True greatness in being small to become part of the whole

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of the Pentecost, 23 May 2021
Acts 2:1-11  ><}}}*>  Galatians 5:16-25  ><}}}*>  John 15:26-27.16:12-15
Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte at Atok, Benguet, 2019.

Today we bring to completion our celebration of the Lord’s Paschal Mystery – his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, Ascension and Coming of the Holy Spirit to his disciples. Although this mystery is one single reality, we have stretched its celebration over a period of 50 days (hence, Pentecost) or more than seven weeks because it will never be enough to fully grasp its whole meaning for it is a continuing reality and mystery in our midst just like the Ascension last week.

Note the upward movement of the Ascension that calls us to “level up” our relationships with God and one another in Christ; today, the downward movement of the coming of the Holy Spirit calls us to being small in order for us to be broken and shared with others. Whenever there is a downward push, what happens usually is a breaking down into smaller parts to fuse with the larger whole like a mix.


...our greatness is in our sharing ourselves with others...  
It is in our becoming small to participate in the whole 
that we truly become great - 
whether in the Church or a community, 
in our personal relationships...

Jesus had taught us in his life and example especially on the Cross that our greatness is in our sharing ourselves with others like him. It is in our becoming small to participate in the whole that we truly become great – whether in the Church or a community, in our personal relationships like family and circle of friends and most especially in the union of man and woman as husband and wife in marriage.

That is why the Pentecost is called the birthday of the Church when the disciples after being filled with the Holy Spirit came out in the open to proclaim the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It was actually more of a “coming out party” of the Church that was established by Christ during his Last Supper.

See that since the very beginning, the Church started as a catholic – a whole – at the Last Supper of the Lord when he also instituted the Holy Eucharist that has become the sign of our unity from then on that enabled the disciples to recognize him at Easter at the breaking of bread.

Jesus promised them at the Last Supper how things would get clear to them when the Holy Spirit comes.

"When the Advocate comes whom I will send you
from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds
from the Father, he will testify to me.  And you 
also testify... I have much more to tell you,
but you cannot bear it now.  But when he comes,
the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth."
(John 15:26-27. 16:12-13)

Believing in the Holy Spirit, Believing in the Church

Every Sunday in the Mass we profess our faith, declaring “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church” but, do we really understand its meaning? To believe in God is to believe in the Holy Catholic Church, to forget one’s own agenda in life, to submit ones self to her teachings from Christ our Lord and Master.

It is a declaration of the mystery and reality of the Pentecost, reminding us that becoming Christian means receiving and embracing the whole Church!

This is the beautiful meaning of the account by St. Luke at the first reading of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost at Jerusalem when all barriers – physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual – were broken as the disciples went around speaking in various languages to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ.

When the time of 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.
(Acts 1:1-4)

Here we find the disciples of Jesus and their converts on that day of Pentecost allowing themselves to be taken up into the Church!

And how did this happen? St. Luke tells us “Then there appeared to them tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” Each one was parted, was broken down from their sins and selfishness that they became open for each other, trying to understand and accept each one as brother and sister in Christ.

It was a reversal of the story of Babel in Genesis when people were so arrogant and proud building a tower that reaches to heaven who were punished to speak in different languages that led to their confusion and quarrel until they all perished along with their ambitious plan.

Pentecost was different. There were different languages, different peoples with different backgrounds yet they were united and understood each other because everybody tried to become small, to mix into the whole and thus becoming a part of the Church on that day.

Unless we are willing to be parted by the Holy Spirit’s “tongues of fire” and “strong driving wind” like a storm, we can never be filled with God and his holiness to experience his peace and his joy.

It is a lifelong process and that is why Pentecost is a daily reality, happening to us especially when we sometimes have to be shaken by so many events and circumstances that come our way.

In the second reading, we heard St. Paul reminding the Galatians, including us, to “live by the Spirit and not gratify the desire of the flesh” (Gal.5:16). At that time, some missionaries sowed confusion among the Galatians, telling them to follow Jewish practices and Mosaic prescriptions to be fully Christians like circumcision. The issue had long been settled at the Council of Jerusalem but some Jewish converts persisted.

Here, St. Paul teaches us a valuable lesson in resolving conflicts and confusions in daily life in the light of Jesus Christ, of salvation, of the Church. For St. Paul, we always have to ask the Holy Spirit in guiding us in everything, no matter how secular and mundane it may be to find the theological and spiritual implications of our experiences.

What he told the Galatians remains true to our days, that freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want but to choose and do what is good. Every person has that tendency to sin, an imperfection in the “flesh” that is always in contradiction with the “spirit”.

As we have mentioned earlier, our greatness lies in our ability to share and give ourselves to others by dying to our sins and selfish motives, precisely what St. Paul is telling us:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.

Galatians 5:19-21

These are the things that the Holy Spirit “part” in us when it comes to us daily especially in our prayers and in the celebrations of the sacraments like the Holy Eucharist. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are unified as a person, we become whole and integrated that we see the value and importance of being one with God and with others. It is not longer the rituals that become the law guiding us but the interior law of love of Jesus Christ that enables us to get out of our selfishness to give ourselves in loving service to others.

When we live in the power of the Holy Spirit guided by this interior law of love, that is when we become truly free and experience the gifts and fruits mentioned by St. Paul like peace and joy.

In our world today marred by sin and so many divisions happening in our society and even in the Church, in our communities and right even in our families and personal relationships, let us pray today to the Holy Spirit to come to us, break down within us the many walls we have and lead us to surrender ourselves to God to be led by his hand in continuing the mission of love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

A blessed week ahead of everyone!

Photo of the stained glass with the Holy Spirit bringing light into the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Photo from wikipediacommons.org.

Mission of healing

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Solemnity of the Pentecost-A, 31 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11 <*(((>< 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13 ><)))*> John 20:19-23

Pope Francis praying at an empty St. Peter’s Square 27 March 2020. Photo from cruxnow.com.

As I prayed over the readings this coming Pentecost Sunday, my thoughts kept going back to those powerful images when Pope Francis prayed at an empty St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican last March 27 when COVID-19 was ravaging the whole Italy with so many deaths.

Now more than ever, the Church badly needs the Pentecost – a new Pentecost that will heal and rebirth the world so wounded and altered by the corona pandemic this year 2020.

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.

John 20:19-20
Modern rendition of the Pentecost. From Google.

Holy Spirit, breath of life and cause of unity

The Pentecost is not just an event remembered in the past but a reality that happens daily when the Holy Spirit comes and is received by those attuned with its life and mission which is to bring peace through unity and healing.

Promised by Jesus Christ to his followers as their Advocate and Counsellor, the Holy Spirit descended on them during the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem when Jews from all parts of the world gathered to remember the 50 days after their Passover in Egypt at the time of Moses.

It was the perfect setting for the Christian Pentecost – this time 50 days after Easter – to celebrate the new unity of mankind in Jesus he established on Holy Thursday evening at his Last Supper. Inasmuch as the Jews went home at that time to be one with their fellow believers in Jerusalem, on that day from the holy city comes forth the new solidarity of peoples in Jesus led by his followers gathered that day in the Upper Room.

Hence, the tradition of considering Pentecost Sunday as the birthday of the Church, too.

Though we have heard two different versions of its coming, what matters most is the Person of the Holy Spirit as the breath of life and the cause of unity among the followers of Christ.

In the first reading, Luke gives us an artistic presentation of the coming of the Holy Spirit showing the unity of the peoples: first of the followers of Jesus and later with the Jews gathered in Jerusalem on that day for their feast of Pentecost. Whereas the apostles were at first presented as timid and lacking in understanding, the Holy Spirit emboldened them on that day to go out and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Led by Peter, they were filled with life and wisdom and courage, converting thousands of people on Pentecost day despite their speaking in different languages, exactly the opposite at the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament.

In the gospel, John gives us the theological grounding of Pentecost when we find Jesus appearing to his disciples hiding from the Jews on the evening of Easter at the Upper Room where he breathed on them the Holy Spirit that filled them with joy upon seeing him risen and alive.

The scene was reminiscent of the many stories in the Old Testament of the “breath of God” giving life to the first human beings in the story of creation, the “breathing on” by Elijah on the nostrils of the widow’s dead son back to life (1Kgs.17:21), and the promise of God to Ezekiel to restore to life the many dry bones in their graves in the time to come (Ezek. 37:1-14).

These stories now take on deeper meanings in Jesus Christ its fulfillment. And not only were the disciples breathed on with new life in Christ but also the whole creation was renewed in the coming of the Holy Spirit that we pray, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and you shall renew the face of the earth”.

Perennial Pentecost for peace and healing

Pentecost is an event that continues to happen daily especially when we are gathered as the body of believers of Jesus Christ tasked to realize its fulfillment. This coming of the Holy Spirit is not a one-shot deal that happened only in the past in Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago — it is something we as followers of the Risen Lord must always wait and make happen every day so as to continually bring life and renewal to this world especially at this time of the corona pandemic.

In giving us the Holy Spirit, Jesus not only renewed our lives as his disciples united in him but also conferred his own power without restrictions to accomplish our mission.

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.”

John 20:21-23
The Chair of St. Peter at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome with the stained glass of the Holy Spirit above. Photo from dreamstime.com.

At the Vatican inside the great St. Peter’s Basilica is a beautiful stained glass of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove rising above as background to the Chair of St. Peter ( Feast is February 22) at the sanctuary area.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI described this beautiful work of art:

“It seems to me that a deep analysis of the essence of the Church lies hidden here, is contained here… It unites the Church with creation as a whole. It signifies through the dove of the Holy Spirit that God is the actual source of all light. But it tells us something else: the Church herself is in essence, so to speak, a window, a place of contact between the other-worldly mystery of God and our world, the place where the world is permeable to the radiance of his light… The Church is the place of encounter where God meets us and we find God. It is her task to open up the world closing in on itself, to give it the light without which it would be unlivable.”

Images of Hope, pp.29-31

Here we find part of our mission in collaboration with the Holy Spirit is the the healing of the world that can be achieved only through peace. See how Jesus had to repeat twice his gift of peace to his disciples because it is his greatest gift to us following his Resurrection.

Life thrives and blooms most where there is peace, where there are disciples of the Lord willing to work for it with love and patience.

But the peace from Jesus Christ always has a price that we must be willing to pay to achieve it.

See that after his first greeting of peace, Jesus showed his wounds — he was the first to pay the price for peace with his own life.

Bringing around our Parish the Blessed Sacrament during the lockdown, March-May 2020.

This is the meaning of the many sacrifices and sufferings we all have to go through in this quarantine period expected to continue until 2021: if we want to get out of this pandemic, aside from the need for a vaccine and medication, we all need to change our ways to make sure this will not happen again.

It is always easy to join so many advocacies and rallies calling for every kind of change in the society and the world but nothing had ever happened because whenever we come home, we do not change our own ways of living! Sayang (what a waste) were all the inspiration and energies of the Holy Spirit for our many causes that have not taken roots right in our hearts.

All the apostles of the Lord paid the price of peace with their own lives that led to the healing not only of individuals and families but even of nations and the world.

The second time Jesus offered his gift of peace, he breathed the Holy Spirit on his apostles and commissioned them to forgive all sins.

Peace is the fruit of love according to Vatican II.

As such, peace from the Holy Spirit leads to healing when there is dialogue, prayer and repentance, that lead to justice, love, and forgiveness. Peace and healing need hard work that is why they are fruits. They never come on a silver platter.

On Monday, most of the quarantine levels in the country are downgraded because it is hoped we have somehow controlled the spread of COVID-19.

As we eagerly await more freedom and mobility in this time of pandemic, what have we achieved during these three months of quarantine, said to be the longest in the world?

Have we resolved our family differences? Have we rediscovered our family members, getting more close than ever, more kind, more understanding?

How sad that all we can share as our quarantine stories are all about food and other pursuits we have undertaken forgetting the unity and life of our family and community.

How sad when we in the Church have all been preoccupied with the new communication media but failed at all to make any impact or dent in the lives of our faithful because we have not shared Jesus Christ at all, when all our “live streaming” and vlogs are powered by likes and followers, not by the Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis blessing the people last March 27 in an empty St. Peter’s Square during the height of COVID-19 in Italy that became the new epicenter of pandemic next to China. Photo from Vatican Media Office.

Jesus never takes back his gift of peace, his gift of healing, his gift of the Holy Spirit. He promised to never leave us orphans. Let us not leave the Holy Spirit behind and stop believing in our selves.

That’s the way we have been in the world and even in the Church.

That is why – to a large extent – we have this corona pandemic.

A blessed week to everyone.

“Walking in Rhythm” by The Blackbyrds (1975)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music, 09 June 2019
From Google.

It’s Pentecost Sunday, the coming of the Holy Spirit to the first disciples of Jesus Christ who were filled with fire and zeal in spreading the good news from Jerusalem to the whole world. But more than an event in the past, Pentecost is something the Church needs so badly these days to continue the work of Christ in the world that has become cold and without direction and fulfillment.

What we need in the Church that has become so rigid and lethargic in one end and pompous and glitzy at the other end is a “perennial Pentecost”, the daily coming of the Holy Spirit to enlighten us again in following and sharing Jesus with others in loving service. We need the Holy Spirit to convert us and go back to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Eucharist which is the sacrament of love.

From Google.

The Blackbyrds’ 1975 hit “Walking in Rhythm” captures the image of somebody filled with the Holy Spirit who is so full of love and life, joy and excitement. The smooth rhythm and blues jazzy beat of the song is so moving and uplifting. It is exactly what the Holy Spirit does when its fire burns and purifies us to realize that our true greatness as human is in being small, in our ability to share to become a part of a larger whole.

“Walking in Rhythm” tells of a man so in love and passionately driven to come home to meet his sweetheart after being away for some time. He is walking in rhythm because he knew he would be complete again when he becomes one with his beloved.

That is essentially the meaning of being a Christian, of being a member of the Church: we become whole with others in Christ. Jesus is our head and we are the body. Every body is important. How sad that whenever we gather every Sunday during the Mass, we are on our own! The priest delivers a boring homily he himself does not understand because he had not prayed nor prepared at all. The congregation are on their own, some asleep, others with thoughts wandering, while the young are either texting or plugged to their playlists. We have to dispose ourselves to the coming of the Holy Spirit always. It is Pentecost or nothing if we want to walk in rhythm, to be fill with life and joy.

From Google.

Like the lover in “Walking in Rhythm”, or the apostles at the Upper Room in Jerusalem during that Pentecost, we have to open ourselves to give a space within us for the Holy Spirit to work in us, to fill us with life and joy. Most of all, with love.

Walking in rhythm
Movin' in sound
Hummin' to the music
Trying to move on
I'm walking in rhythm
Singin' my song
Thinkin' about my baby
Tryin to get home....

Perennial Pentecost

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Solemnity of the Pentecost, 09 June 2019
Acts 2:1-11 >< }}}*> Romans 8:8-17 >< }}}*> John 14:15-16, 23-26
From Google.

Today we close the Easter Season.

After the last Mass tonight in every parish, the Paschal Candle is extinguished and from the ambo where it had stayed since the Easter Vigil, it is brought back to the baptistry to signal the start of Ordinary Time tomorrow.

As we have been reflecting these past days, life is a series of coming than of leaving. This is very true in today’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Pentecost: when Jesus ascended into heaven last Sunday, the Holy Spirit now comes to fire up the disciples to continue God’s presence in the world. Last Sunday we said the Ascension does not mean Jesus going to a particular place “up there” but his entry into a higher level of relating with us. Today is the fulfillment of that promise he made, that he would remain with us until the end of time in the power of the Holy Spirit sent by the Father.

Pentecost means fifty. After God handed to Moses the Ten Commandments at Sinai, the Israelites ratified that covenant 50 days after. Eventually when they entered the Promised Land, Pentecost became an agricultural celebration of their harvests that eventually extended into a celebration of weeks. When the Holy Spirit came on that Pentecost day in Jerusalem, it became the “coming out party” of the Church when the Apostles were emboldened to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone.

In this evolution of the Pentecost from Sinai to Promised Land to the early Church, it has remained true to its essence as life in God. As such, we must keep in mind it is not an isolated event in the past but a reality we must allow to happen every day in our lives. If there is one thing very much missing in the Church these days, it is the Holy Spirit. We need a “perennial Pentecost” to fill us with life and zest in living the Gospel, from the bishops to the priests to every baptized Catholic. See the vibrancy among other Christian denominations. They are so alive while we Catholics as so rigid and lethargic. We need to be “fired up” by the burning fire of the Holy Spirit everyday. It is Pentecost or nothing!

Chair of St. Peter at the High altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. From Google.

Above the Chair of St. Peter at the Vatican is a stained glass depicting the coming of the Holy Spirit like a dove. According to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, that is in essence the Church which is like a window where God and man get in contact. At the middle of that meeting point or contact of God and man is the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, we can never be in touch with God and with others. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of love that binds us all with each other and with God in the same manner it unites the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity to remain as One God. This explains why we heard again today the Gospel three Sundays ago of Jesus teaching about love at the Last Supper.

Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep the commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to be with you always. Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

John 14:15-16, 23

These words are repeated today to present to us the new and definite context of the Pentecost flowing from that Last Supper discourse of Jesus about love, keeping his commandments, and coming of the Holy Spirit.

During his Last Supper, Jesus clearly showed that in the new covenant sealed by his blood, the Law is more than the personification of God: obedience to his commandments and to the Father is first of all an expression of love. Jesus is the new Torah, the new law of love found in his oneness with the Father. On this Pentecost Sunday, we hear again the Last Supper discourse of Jesus to remind us that being Christian is becoming united as one in him as “indwelling of the Father and the Son.”

That can only happen when we allow ourselves to be small. See that at the Ascension, we were presented with an upward movement that called for the need to be light and powerless in order to rise above. Now, Pentecost’s downward movement shows us the need to be small in order to be mixed or fused with God and with others. Every downward push leads to spreading out, of thinning out, of getting small.

As limited beings, our greatness can only be found in our ability to share, to be small to participate and become a part of a larger whole. In our very selves, we cannot do anything. I am so amused to realize this basic truth while watching those crime shows in Netflix like Narcos and Bad Blood where even the most evil men need to be small, to band together to be powerful. We all need conversion which is very essential to be truly great!

For true conversion to happen, there has to be love, even at least, an openness to love. It is no wonder that love is always presented in the fiery shades of red and orange because almost everything is purified and broken into little particles by fire. When love is intense, expect fire to be hotter with its hues of red and orange more aglow. Only when we are willing to be subjected to love’s purifying fire can we be truly filled with the Holy Spirit and its gifts, particularly joy.

Conversion and love demand constant dying into one’s self, of living in the spirit and not in flesh that St. Paul explained in the second reading. We can never be one in Christ without conversion, without getting off our ivory tower of pride and arrogance. We need to go down, if we have to lie face down, so be it. Most of all, oneness with others is impossible without conversion because we cannot insist on ourselves on others. We need to be broken, we need to smash our high walls that keep us away from others. That is what the Holy Spirit’s fire did on that Pentecost Sunday in Jerusalem, the very same thing needed to happen these days in our Church.

Every Sunday when we gather like the Apostles at the Upper Room during the Lord’s supper, we are invited to keep his commandments in love. This can only happen when we pray for conversion through the fire of the Holy Spirit. Let us be open to receive this fire of the Holy Spirit again every Eucharistic celebration so that after our gathering, we may set the world anew in fire with Jesus Christ’s loving presence. Amen.

From Google.