By Bishop Sebastian Francis
Responsorial Psalm 103:1,24,29-31,34
Theme: Holy Spirit, teach us to love again
Those of you who are in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel following the Mass and those who are also in the Multipurpose Hall and those who are following us online wherever you may be, remember you are not out there. You are very close to me at this altar. So you are not forgotten, okay?
There are two very stunning statements in the Gospel. Two very stunning statements in the Gospel about the Spirit. The first we are very familiar with. Maybe it has even become an excuse, excuse for not engaging in mission. And the first comes from Matthew’s Gospel and it says:-
The Spirit is willing. The will of God is willing. The will is the seed of commitment and decisions, not the emotions. Traditionally, the will, not the intellect even, not the emotions but the will is the seed. That is where decisions are made. That is where commitments are made. More than feelings and thoughts. The will. The Spirit is willing, will, but the flesh is weak. Anyway, a modern equivalent for this could be:-
I would if I could, but I can’t. I can’t because the flesh is constantly pulling me in the opposite direction.
And is it an excuse for not engaging in mission for the baptised, for those who are called to discipleship? Now we go to another text which is quite stunning actually. This time Jesus says in the Gospel of John:-
The Spirit (He is referring to the Holy Spirit). You see the tongues of fire, referring to the Holy Spirit. The flesh (this is very stunning) has nothing to offer.
Word. Spirit. Life.
Well, what a statement!
‘The words I have spoken to you, they are full of Spirit and they are full of life. And the flesh has nothing to offer.’ Or the flesh counts for nothing. And we live in a world that is relentlessly provoking us to indulge in the flesh. With food and drinks and touch and sex and so on and so forth. Is it an excuse not to engage in mission because my flesh is not ready? Will it ever be ready? How long are we going to wait?
What happens especially as we grow older and the flesh literally, or the body is unable to indulge as much as it did when we were much younger? What happens? What is left? You look at my coat of arms. It is right there behind me. It has five arrows and I was inspired by my Patron Saint, Saint Sebastian who was shot with arrows and killed because of his commitment to Christ. And those five arrows are five words:
Love. Truth. Sacrifice. Freedom. Beauty.
Is it possible that when the struggle with the flesh or is on the decline and the flesh and the body is unable to provide us with all the thrills and all the frills that come with it, that there is something that still remains intact? I suggest that it is love, truth, sacrifice, freedom and beauty, outlives the flesh, the flesh that is weak, the flesh that at some point will have nothing much more to offer.
So, these are the five things and the Holy Spirit is associated with FIRE. All your hymns are using that a lot. FIRE, no more dove. The dove has taken a rest. Okay. Now it is about FIRE. FIRE is associated with LOVE, the Fire of Love. FIRE is associated with TRUTH, the Fire of Truth. And it is our Saints have sacrificed their lives, included many of them are martyrs, because of their love for Christ and for the truth. And they are FREE. They are FREE to be engaged in mission. They are FREE to lay down their lives, including laying your lives for your families and for your children and for your loved ones. It is the same FREEDOM.
And even BEAUTY outlives the flesh. Even BEAUTY. Now this is not meant for the young ones like Fr Joachim but meant for the old ones like Fr FA and me lah. So, Joachim, you can close your ears. You are still young.
When the flesh has nothing much more to offer, however long that takes, the Spirit of Love, Truth, Sacrifice, Freedom and Beauty is still very much alive. I would like to add two more words to the word SACRIFICE. This is based on an article I read recently in the CAN (Catholic Asian News) Magazine. And we see this in the life of Joseph and Mary. What do we see? Joseph is not there, was not there on Pentecost but Mary was there. And it is about:-
CONTINUAL OBEDIANCE – not just hit-and-run obedience, touch-an-go obedience, obedience when it suits you or obedience when you think you have no other way because you have no choice. Obedience is always a choice and it is something we do freely. So, obedience to God for Joseph and Mary but obedience to one another as husband, as wife, as spouse, as father, as mother vis-à-vis Jesus.
So it is a life of, we see in Joseph and Mary, two people full of the Spirit, a life of attentiveness. A life of continual obedience, not only to God but Joseph obedient to Mary and Mary obedient to Joseph. And it is a life of continual obedience and it is a life of SACRIFICE. And this can happen even when you are old. This month or next month we are going to celebrate at St Anne’s the Day for the Elderly and for the Grandparents, et cetera, so we will talk about there when St Anne’s comes along. But this is possible even when the flesh fails. It is a package deal – Attentiveness, Continual Obedience and Sacrifice. It is a package deal. If you don’t believe it, ask your mothers and fathers. Ask your grandfathers and grandmothers. Ask all those who have laid down their lives for their children, whether these three is a package deal.
So, you have been preparing for the Feast of Pentecost which is our Cathedral Feast. I don’t know there are any other Cathedrals around named Holy Spirit. So we must thank whoever was inspired to name this church the Church of the Holy Spirit. So our big day is Pentecost. You have been preparing by focusing on the theme: Mission and Holy Spirit.
And as you know, Discipleship automatically comes with the word Mission. No Mission, no Discipleship. We are just warming ourselves. So Discipleship and Mission are two intimate words connected to the Holy Spirit and connected to one another. And the themes, I noticed you have been reflecting on in the last days:
Day 1: ‘Help us to be one with you, Holy Spirit’. I always say join the winning team. Join the winning team and the name of that team is Team Holy Spirit.
Day 2: ‘Holy Spirit, empower us with love’.
Day 3: ‘Holy Spirit, nourish us with the Word’. The Word is both spirit and life.
Vigil: ‘Holy Spirit, help my unbelief’. Make me go beyond unbelief to belief. Beyond belief to attentiveness to continual obedience and to sacrifice.
Pentecost: Even deeper than belief, ‘Holy Spirit teach us to love again.’
So, yes, as a disciple, like all these guys on this mural here, eleven of them plus Mary, twelve, we accept that we are disciples of Christ. We will continue with the mission no matter how weak or the flesh is. And as disciples, as we accept to go on mission, we also accept to carry our daily crosses and continue the mission.
We also accept what Saint Paul calls the ‘thorn in the flesh’. He did not tell you and me what that thorn is. But instead of trying to find out what was the thorn in Paul’s flesh that never left him till the vey end, he asked ‘take it away, take it away, take it away, take it away, take it away, take it away, take it away’ and the Holy Spirit said ‘you are going to live with it but no excuse not to go on mission.’
Well, you and I, I guarantee you have a thorn in the flesh. You may not talk about it, you may keep it to yourself, that is fine, but we all have that thorn in the flesh and we will continue with the mission together with the thorn in the flesh, together with our daily crosses we will continue the mission. And the mission is not about telling every Tom, Dick and Harry what is the thorn in the flesh and making a big show out of that. But the mission is about Love, Truth, Sacrifice with Attentiveness and Continual Obedience.
The mission is about Beauty. We seldom reflect on the Beauty of the Spirit reflected in each one of us. Beauty. Beauty is very attractive. Can you imagine the beauty of the Spirit and finally Freedom. So God bless all of us as we celebrate our feast of the Cathedral and whatever happens here, because it is the Cathedral, the graces must reach Kelantan, Perak, Kedah, Perlis and Penang.
Click below to listen to the homily and watch the video:-