PENTECOST, 31.05.2020, HOMILY BY ARCHBISHOP I. A. KAIGAMA, AT THE CHURCH OF ASSUMPTION ASOKORO, ABUJA
Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12: 3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23
This is a very great Day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia. Pentecost, which took place fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus, is the birthday of the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit. We, the priests are dressed in red vestments today not signalling danger, but because red is the colour of fire and symbolizes the presence of the Holy Spirit just as Moses saw the burning bush as a symbol of God’s presence in the old Testament (cf. Ex 3:2-4).
In the story of Acts chapter two, we read how there appeared to the Apostles tongues as of fire which came to rest upon each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in foreign tongues. This was the fulfillment of the promise in Lk 24:46-49 that the Apostles would be “clothed with power” before they would be sent out to spread the Gospel. In fact, it is the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: “… I will pour out my spirit….” (Joel 3:1). The “lockdown” whereby all the Apostles, Mary and others were staying in one room because they were ordered by Jesus not to leave Jerusalem (cf. Acts 1:4), but to wait there for the promise of the Father is ended by the coming of the Holy Spirit. We hope Pentecost Sunday today will inspire our President to end our lockdown, but with all Nigerians observing very meticulous health guidelines so that we shall witness a downward trend of the COVID-19 disease infection.
Christ did not leave us orphans without a guide. He gave us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Righteousness, the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Helper, the Counsellor, the Advocate, the Mentor, the Director, the Teacher and the Leader. Jesus never fails in his promise.
The Holy Spirit is “the Lord and giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” He is the life God breathed into man at creation (cf. Gen. 2:7) who has been in operation. In Genesis 1:2 we read that at the first moment of creation, “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters”. Some commentators call this “Cosmic Pentecost” and in Genesis 2:7 when God breathed on the man he had fashioned from the ground and man became a living being, they refer to it as an “anthropological Pentecost”.
Our one great prayer today is:
Come, Holy Spirit, live in us
With God the Father and the Son,
And grant us your abundant grace,
To sanctify and make us one.
Come O Holy Spirit, renew the face of our dear country Nigeria and the face of the whole world.
May this Holy Mass therefore make us ready to receive this very great a Gift.
Peter, the first Pope, gave a sermon following the Pentecost experience. His listeners were pierced to the heart and asked, “What are we to do?” Peter said to them: “Repent and be baptized; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Three thousand responded. After the incident of curing the lame man and Peter’s sermon, the numbers increased to 5,000 (cf. Acts 4:4). Lesson: Repent and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit also.
There are three points I would like us to reflect on:
1) The miracle of tongues reverses the confusion of tongues wrought by God at the Tower of Babel, as described in Genesis 11:1-9, when puffed up by pride, men attempted to build a tower that would touch the heavens. God punished their sin by crashing their tower and confused their language.
The miracle of tongues reverses the division of Babel and transforms confusion into communion, creating one family (the Church), speaking a language which all men can understand, the language of love, the language of the heart. Language or culture should not be a barrier to the Gospel or to our individual and collective happiness and human progress.
Nigeria is the most populated country on the African continent with a population of over 200 million. Somehow, we allow our over 400 languages and the difference of religions to hurt us badly politically, economically and socially. We fail to make very significant progress because we still don’t speak a common language of love. The language we speak is of war, superiority, pride, prejudice, hatred, threats, discrimination, etc instead of the language of the Holy Spirit which is the language of love and forgiveness.
2) The varieties of gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit are not for show but for service; not to magnify those who possess them but to edify the people of God; not for the advancement of personal advantages but for the general good of the Church, to spread and advance the Gospel.
It must be borne in mind that every gift is significant for the society and every human being is important and must be treated with honour. 1 Cor. 12:21 affirms that, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need for your works.’ And again, the head cannot say to the feet, ‘You are of no use to me.’
A Greek fable tells about the other members of the body which revolted against the stomach, which by their judgment is doing none of the work while getting all of the food. The hands, mouth, teeth, and legs begin a strike, but after a few days they realize that they are getting weak. They then learn the lesson that cooperation between all members of the body, including the stomach they considered idle is vital for the body’s health. Lesson: Society will function better when we all use our gifts well. According to Lumen Gentium 12, “the simpler and more widespread as well as the most outstanding should be accepted with a sense of gratitude and consolation.”
We have the tendency to ignore or look down on people we think don’t have much to offer. Pentecost reminds us not to look down on anyone. Do not be possessed by your beauty, knowledge, strength, wealth, stardom, etc. The crippled beggar on the street may have more perfect internal body organs than you; the illiterate person may have more common sense than you with an array of academic degrees, brilliance or eloquence. The poor man may sleep better at night than the very rich. God recognized the lowliness of Mary and henceforth all ages call her blessed. Lesson: recognize and respect the poor and those society rejects.
3) The Spirit which dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful as in a temple should move us to unity, communal living, harmony and service. We see how the neglected widows in the early Church were cared for; those in need were given help by those who sold their property. They were all “in prayer” and all of “one mind,”
Our African culture emphasizes community spirit and living. Community members are present for farming, a meal or caring for the sick and the old. Elders sit under the tree to settle disputes or plan the future of the community. Even the raising of a child is the business of the whole village. In Africa, we say “I am, because we are”. Whatever you do impacts others, what affects one, affects all. This our manner of life is in danger of being lost due to modern life-style. We must not allow the social distancing occasioned by urbanization and now the coronavirus pandemic to rob us of this beautiful African social gift. In our culture, a person is a person because of other persons. When Jesus says in Jn 15:13 that “Greater love has no man than this: that to lay down his life for his friends,” he refers to the daily sacrifice of self for others. We were made to live in a loving, self-giving relationship.
Let this Pentecost be a very strong reminder that we are made for one another. We need one another. No one is an island. The Holy Spirit is the source of our unity in diversity. Note however that not all spirits are holy. St. Paul warns in 1 Thess 5:21 to test or discern the spirits. It is easy to confuse your personal spirit, the spirit of the society, the spirit of the devil with the Holy Spirit. We need the gift of discernment to know and experience the Holy Spirit, who not only transforms us into true and exemplary witnesses of Christ, but through Him we will run and not grow weary, we will walk and not tire (cf. Is 40:31).