holy Trinity, has been active from the moment God disclosed Himself. The following are the specialized functions of the Holy Spirit
The Creator Spirit
The Book of Genesis (1:2) tells us that before God started the work of creation, the Spirit was hovering over the face of the deep. Psalm (104:30) says, “You send forth your Spirit, and they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”
The Holy Spirit brings life as the breath of God. After molding man from the dust of the earth, God breathed on Him the breath of life, and he became a living being (Gen. 2:7). The Book of Job (33:4) says that the Spirit of God made me, and the breath of the Almighty brought me to life.
Here, we understand that the Holy Spirit is responsible for the creation of life, not just human life but life in general. Remember, He was actively hovering before creation started.
The Permanent Abiding Presence
In the Gospel of John (14:16), our Lord Jesus Christ promised his disciples that he would ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit to be with them forever. This is one of the great benefits of the coming of Lord Jesus Christ. Before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, He was not abiding permanently in the lives of people.
Now we can understand why our Lord Jesus Christ asked his disciples not to depart from Jerusalem until they receive the promise of the Father; the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). Without the Holy Spirit, the Christian life would be impossible and impracticable
The Giver of Gifts
One of the core characteristics of God the Holy Spirit is His giving attitude, just like God the Father (John 3:16) and the Son (Matt. 20:28). The prophet Isaiah (11:2), and St. Paul (1 Cor. 12:1-11; Galatians 5:22) tell us about the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. St. James (1:17) tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from God above.
Signs of the Presence of the Holy Spirit in our Lives
The account of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Pentecost day in the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-11) shows some manifestations like the wind, the tongues of fire, and the speaking in tongues. One could ask, “are these the only signs that indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit?”
Other enduring signs indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit apart from the physical presence of fire and wind or speaking in tongues. We need to recall that the Holy Spirit is coming to be with us forever, and there are dependable indicators of His presence:
Joy and Thankfulness
Joy is different from happiness. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22) that is not dependent on external or changeable factors. In Luke (10:21), our Lord Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and gave thanks to God the Father for revealing to mere children what is hidden from the rich and the learned. The in-dwelling presence of the Holy Spirit moves us to be thankful to God.
Submission to God and Witnessing
One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to lead us. It follows then that anyone who is moved by the Holy Spirit submits to God. Submission to God brings about witnessing. Our Lord Jesus made this clear in his fare message to Apostles that when the Holy Spirit has come upon them, they will become his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In Romans (8:16), St. Paul tells us that the Spirit Himself and our Spirit bear witness that we are the children of God.
Life of Prayer
Prayer is the only way we can communicate to God, and since God is Spirit, our prayers must move through the wavelength of the Spirit. The Gospel of John (4:24) tells us that the true worshippers of God are those who worship Him in Spirit and truth, and that is the kind of worship that pleases him. Furthermore, St. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us when we pray when we are helpless. He gives us the right utterances and dispositions for prayer.
Moving Forward to Receiving the Power from on High
Every feast of Pentecost offers us a new opportunity to receive fresh unction from on high. The coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is, therefore, not a one-time event. Our lives should be an on-going Pentecost experience since the Holy Spirit remains at work in the world, bringing renewal and transformation.
We need a New Pentecost in the world today, especially now that people are becoming hopeless and nearly helpless. We need a dependable guide to lead us out of darkness, and we need the excellent teacher to reveal the entire truth to us. We need the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit the embolden us in the face of the fears and uncertainties of our time. Let us come with intense desire, faith, humility, and sinless to make this rejuvenating encounter.
May the anointing power of the Holy Spirit bring deep-seated regeneration and rejuvenation to our lives.
God bless you.
HOMILY FOR THE 7TH SUNDAY OF EASTER (YEAR A)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
A REFLECTION FOR THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
The phrase, “conditio sine qua non” is one of those linguistic gifts from the Latin language. It means a condition without which another thing or other things cannot happen. Put in another way, and it means an indispensable or necessary condition. For example, we could say that water is a “conditio sine qua non” for fish and other aquatic animals.
Today, we are celebrating the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven, and we could make bold to say that the ascension of the Lord is a “conditio sine qua non” for a whole lot of things which this reflection would unveil for us.
The First Reading today (Acts 1:1-11), confirms the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ as well as his numerous appearances for forty days. Furthermore, the writer (Luke) relates that our Lord instructed his disciples not to leave Jerusalem until they receive the power from on high. The Holy Spirit would further empower them to become his witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.
As our Lord was concluding his instructions, the disciples watch as he slips through in the clouds and disappears. What the disciples witnessed was the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ to heaven. The ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ leaves us with so many lessons that would potentially feed our spirit as we await the coming of the Holy Spirit in the coming week.
The ascension of our Lord Jesus is a very significant event in the divine plan of redemption. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, which marks the inauguration of our salvation history. Easter brings us to the triumph over sin and death through the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The ascension is indispensable in the furtherance of the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ, which includes the following:
The Opening of the Gates of Heaven
In the Gospel of John (3:13), our Lord says that “ no one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Here, we come to comprehend that heaven remained shut until Jesus Christ ascended and thus opened the gates for the redeemed to enter. The ascension assures us that we have a place fulfilling the promise our Lord made that he has a place for us in heaven (John 14:2).
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
When our Lord Jesus Christ was telling his disciples about his departure from the earth, they were hurt and felt terrible, that he was going to leave them, but told them that unless he goes, the Holy Spirit will not come (John 16:7). We understand that without the ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit would be a daydream.
The Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
The two angels who appeared to address the disciples on the day of ascension made it clear to them that the Lord Jesus Christ, who has ascended to heaven, will return in the same way (Acts 1:11). Here again, we understand that the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ would have not relevance if he did not ascend to heaven.
There is Hope for us
The ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ assures us with the hope of our ascent over the misery our times. We cannot have risen and ascended Lord and still live under the oppressive powers of evil. The ascension inaugurates our liberation, and there is hope for us in our earthly journey and beyond.
As we celebrate the ascension of the Lord, may we keep our hearts and minds open for the Second Advocate, the Holy Spirit who is coming to culminate the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!
“Love is all we need to make everything complete,” says Mary J. Blige in her 1997 song featuring Nas. The singer was stating a fact that goes beyond what many people believe about love. Love is not what you think or feel. Love is not just a noun but a functional verb. Love, therefore, is what you do, not what you say, talk is cheap. Love is not.
Interestingly, our Lord Jesus Christ started the introduction to the Holy Spirit with the concept of love. So, we could ask: “what is the connection between the Holy Spirit and the phenomenon of love?” Let us look at part of what our Lord says in the Gospel of John (14:15-21).
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows him.
In English grammar, the word “if” often begins a conditional clause that shows the pre-condition that would bring about the content of the independent clause. In this case, our Lord is saying that our love for him should move us to keep his commandments.
What are the commandments from the perspective of our Lord Jesus Christ? The Gospel of Matthew (22:34-40) tells us about a lawyer who wanted our Lord Jesus Christ to identify the greatest of all the commandments. Our Lord surprisingly answered using the virtue of love. Thus, he says the first commandment is to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, and mind, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. He concluded by saying that all the laws and prophets depend on these two commandments.
Going back to that passage, we understand that our Lord was saying if you love me, you will love God with all your hearts, soul, and mind, and you will also love your neighbor as yourself. The practical aspect of love moves us to make God super happy by avoiding sin. With our neighbors, we learn to give and forgive in the manner of God.
The fulfillment of the demands of love would take us to the next level; that is asking the Father to snd another advocate to be with us always. The second advocate here is the Holy Spirit who helps us here on earth just as much as we know that the first is Jesus Christ himself who pleads for us before the Father in heaven (1 John 2:1).
At this point, it becomes clear to us that love is the key to our relationship with God, including the reception of the Holy Spirit. Love is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Galatian 5:22). In his letter to the Romans (5:5), St. Paul tells us that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
The Gospel narrative is challenging us to reach out and hold on to the key of love. Remember that the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary were at the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit descended upon them. Let us remember that the Upper Room had a door and a lock, and the lock had a key. The key is love, and the door leads to obedience to the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ, which precedes the active impartation of the Holy Spirit.
We need to give this God-driven love a chance in our lives. Without love, we lose, and we could get lost. Our Lord also assures us in the narrative today that whoever loves him will be loved by his Father, and he will love the person and reveal himself to the individual. May the Spirit of God fill our hearts and kindle in us the fire of God’s love. Love is all we need to receive the Holy Spirit in our souls as we prepare for that encounter in the weeks ahead!
God bless you and have a beautiful day.
One of the pieces of advice young people get from their parents, teachers, and other people who play protective roles in their lives is: “stay out of trouble.” It could be possible to stay out of trouble in the sense of not intentionally looking for one, but what about the times when troubles come to you even when you do not want them? You can connect with those moments when you will mind your business and something, or someone shows up with cans of troubles. Can we not be troubled? We shall find out in this reflection.
The Gospel Reading of this fifth Sunday of Easter (John 14:1-12) begins with these words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Note that our Lord Jesus Christ was instructing his disciples, not the crowd. A careful study on the Gospels show that there are times Jesus speaks to the crowd, and at other times he would talk to his disciples as a group or to specific individuals among them
In this narrative, Jesus Christ was giving part of his final instructions to his committed followers who could relate with his words and actions. Note that he was not telling them to stay out of trouble but not to be troubled. In a later instruction from the same Gospel writer (John 16:33), Jesus says: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
While we may not wholly avoid trouble in the world as our Lord indicated, it is, however, possible not to allow the troubles to overwhelm or diminish us. To avoid being troubled by our troubles, our Lord presents a spiritual facility called faith. The advanced version of the instruction goes this way: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God; have faith also in me”. Here we see that faith functions in giving us hope and calmness in the face of the troubles in our lives.
No doubt, we are currently living with the hydra-headed troubles of the COVID-19. Did we all ask for it? I would say no; unfortunately, it is with us. But here comes the big question; “how are you handling the trouble of the moment? I understand many cannot work, and finances are not coming. I imagine some of our plans may not hold because things are not adding up; in fact, the only reasonable plan anyone can have for the rest of the year is just to stay alive.
Are you troubled? If your answer is yes, then I would ask how is that helping you? Being troubled could mean that you are becoming hopeless. It could also mean that your trust level is below the minimum. Faith comes in here as our Lord Jesus Christ prescribed in the Gospel passage.
There are many definitions of faith, but the one that excites me the most, because of its eschatological relevance, comes from the letter to the Hebrews (11:1), and it says: “ Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
The above understanding of faith helps us to know that it does not ask the famous traditional questions of what, why, where, when, and how; it instead helps us to believe because God says so.
Faith made Abraham follow God’s instructions in Genesis (12:1ff) to leave his hometown without clarity about the destination. Faith made Daniel accept being cast into the Lion’s Den than deny God (Daniel 6). Faith made Job declare, “I know that my redeemer lives and that in the end, he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh, I will see God”. (Job 19:25-26) Faith made the woman with the hemorrhages of twelve years to reach to the garment of Jesus (Luke 8: 41f). What is your own story in the face of your troubles; are you fear-full or faith-full?
Do not allow the troubles around you to define you because there is an end to every one of them. In the Gospel today, our Lord Jesus Christ tells his disciples that beyond the earthly troubles, there is a heavenly reward, namely His Father’s house, which has many peaceful rooms. The good news is that we do not need to search for the way to the Father’s house. Our Lord assures us in the Gospel today that he is the only way, and when we believe in the truth of his words, we gain life.
May God grant you the grace to look beyond the troubles of the time because they have expiry dates. Instead, may we focus on the enduring peace the reigns in the eternal home, our Lord Jesus Christ has prepared for us, and may we continue to strike to secure our dwelling places in the Father’s house.
God bless you and have a beautiful day.
Some time ago, I saw a reality documentary that made me sad. It was a collection of stories of parents who left their kids in their cars while either going shopping, running late to the office or catching up with friends. The more disturbing part is that some of those kids died under the suffocating heat of the sun with the windows wound up.
When authorities interrogated some of the parents who were involved in these gruesome incidences, they confessed that they forgot them in their cars. That sounds weird, but it is true. Sometimes, we forget the unforgettable.
Some of us may feel bad about these incidences and may even blame the defaulters. However, we could also recall that we often fail to be watchful teachers, parents, mentors, and guides when we consciously or unconsciously allow those under us to stray or get hurt by people, events, and circumstances out there.
This Fourth Sunday of Easter is also the Good Shepherd Sunday. The 23rd Psalm, which forms the responsorial psalm today, gives us the legendry catchphrase that says, “the Lord is my Shepherd.” This reflection would render this catchphrase as “God has got your back!”
The Psalm 23rd is from David, who was a seasoned Shepherd. We could recall that his argument to fight Goliath was that he had killed lions and bears with his bare hands through the power of God when they attacked his herd of sheep (1 Samuel 17:32-37). In the next part of his life, God saved him multiple times from the hands of King Saul, who became very jealous of him and was haunting after him to kill him.
When David declared, “the Lord is my Shepherd,” he was not speculating nor guessing; instead, he was reflecting on his experience as a fearless shepherd and first-hand encounter with God as the Shepherd of his life. A more in-depth reflection of the statements of the Psalm would help us to see how God got your back even at the most dreadful moments of our lives.
The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. Notice that the Psalm uses the verb “is” to demonstrate the currency of the Lord’s shepherding power. He is not referring to what happened in the past or what would happen in the future. Instead, he was referring to an on-going reality.
The letter to the Hebrews (13:8) says that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Letter of St. James (1:17) says that every perfect gift comes from the Father of lights above in whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
The Psalm also says, “I shall not want.” What this means is that you have all you need, namely God, who is the Shepherd that got your back. If you have God, you have everything. You will get verdant pastures and restful waters for the revival of your soul, simple.
He Guides me in the Right Path. There are two paths in life: the right and the wrong path. The gap between where you are and where you when to be is the path you follow. In the Jewish setting, the Shepherd goes while the sheep follow where the Shepherd leads. There are times in the search for greener pastures when the Shepherd had to lead the sheep through a dark valley.
A valley is incredibly a low land, usually situated between two mountains. It is often dark even during the day because the mountains cast shadows into the valley. The dark valley is not generally comfortable for the sheep, but because the Shepherd is leading them, they fear no evil because he is by their side to guide and direct them with his rod of power and staff of authority.
Does this relate to your life? Sometimes you may pass through some dark valleys. We are indeed passing through a dark valley currently in our history with the COVID-19. Yes, we are passing through and not stuck in it. St. Peter tells us in the Second Reading to (1 Peter 2:20b-25) to be patient in our suffering like our Lord Jesus Christ. The good news is that we have a Shepherd who is leading you on the right paths through the dark valley.
He says in Deuteronomy (31: 6) that you should not be afraid of them, He will neither forget you nor forsake you. He tells you in Psalm (27: 10) that even if Father and mother forget you, He will take care of us. He also reminds you in the prophecy of Isaiah (49:15-16) that even if a woman forgets her suckling baby, He will not forget you because your name is written on the palms of His hand. He assures you in Isaiah (41:10) that you should not look around in fear because He is holding us with His righteous right hand. He got our backs, folks, even in this dark valley!
You Spread the Table Before me in the Sight of my Foes. At this point, you can shout Alleluia because you are out of the dark valley, now is the time for merriment. A table means there is food, and your enemies would be around to see you eat so that when you are done eating would do the dishes; otherwise, they have no business watching you eat. Notice also that your head is anointed with oil, which indicates there is an unction for success because your cup will overflow.
Only Goodness and Kindness Follow me All the Days of my Life. Often in life, many things follow people around. They could be challenges coming in various sizes and shapes like hard times, failures, and bad luck. However, when the Lord becomes your Shepherd, David says only goodness and kindness will follow you. Even if you do not see them now, be patient, they will come, and they will not only follow you, they will overwhelm and overtake you.
Goodness and kindness shall follow you because our Lord Jesus Christ, the gate to the sheepfold, would grant you the ultimate protection from the enemy, the devil whose plan is to steal, slaughter, and destroy. Good and kindness shall follow you because Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd would give you eternal life, yes, you shall have the benefit of living in the house of the Lord forever and ever. Amen.
As march out today say it, shout it, announce that the Lord is your Shepherd, and He has got you back so shall not want.
God bless you and have a wonderful week ahead.