Servant Leadership: Power to empower others

A 19th century legend is told of thus and Jean-Leon Gerome has beautifully painted about it. The Truth and the Lie met one day. The Lie said to the Truth: “It’s a marvellous day today”! The Truth looked up to the skies and sighed, for the day was really beautiful. They spent a lot of time together, ultimately arriving beside a well. The Lie said to the Truth: “The water is very nice, let’s take a bath together!” The Truth, once again suspicious, tested the water and discovered that it indeed was very nice. They undressed and started bathing. Suddenly, the Lie came out of the water, put on the clothes of the Truth and ran away. The furious Truth came out of the well and ran everywhere to find the Lie and to get her clothes back. The World, seeing the Truth naked, turned its gaze away, with contempt and rage.
The poor Truth returned to the well and disappeared forever, hiding therein, its shame. Since then, the Lie travels around the world, dressed as the Truth, satisfying the needs of society, because, the World, in any case, harbours no wish at all to meet the naked Truth.

In India for the past few weeks or months as the General Election 2019 is approaching, we have been witnessing a run-chase of the Truth and the Lie mostly in election campaign and speeches. Some one claims, “Main hun Chowkidar” and the other slams, “Chowkidar hi chor hi”. Now, you have to judge who is right and who is wrong. And, your judgement will depend on what you prefer to see – A well dressed Lie or a naked truth!

It is in this context perhaps we can reflect on the Gospel today. It cautions us about the vulnerable human tendency, viz., lust for prestige, position and power! The mother of the two sons of Zebedee – James and John – is asking such very favours from Jesus. In our secular world, our leaders are wielding power, control and manipulation – Swapping the Truth and the Lie.

However, Jesus’ worldview is completely different. His worldview is “to be great is to put one’s talents totally at the service of others and powers to empower others.” If you dare to be at the side of Truth to go that well where naked truth is hiding out of shame and you will understand – Power corrupts man; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Today let us learn from Jesus how to exercise and wield power for the service of others and not for selfish gains! May our leaders and all of us understand the Servant Leadership model of Jesus and follow that. Amen.

Joseph: faithful and trustworthy husband of Blessed Virgin Mary

Solemnity of St Joseph

There is little that we know for sure about Joseph, apart from his name and a couple of events during the childhood of Jesus. The Gospel does not record a single one of his words; we could say that his language is peaceful and compliant silence. He listened to the quiet voice which spoke to him in his sleep and generously obeyed in what was asked of him. He earned the family’s living by manual labour, so that Jesus was later known as the son of the carpenter. On the solemnity of St Joseph, we must reflect, learn and imbibe three lessons:

Hidden Life: Joseph lived a hidden life, the life of a simple artisan, far from all celebrity. But that humble man was so near to Jesus and Mary, intimately connected with their life and providing them with security.

Just Man: The Gospel calls Joseph a just man. He was a poor, honest, hard-working, and deep interior life, giving him the freedom to put himself at the disposal of God’s plan for the childhood of Jesus. Joseph accepted the responsibility and the burden of family life, while renouncing the consolation of natural conjugal love because of his extraordinary vocation.

Commitment: As pope Paul VI said (back in 1969), that Saint Joseph offered the whole of his existence in a total sacrifice to the demands raised by the extraordinary coming of the Messiah, whom he acknowledged as the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and as his own son only in a juridical and domestic way. Joseph was a fully committed man. His commitment must inspire us! A total commitment to Blessed Virgin Mary, and total commitment to Jesus, who was his offspring only by legal descent, not by the flesh. His were the burdens, risks and responsibilities of caring for the Holy Family. Falling in line with God’s design, he collaborated in the work of human salvation.

Let us follow his example in surrendering to God’s designs amidst the obscurities and uncertainties of life. Amen.

Lent: A time to mend ruptured relationship

Second Sunday of Lent (Gen 15:5-18; Phil 3:17 – 4:1: Luke 9:28 -36)

Yesterday in the evening, tired, hungry and thirsty I was in the terrace laying on a mat facing up gazing the sky. It was a lovely scenic view – the crescent moon was there smiling at me right on top of me and the galaxies of stars twinkling at me. “Wow!” I said. “What a lovely night view- gazing at the moon and the starts in the night sky!” For a moment I forgot my hunger. Immediately I was reminded of Yahweh – God of Abraham, to whom God spoke when he was gazing at the night sky.

“Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you can!” God told Abram. “So shall your descendants be.” He believed. May be doubt also! But the Lord continued. ” I am the Lord who brought your from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” Remember, when the Lord called Abram this is what He had promised him. “Go from your country and your kindred and your fathers’ house to the Land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing …. and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” From then on, seventy year old Abram along with his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot is journeying in the land of Canaan. This time when God repeated his promise, Abram doubted. Like we all say, “Test before your trust!”. He raised questions. “Lord, How am to know that I shall possess it?” Then the Lord asked him to bring a heifer, a female goat, a ram – all three year old and a turtle dove and young pigeon. Abram sacrificed all this. And we are told how a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that Day the Lord God made a covenant with Abram and reiterated his triple blessings.

Doubt ruptures our relationship. But it is so very common. In our relationship we start doubting! Where does this doubt come from? Husbands doubt wives and wives doubt husbands. Even best friends often start doubting. Abram had doubts too. Despite God’s repeated promises he gets frustrated, “O Lord God, what will you give me! I continue to be childless.” When will you give, how will you give, so on and so forth. The Lord had to clear his doubts and convince him by ratifying a covenant.

Today’s Gospel give us the transfiguration scene. Jesus is transfigured before the three disciples – Peter, John and James. They saw two men – Moses, who led the Israelite out of Egypt through the Red Sea and gave them the Law at Mount Sinai and Elijah, the great prophet taken up to heaven and whose return was announced by Prophet Malachi before the coming of the Lord. Again, the transfiguration scene is heavenly that Peter, John and James are lost to themselves. Peter even tells Jesus of making three tents – one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. And then the confirming voice from the clouds comes “This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him.”

The event of Transfiguration of Jesus is in deed a covenant that Jesus established with the three disciples to make them strong in their wavering faith. This event confirms for the three disciples and for us all – that the law and the prophets find their fulfillment, their perfection, in the person of Jesus Christ. Presence of Moses, and the Prophet Elijah and the talk about Jesus’ death on the cross tell us that it is on the Cross, in his death and Resurrection, that Christ would perfectly reveal the plan for our salvation. That it is in Jesus Christ – the triple blessings promised to Abraham – the nations, the land and the universal blessings to all the people of the earth gets fulfillment.

Do you still doubt? Do you still waver? Doubts is the seed sown by Satan to rupture our relationship. It all starts with that, we no longer keep trusting. Finally relationship – or covenant – is broken! Mind you, this seed of doubt is sowed by the evil one – Satan. Remember, Adam and Eve! Today by reflecting on the two covenants – Covenant of God with Abraham and the covenant of Jesus with his transfiguration – we must understand that God is continually for us and with us. That he continually scans the virus of doubts sown by the evil one and confirms his love for us. Can we, in our turn, stop doubting and keep trusting Him?

Lent is the time to mend our ruptured relationship with God, oneself, with others and with the nature. One way to mend that ruptured relationship is to believe, to trust and stop doubting. Doubts come when we are dissatisfied with life, with what we have and what we are. May this lent be a time to experience that God has filled us with his manifold blessings and graces. May we preserve them and be content and give no place to Satan to sow his seeds of dissatisfaction and doubts. Amen.

Sacrifices brings abundant fruits!

Sirach 35: 1-12 | Mark 10:28-31

My devout Christian parents have taught me early in my childhood days the lesson on sacrifices. “No gain without pain, daily little sacrifice that you make brings you grace and blessings. Give and you will be given! and the like”. Indeed, it is very important to make little sacrifices to lead happy and contented life.

Today’s readings give us that same message. “Look, we have left everything and followed you. [What are we going to get?]”, Peter asked Jesus a very genuine question. Jesus answered, “…You will not only receive hundredfold now in this age but eternal life in the age to come!”. Our sacrifices for our faith will be far overshadowed by the blessings we will receive from God our heavenly Father.

The Sirach 35:1-12 reminds us that living a deeply moral, happy and contended life is in itself a form of sacrifice, an offering/sacrifice highly acceptable to God. And, in order to live a moral, happy and contented life, we have to necessarily make sacrifices in our daily life. Yes, making sacrifices is quite painful! It is quite strange to observe that our human tendency is to grab more, have more, to get more and not to give, not to offer up, not to surrender! But, mind you, having more and more of more things does give us satisfaction in life. It is only when we become more, then we get true joy and happiness. So, when our being more is greater than having more then only we achieve abundance of blessings, i.e. happy and contented life. God is a generous giver and we also become Godlike – Generous and magnanimous! When we model our life after that of Jesus Christ, we are sure to get abundant life! Just give a try!

Prayer: Remaining online with God!

Feb 25, 2019 | Sirach 1:1-10 | Mk 9: 14 – 29

Grace: That we be online with God! Not offline!

Introduction: God is the source of everything – Source of wisdom and source of all healing power! Today as we come to God in this Holy Mass, let us seek God’s wisdom for us – wisdom is this that we are nothing without God. “We are Heroes with God, but zeros without God.”

Reflection: An Incident – A woman possessed with evil spirit suddenly started writhing and twisting her head and hair during the Eucharistic Prayer. I did not know what to do. Someone said, “Can you lay your hands on her, please?” “No, I won’t” I said as I was not sure of it. Was I doubting of myself? Was I afraid of myself? Then he himself went and laid his hands on her and after sometimes she became normal. She was alright.

Much later after the incident. Mathias, my grandpa, on a fine morning asked me, “Have you ever exorcised evil spirit?” I said, “No, never.” He laughed, “No, I have done! This requires earnest prayers.” Then he explained about how he once went to exorcised an evil spirit.

Well, this is what is happening in today’s Gospel. Why were the disciples not capable of casting out the evil spirit from the boy? Jesus also says – This type of cure demands Prayer – earnest prayer!

What is earnest prayer by the way? In contemporary metaphor it is being online and pray! Two things happen when we pray being online with God – First, we keep in vital contact with the giver of the gift, and second, we do not lose the truth about ourselves that without God we are nothing!

Pause for moment: Let us close our eyes and be online with God and pray for those who have asked of our prayers!

Prayer: Lord our God! You created the universe and everything in it. Show us how to honour and care for the gifts of creation, while remembering that we are not you and trusting that you care for it infinitely better than we can. Increase our faith and remind us that we are always love by you! We ask you this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

Humility: Source of Human Liberation

Readings:  Is 49:1-6; Act 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66, 80

Once Jesus Christ asked the crowd concerning John the Baptist, “What did you go out in the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?” could I ask you to do a thing right there? Just open your inner eyes to scan the realities of life.  What do you see in the world?  Is not our world in the clutches of evil?  Just look at your inner world. What do you see? Look at your families. What do you see there?  Look at your nations. What do you see? When we make a socio-politico-economic scan of our world, we don’t just find a reed shaken by the wind. But, we find a much larger reality and perhaps a cluster of stark realities of life – injustice, corruption, exploitation, hatred, hunger, communal violence, conflicts, division, murder, rape, oppression, displacement and marginalization of the poor and the weak. What is the source of all this evil?

Today we celebrate the solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist. On this great occasion all the three readings are connected with St. John the Baptist. First reading is actually a servant song that the prophet Isaiah prophesized and it fits in well in the life and work of John the Baptist. In fact the Lord had called John before his birth. The Lord had called him by name. More about it we heard in the Gospel reading. “His name is John”, says Elizabeth. Dumbfounded Zachariah also confirms it by writing on the tablet, “His name is John”. The second reading has also a link in an attempt to highlight the character of the John. Here St. Paul, in his kerygmatic preaching, explains the humility of John the Baptist. Thus, the readings of the day highlight the personality of John the Baptist. By pondering on the life of the saint today, we may have an answer to the question raised above.

Reflecting on the life of John the Baptist, we must mark the following three points:

1)      John the Baptist as Pre-cursor of Jesus: After naming of the child as John, Zachariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, gave a prophecy which is known as Canticle of Zachariah. This consists of two hymns. The first hymn speaks of the role of Jesus whereas the second hymn speaks of John’s role as pre-cursor of Jesus.  Mark the line that says, “you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” And John precisely did that. He prepared the way for Jesus Christ. He preached in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:2). Our role is also to do the same, viz., proclaiming a baptism of repentance.

2)      John the Baptist as Humble Servant of God: In the first reading we heard from Is 49:1-6 a servant song, which is actually fulfilled in John the Baptist. John considers himself a servant of the Messiah. He rightly and humbly confesses that he is not the Messiah. He feels unworthy before the Messiah – not to be fit even to untie the thong of His sandals. Here word ‘humble’ is to be noted. John the Baptist is a humble servant of God. His humility is so remarkable that even Jesus praises him. “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist (Mt 11:11)”.  And John served the Lord God in words and deeds with his total commitment and loyalty. He always upheld truth and justice. It was for becoming strong voice for truth and justice that he was martyred.

3)      John the Baptist as a Witness of the Lamb of God: John the Baptist not only bore truth and justice in his heart and mind but also proclaimed and testified when he saw truth of truths, i.e., Jesus Christ. He declared, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). This was his great testimonial. He pointed Jesus as the one filled with the Holy Spirit, as the Lamb of God and as Son of God.

In this three points chiastic highlight of John’s life, the second, which is at the center, viz., humility, is of vital importance for us and that’s the central message today for all of us. Humility is a need of the time. The life of John the Baptist must be challenging us to grow in humility.  But, who cares about being humble and meek? It’s often ridiculous to become humble, isn’t it? Humility is the mother of all virtues.  St. Ignatius of Loyola had understood it well. He was convinced of it. That is why in his Spiritual Exercises, he explained pride and humility as two opposite forces. He considered pride as the root vices of all kinds that finally get manifested in many forms of evil actions, such as, injustice, corruption, exploitation, hatred, hunger, communal violence, conflicts, division, murder, rape and oppression.

I think today pride has become the root problem in every individual. Just observe. When we get wealth, power, prestige, name and fame, honour, don’t we become proud of ourselves? Yes, we do. At least, this has been my experience. We don’t even know how to react when somebody appreciates us. When we are proud of ourselves, we are actually blinded; we become selfish; we don’t see others as part and parcel of our relational being. That’s how our pride leads us to other evils. If we want total and holistic liberation of ourselves and our world, I think, we must liberate ourselves first from our pride. We must crucify our pride at the cross of humility.  St. Ignatius of Loyola has rightly given us humility as a tool to keep a check with our pride.

Now, we should not be confused with word ‘humility’. By humility we never mean ‘submissiveness’. No. Humility is a virtue, a capacity to accept and acknowledge oneself as truly one is in front of God and in front of others and to accept and acknowledge God and others truly for what they are.  I think John the Baptist just did that throughout his life. That’s why he is regarded as the greatest of all that Saints. I think in order to liberate ourselves and our world from all demoniac powers that bind us and oppress us, we must take a lesson of humility. For, humility is the root source of the dynamics of human liberation.

Beware of Luxury

We usually find sign boards with a caption, “Beware of dogs” at the house gates or “Beware of pickpockets” in metro trains, public buses and crowded places. But here I have a strange kind of caution for you –“Beware of luxury”. Why this caution after all?

Luxury, comforts, shortcuts, etc. are very much part of lives.  Who does not want luxurious and comfortable life? Just think of the kinds of luxury and comforts we have in our homes. Our houses are self-contained with toilets, bathrooms, well-furnished rooms with beds, sofas, tables and chairs.  Electricity, water supply, television, refrigerators, and computers- all are at our service. If we lack anything, we just give a call and pay later; and things come to our door.

Think of the luxury and comfort we often look for in our means of transportation. In most cases public city buses could fulfill our needs. But, then we won’t use them. We would prefer private vehicles, cars and motorbikes, no matter how much fuel prices go up. The number of cars and private vehicles running in our roads is growing high so much that we need our roads to be widened year by year. Yet, many times we face traffic jams. These few examples are enough to initiate the process of self-introspection as to how consciously or unconsciously, we long for luxury and comforts. Do we often look back our lives and check whether our life is governed merely by our wants and needs or by our values?

Excuse me. I am not here to criticize anybody. I am not against modernism and development either. I am just pondering our basic human tendency. I remember the feelings and emotions that I had five days back when I had to change my well furnished and well-equipped room in a three storey building to a tiled bungalow. I had difficult times. Several thoughts came to my mind, “Oh! I will have to walk some 50 meters to go to toilets and bathrooms. Hereafter I will miss showers I used to enjoy previously, etc.” Yes. I too enjoy luxury and comforts. That is my basic human tendency. And I suppose this is true with you too. Thanks to science and technologies that human lives have become more luxurious and comfortable now than a few decades ago.

However, in my case at the moment at least, I had a change in my life with the change of little less luxurious and less comfortable room. I have learnt an important lesson from this little change that I had to make. The lesson is that luxury begets laziness, pride, weakness, inertia and all sorts of evil habits. Now, you may agree or disagree with this. But, this is the lesson I have learnt. You might laugh at it. But, I tell you. Previously I used to set alarm to get up in the morning and there would a common bell for rising up. Despite that I used to get only after 5.00 am. A typical case of my laziness!  Now I have put a sign post with a caution, “Beware of Luxury”, not at the door of my room but somewhere at the back of my head, not to remind others but to myself. That’s the reason now I can get up easily at 4.30 am.

So, better beware of luxury! This caution may not apply to you so much. You might be master of yourself. However, you are welcome to look into your personal life whether this fact holds true. Sure, modern means of luxury and comforts might be our need but we must not forget to question where exactly they lead us. You must not be blinded with the unexamined assumptions like, “If s/he can have it, why not I? I can afford so I must have it, etc.” You must learn to bargain with your wants, needs and values. Or else you will be trapped into the snares of luxury and comforts.

Wrestling with the Mystery of the Trinity

Sunday Reflection for the Feast of the Blessed Trinity

Readings:  Dt 4:32-34, 39-40; Rom 8:14-17; Mt 28:16-20

In the Book of Genesis 32:22-32 we are told how Jacob wrestles with God (in the person of an unknown man) whole night until daybreak at the bank of river Jabbok in a place later called Peniel. In the similar way human mind has been wrestling with the understanding of God. Who is God for us? How is he? We question and try to understand and comprehend God. But, we have never been able to understand God completely. God is incomprehensible. He is a mystery. Yet, this mystery is not completely unknown to us. It is by his Grace we have revelation of God. God reveals Himself and we continually respond to this revelation and try to understand God as per our human capability.

The Bible is a collection of books written by human hands but divinely authored and inspired by God Himself. Therefore, it contains the revelation of God. Human beings have wrestled with God in their understanding of God. In the Bible we have the accounts of how Hebrews had their breakthrough in their understanding of God from Polytheistic to Monotheistic. In the Second Testament, we have revelation of God in the very person of Jesus Christ. There is a gradual shift in the understanding of God from Polytheism to Monothesim. We, Christians, believe in Monotheism. But, there too, we have the Trinitarian understanding of God, viz., three Divine Persons in One God. Down the centuries, in the history of the Church, there has been constant ‘wrestling’ with the understating of this Trinitarian God. Presently we believe and hold the Mystery of Blessed Trinity – In One Godhead, there are three Divine persons, viz., The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.  How? All of us are not theologians, like Augustine, Athnasius, Tartullian, and all. How do we understand this mystery of the blessed Trinity?

Well, the Church supplies. Today, on the feast of day of the Blessed Trinity, the holy mother Church provides an opportunity to ‘wrestle’ with our understanding of God. It is a good day to reflect on the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.  In the First reading from the book of Deuteronomy we hear how Moses commanded Israelite for obedience to the Lord God. He demanded Israelite to acknowledge that the Lord is their God and there is no other God besides Him.  In the second reading from Rom 8:14-17 we heard St. Paul speaking to the Romans about the life in the Spirit. He explained how, when we live our lives by the Spirit of God, we become children of God. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. In the gospel reading today from Mathew 28:18-20 we hear Jesus giving the disciples His great commission- a commission of making disciples, of baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and of teaching them to obey his commandments.

Thus, the readings of the day present to us a glimpse of the Trinity. In the first reading we have been presented a strict monotheistic notion of God, viz. The Lord is God, there is no other God but Him.  This is the first Divine Person of the Trinity. Of course, in the gospel reading we have had resurrected Jesus before us and giving us the great commission. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity,  is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We must notice, what Jesus says in his great commission, viz., baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In the second reading we have been told of the Spirit of God, the third person of the Trinity. Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of Pentecost and we were told how the Spirit of God dwells in us. It is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we become the children of God. So, readings of the day unfold for us the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, which is actually based on God’s revelation who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that there are three Divine Persons in One Godhead.

Now, if we continue wrestling a bit more with the mystery of the Trinity, then perhaps we will get a blessing of a message for our practical lives. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches two important points. First, Trinity in Unity, i.e. Three in One; that there is Distinction among the three Divine Persons. God the Father is not the Son, nor the Holy Spirit; The Son is neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit. So also Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Every Divine Person is unique. Second, Unity in Trinity, i.e., Oneness in Trinity; that is, there is distinction among the three Divine Persons, yet, they are one; they are united; there is perfect unity among them. How is this oneness of the Trinitarian God unfolded? One of the ways this is explained is by arguing the mutual indwelling of the Divine Persons. This means that the divine persons are present to each other on the ground of common nature, relations, and origin. That is to say that they have mutual inhabitation and participation in all perfections. This God is the God of relationship.

Huh! It is very hard to understand, isn’t it? Night and day we might wrestle with the understanding of the Trinity, but I think  at the end, we surrender and say that the Trinitarian mystery consists in the essential incomprehensibility of God. By reason we cannot fathom this mystery but by leap of our faith we can ascend and transcend to this mystery and share in this divine life by abiding in the message it gives us today. The feast of the Blessed Trinity calls forth to take home an important message, viz., the message of unity. The message that is unfolded for us today is that when we live in unity and with integrity within oneself, in our families, in our communities, in our countries and in our world at large, we actually share in the divine life; we share in the life of the Trinitarian God. Union of hearts and minds is the call of the time. Unity in diversity, hope amidst hopelessness, joy and peace amidst violence and strife is what the feast of the Blessed Trinity challenges us to strive for.

In our world broken with greed and pride, how can we all become children of God? How can we establish a just and humane society in the world? I think we need not only the blessing but also the lesson from the blessed Trinity. The lesson that we must learn from the Trinitarian God is the lesson of mutual indwelling, lesson of inhabitation and the lesson of relationality. This is what we must wrestle with instead of wrestling with the understanding of Trinitarian God.

Pentecost: An Epiclesis Over Human Mind

Sunday Reflection for the Pentecost Day

Readings: Act 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13 and Jn 20:19-23

It is Pentecost Sunday today. Pentecost means the fiftieth day- after the Passover. It is the second of the three great Jewish feasts celebrated at Jerusalem yearly. It is celebrated in grateful recognition of completed harvest. In other words, it is the harvest feast.

For the Christians Pentecost is the advent of the Holy Spirit. It is with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Church was born. It is the birthday of the Church. On the Passover Triduum, we remembered three important Christ-Events, viz., the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. After the death of Jesus on the cross, Jesus appeared to his disciples for forty days to convince them of his resurrection. This is what we commemorated during the Eastertide. Then Jesus ascended into Heaven. Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of ascension. This Sunday is Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples.

Luke, in Acts 2:1-11, describes the great event of Pentecost, which we heard in the first reading. On the occasion of Jewish feast of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus had gathered in one place. And suddenly, we are told, how there came from heaven a sound like the rush of a violent wind, filled the entire house, and a divided tongues of fire appeared to them, a tongue of fire rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages.  All the spectators were amazed and perplexed while others sneered at them, “They are filled with new wine.”

The Johannine Gospel, Jn 20:19-23, which we heard in today’s gospel reading, gives us a different episode of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were gathered and locked up in a room for fear of Jews. Jesus came and stood among them and said twice, “Peace be with you.” And then He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Then he gives them the power of forgiveness. In the second reading from 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13 we are told of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the different spiritual gifts that we receive in the Holy Spirit. St. Paul mentions clearly that there are varieties of gifts from one source, viz. the Holy Spirit. Gift of wisdom, gift of knowledge, gift of faith, gift of healing, gift of working miracles, gifts of prophecy, gift of discernment of spirits, gift of speaking in different tongues and of interpreting them. However, the greatest of all of these gifts is the gift of love. Paul emphasizes that in 1 Cor 13:1-13. Also, among the seven fold fruits of the Holy Spirit, viz., Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity and self-control, love is the first in the list.

So, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, Christian faith assures that, God is Emmanuel; that Jesus is with us as he said, “I will be with you till the ends of time.” Pentecost assures that the Reign of God that Jesus Christ ushered during in his life time continues to grow and expand with the power of the Holy Spirit. And that Kingdom of God is the kingdom of Love, Joy and Peace. We all are given with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We have been given Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit dwells within us. Remember, what St. Paul says, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19).” What is the sure sign that the Holy Spirit dwells in us? When we bear in our lives the fruits of the Holy Spirit, viz. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity and Self-control, we exhibit that Holy Spirit dwells in us.

Have you ever experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in and around you? We are aware how the Holy Spirit has been given different titles. Holy Spirit is the Advocate, the comforter, the Healer, the consoler, the sanctifier and the counselor, etc. When the Holy Spirit descended into the disciples, Luke mentions, He came in the form of tongues of fires. Holy Spirit was present in the violent wind that filled the house where the disciples were gathered. While John tells us how Jesus breathed into them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Well, today, the presence of the Holy Spirit could be felt in different ways.

The other day when I was preparing this reflection, I feel, I was guided and counseled by the Holy Spirit. Actually a question arose in my mind. Why is that there is no reading from the First Testament in today’s liturgy? Is there no Holy Spirit in the First Testament? Out of curiosity, I just typed the keyword, “Pentecost” in BibleWorks Application and I got total five reference of the word, two from the First Testament (Tob 2:1 and 2 Macc 12:32) and the three from Second Testament. I was surprised to see how there are references of the Pentecost in the First Testament. Then I felt inspired to read the whole book of Tobit, which I did for the first time in one stretch. This is when I realized that the presence of the Holy Spirit, though not so vividly and clearly, is present there even in the First Testament. I realized it was the Holy Spirit in the form of Angel Raphael, who introduced himself as Azariah. In the book one can find the dominant presence of the Holy Spirit. It was He who journeyed with Tobias to Media, guided him, instructed him, told him the medicinal usage of the gall, heart and liver of the fish in the Tigris River. Be it routing out the demon from Sarah, marriage of Tobias with Sarah or be it healing of Tobit from his blindness, we see the powerful healing and counseling act of the Holy Spirit in the Angel of Raphael. I think this is an example of how the Blessed Trinity (God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit) are ever active in the salvific mission. Yes, the work of the Holy Spirit is active even today in and among us through different ways. Only thing that we need to do is to cooperate with Him by being in the grace.

Our Human mind is very so beautiful and powerful. John Milton in Paradise Lost says, “Mind is its own place. It can create heaven in hell and hell in heaven.” Yet, how is it that our mind cannot feel, cannot recognize the works of the Holy Spirit and fruits of the Holy Spirit? How is that our mind does not become the temple of the Holy Spirit? Is not true that our human mind in our sin-laden and broken world is being eclipsed? Today, we need to question ourselves on what sort of things our mind is busy with. I wish and pray on this Pentecost for an Epiclesis over our human mind. Let Holy Spirit come down and sanctify our human mind to hell of our world into heaven here and now. Come Holy Spirit Sanctify our minds!

An Ascending Thought on Ascension

After the passion and death on the cross, Jesus Christ appeared to his disciples for forty days at different time and different places to show that He is risen from the dead. He gave them his final instructions. He appeared to them for final time on the mount Olive near Bethany and commissioned them to go to the whole world and preach the good news. Now when He had spoken these things to the disciples, on their seeing He was lifted up in heaven. A cloud received Him out of their sight. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father in glory. This is the event of Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

We hear about this Christ Event, viz. Ascension of Our Lord, in the Gospel reading of the day. St. Luke describes about this event in his first (Gospel) and the second (Acts of the Apostles) books. Today’s first reading was from the Acts of the Apostles. St. Paul has also spoken in his letter to the Ephesians about how Jesus Christ ascended into heaven in all power and glory and is seated at the right hand of God. All this indicates that the Ascension of Our Lord is an important and final Christ Event. It is one of the foundational pillars in Christian faith. Not only Sacred Scriptures but the faith tradition of the faithful is witness to this.

It is said that there are footprints of Jesus Christ on the mount Olive, from where Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. Many people who go for the pilgrimage to the Holy Land do visit this site and enrich their faith.

To lead you into the mystery and history of the Ascension I would like to draw your attention into the three biblical references.

1. Gen 11:1-9:- This reference is about Tower of Babel. Here we are told how people planned to build themselves a city and a tower whose top would be in the heavens. The did attempt to do so. But their plan failed because their purpose was inspired by selfishness, ambition and pride.

2. Gen 28:10-22:- This is a reference that mentions about Jacob’s Dream. Jacob is journeying from Beersheba toward Haran and  in a place called Luz, while putting up a night saw a dream. He dreamed that a ladder was set up on the earth whose top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. God spoke to him saying, “I am the Lord, God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants…and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed…”

3. Mt 26:63-64:- This is a reference of Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin. The High priest under the oath of the living God asked Jesus, “Tell us if you are the Christ, Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

All the three passages seem to hint at the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. God created humans in his likeness and image. We were in ‘Grace’ and shared His holiness and justice and in the glory of God, the Father. But, we lost that Grace of God when Adam and Eve, the primordial man and woman, disobeyed and  sinned against God. We lost that heavenly bliss we have had before. we are deprived of the access to the tree of life.

We are not sure of the historicity of the event of the Tower of Babel. However, it does tell us a religious truth that we our own cannot have access to heaven. We have salvation without the grace of God. However, God did not leave humankind in their sinful and broken situation. He chose Abraham and proceeded ahead with the  salvation history of humankind. This salvific plan of God gets fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Ascension of our Lord is an important Christ event of that salvific mystery and history. It is in that way, that dream of Jacob becomes a type for Ascension of Our Lord. This dream of Jacob is fulfilled in the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact Jesus Christ is that “ladder” on  which not only angles of God but also people of God ascend to heaven. It is in Jesus that we have full of Grace and truth (Jn 1:14) and of His fullness we have all received grace upon grace (Jn1:16). By one man’s (Adam) disobedience we had lost that original Grace of God and by one man’s (Jesus) obedience we have been restored that grace. In Jesus Christ, God  and humans have reconciled again. It is by Jesus’ becoming that ladder, heaven and earth have become one again. This is what the mystery of ascension tells us.

Now the question is what way does this  ascension of Jesus affect us? Quite often we think that heaven is above and we are here down below. Sometimes we also think that Jesus went upto heaven would mean that He is not with us anymore. No. All these are figurative language. In fact Bethel, House of God, is there wherever God is present. Moreover, Jesus has promised, “I am with you always, even till the end of age (Mt 28:20).” The Ascension of our Lord does mean to us, because we too can share in the power and glory of Jesus Christ. But, we fail to do so. Why? The episode of Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) can answer to this question. At times we too make use of all possible means to make this this world a heaven, but without God, without being in the Grace of God. We use ladders of our own and not the ladder that Jesus provides to reach upto heaven.

I think we must take note of two things as the message of the day. First, no matter how hard we try on our own spending time and money, but without the grace of God we cannot achieve salvation. we cannot achieve justice, true peace and happiness. Secondly, without human effort (Hard WORK) relying only on the grace of God, we cannot achieve salvation. To achieve human salvation (Justice, peace and happiness) we need both Grace of God and Human effort. If we are baptized with Christ, if we obey his commandments and lead our lives according to the teachings and principles that He showed, we will definitely be part of his divine glory.

I pray that we may be able to die to self (our selfish self, our pride etc.) and have the mind of Jesus Christ in humility and obedience; and thus be true witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.