by Fr Stanley Antoni
Responsorial Psalm 15:1-2,5,7-11
Holy Spirit, empower us with Your love
My dear friends,
Again Jesus describes Holy Spirit as the Advocate. Who is an Advocate? An Advocate is someone who speaks out for the voiceless, for the poor, for the marginalised, for the needy, for the forgotten, the outcast, those who are at the periphery. And that is why we can see that for Jesus, the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force. He is someone who affects and effects. He affects and effects through love because we know the Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved and Holy Spirit is Love.
And that is why today, my dear friends, all those who are in the Holy Spirit cannot but love. And that love, as I invited you to reflect, should be incarnated in charity. And one of the fruits of charity is Mercy. And that is why today’s theme is nothing but about Mercy. If we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, then we should be merciful.
And that is why today, my dear friends, mercy as we know is nothing but action. Actions that alleviates victims, victims or the poor from their misfortune or misery. That is what mercy is all about. Sometimes there is a confusion between mercy and compassion. Compassion is about the ability to feel deeply. Mercy is action. If compassion we attribute to the heart, then mercy we can attribute to our hands. So unless and until mercy and compassion converge, love will never be incarnated.
And that is why today we are called to reflect whether we can be as merciful as Jesus or not. Because in Jesus, mercy becomes a reality. And that is why today the Advocate is someone who will probe us, will encourage us to go out and to be merciful.
And mercy becomes real when we, like Jesus, decides to do two things that is to remain close and concrete among the poor. And these two things are very important because we know in the Gospels that Jesus remains close to the poor.
The closeness of Jesus we can see becomes very personal because He allows the woundedness of people, the woundedness of situations to affect Him and to touch Him. That is why we are not scandalised, we are not surprised when we see He weeps, He gets annoyed, He laughs. He expresses His disappointment openly because all these have affected Him. When that affected Him, He manifests, He shows.
And the concreteness of Jesus, we see when He started to use His creativity to inspire people, to console, to empower and to heal all their woundedness. That is why Jesus, whenever He encounters someone in pain or the poor, He will do something for them. He will never, never just walk pass them. He will do something. Whether it is significant or insignificant, that is not the case. That is not important. But He will do something on their behalf.
And that is why today we see in Jesus people saw the Holy Spirit, who is affected and effective. And we see the Holy Spirit as a person who is able to feel and act. And that is why today we need to ask ourselves today:-
How about us?
Do we allow wounded situations, wounded people to affect us so that we will be effective? So that we will be Advocates?
And that is why another name for the Holy Spirit, surprisingly you will see this in today’s Sunday during the Sequence, The Father of the Poor. Holy Spirit is known as the Father of the Poor who defends, who speaks on their behalf.
And that is why in today’s First Reading, when i started to read and reflect the First Reading, what came to my mind was the trial of Jesus in front of Pilate. Like Jesus, Paul was abandoned at the mercy of the powerful, the conservative Pharisees, the progressive Sadducees and most of all the Roman Regime. He was all alone. He was abandoned. The question that I ask (very simple):-
Why did not the church come forward to defend Paul? Why the church decided to remain quiet?
Yes, we abandoned Jesus at that time. It is fine. But now:-
- Why they refused to come forward and advocate and stand next to Paul and try to defend him?
- Was it because the church was fearful of being persecuted like Paul? I don’t want to end up like him.
- Or was it because the church was an ungrateful church, the kind of church that appreciated Paul only for the money that he collected for them? So after receiving the money, forget about him.
- Or the church aspired to be diplomatic, to be politically right, trying to safeguard unity at all cost because we know Paul somehow was seen as someone who causes division in the community because he started to preach to the gentiles?
- Finally, was it because secretly they rejoiced that finally Paul was silenced? Because he had very strong character. When you read his letters or Acts of the Apostles, they all say “We are apostles.” “We are apostles.” “We are apostles.” And you know what he’ll say?
“Look here. I’m called, I’ve seen, I’m endorsed by Jesus. I’m an apostle also.”
He has a very strong character. You cannot win him over because he argues, he looks for conviction. So the church decided to remain quiet. Is it because finally someone has silenced Paul?
In the midst of all these, when the church failed to defend Paul, the Commander, the non-believer defended Paul. We see mercy in that Commander. Because he allowed all that was happening to affect him. So he intervened on behalf of Paul. He saved Paul.
So the early church in all its idealism, I suppose, was afraid to love concretely. The kind of a church that fails to stand by people who are poor, who are persecuted, who are abandoned like Paul. The church has failed to incarnate mercy and that is why they abandoned Paul. So what kind of a Spirit was there at work in the early Christian community?
In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of glory. He prayed that His disciples may come to know and participate in His glory. So what is glory for Christ?
In the Gospel of John, glory is not so much or not just about splendour and glamour. The real glory in the Gospel of John, I think, is the weight of love. The kind of love that obeys, that forgives, that remains hopeful. This is how Jesus incarnated charity, mercy. And this glory, this glory as weight of love is difficult. Even Jesus struggled to embrace this glory of the Father. He was misunderstood, He was persecuted and abandoned because He preached such glory.
And that is why when we reflect the Life of Jesus, Jesus realised the weight of obedience when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?“
Obedience, most of the time, takes us to the crucifix, will ask us to hang on the Cross. And that is why obedience is difficult. That is why obedience is a challenge. And that is why today Jesus will obey because He loved His Father deeply. And that is why today, only on the Cross, we see the real glory of Jesus. Because on the Cross we see mercy becomes real. And that mercy has a price, to be on the Cross, naked, abandoned, in pain and, to a certain extent, in despair.
And that is why that glory is difficult, that mercy is expensive.
And Jesus knew the weight of forgiveness when He looked into the eyes of Judas when Judas asked him, “Is it I, Lord?” “Is it I, Lord?” during the Last Supper. Their eyes met and Jesus knew who was going to betray. Here comes Judas asking, “Is it I, Lord?”
That is why mercy is unconditional forgiveness, the ability to forgive without condition. And that is why scripture says even when Judas left, Jesus did not gossip about Judas. Jesus did not say any bad thing about Judas. That is why today that is the weight of glory. And that is the weight of love. And that is what mercy is all about, continue to advocate, continue to pray on behalf of Judas that he may change his heart.
And finally, Jesus realised the weight of hope when He was unable to convince the conservative Pharisees and the progressive Sadducees because they remained adamant. That is why, my dear friends, conservatives end up violent. Open your eyes and see. Whoever calls themselves conservatives, they usually end up violent because they want to defend until the end. And Jesus was unable to convert them, most of them. But He remained hopeful that one day everything will be okay. He remained kind towards them. That one day all will be okay.
But the challenge was the community of John struggled to embrace glory as weight of love. Like most of the Christian communities, they preferred not to be affected of that glory, of that love showed by Jesus. They aspired for the glory that assured them splendour and glamour. That is why today when we reflect the Father of the Poor who prompts us, who challenges us to go out to incarnate mercy, that can be a very difficult Spirit.
Yesterday, I spoke about Oscar Romero. Today, I will speak of Oscar Romero because in Oscar Romero, the Salvadoreans saw love at work. They witness God’s love and mercy. As a shepherd, he was fully committed to the poor. He was affected by the victims. He was affected by their misery and their misfortune and their oppression. Like Jesus, he was disgusted and troubled with what he saw. Like Jesus, he got personal. He allowed that to affect him. That is why he ended up as THE shepherd. That is why he ended up as a shepherd that would lay down his life for his people. Because he knew their pain. He allowed it to affect him. That is why the Salvadoreans at that time witnessed the affectivity of the Holy Spirit whom is called the Father of the Poor.
So if we read his life, his biography or his preaching, this is what he wrote in relation to church. And I think, I can be wrong, very much relevant for us in Malaysia (verbatim):-
And that is why today my dear friends, the Advocate defends. The Advocate protects. The Advocate speaks on the behalf of the voiceless. And that is why this Spirit is so difficult. To embrace Him, to welcome Him requires commitment and sacrifice. And when Oscar Romero welcomed Him, at the end he died for them. He sanctified El Salvador with his blood. And that is why until now, although the country is struggling, people remember. People will never lose hope.
So today where are we when we come to know and to worship and to welcome the Spirit who is known as the Advocate? We are all excited or gungho about the Synod. Rightly so. But the question we need to ask:-
What are our preoccupation during the Synod or during the deliberation?
Are we a church that is guided by the Father of the Poor?
Who are the abandoned ones that we have abandoned?
Where are the poor, the standing alone because nobody to defend them?
So what is glory for the church in Malaysia?
What is glory for Cathedral, the mother church of the Diocese?
What is glory?
So what kind of church do we envision? You know when we go to the YouTube (I did not attend all the Synod), when you go through, when you watch the Synod, the question that we ask becomes very accusatory in nature. My dear friends, none of us are perfect. We all are trying. We must be patient with one another. But the question now is:-
“Are we preoccupied with petty issues and forego bigger issues?“
So how close and how concrete are we to the wounded situations and wounded people around us? What kind of woundedness do we witness today? Can we name three such woundedness? And how do you think the Father of the Poor will defend such wounded people? How do you think the Father of the Poor will make God’s mercy real for such people?
So the Spirit is both affective and effective. As Christians, we are obliged to be affected and effective too. Like Jesus, we need to be there to close and concrete to the poor around us. So mercy is action. This is why love is scary. This is why the Holy Spirit is dangerous. Jesus knew, Paul knew, Oscar Romero knew and yet they embraced and allowed the Advocate to lead them and to guide them and to defend others.
Only Catholics of the 21st Century will say, “We still don’t know.” Jesus knew, Paul knew, Oscar Romero knew their destiny. And that is why today as we invoke the Father of the Poor, let us pray for the grace to remain close and concrete so that God’s mercy becomes real. And this love is nothing but charity. And one of the fruits of charity is mercy.
So today my dear friends, are you merciful? Am I merciful? What is mercy?
As I said earlier, don’t limit mercy to compassion. So today, let us pause for a while. Seek the intercession of Oscar Romero so that we too will be known as people who speak out for the voiceless, people who defend, people who will stand by them so that they will not experience any kind of abandon-ness.
And that is the church. And what it means to be a church.
So one minute in silence.
Are you ready? Am I ready for the Spirit that Jesus called the Advocate?
Click below to listen to the homily and watch the video:-