Sunday, September 5, 2010

year of the Spirit

When we were preparing for the launching of the year of the Holy Spirit we were discussing what would be the appropriate symbol which will remind people of his presence.  When the year of Jesus Christ was launched we had no problems when it came to symbols.  When the cross was suggested it was immediately and unanimously approved.  Thus, we have crosses in the sanctuaries of all the churches in the archdiocese in no time. This time, however, the symbol for the Holy Spirit posed a problem.  One suggested that we launch it by releasing a dove.  However this was turned down for “releasing doves” (a pigeon actually) is associated more often with the struggle for freedom and peace in our country.  Though these are fruits of the Spirit we deemed it too limiting and too detached for the theme which is, “The Holy Spirit:  The life of the Church in the Home.” Another suggested lighting torches and candles representing the tongues of fire which came down on Pentecost.  However, that would require the parish priests in the different parishes of the archdiocese to put the fire department on standby during the launching.  It was too impractical.  What would we do then?  What would be the most appropriate sign to remind us of the Holy Spirit?  We ended our meeting with no solution in mind except a banner with the words “Holy Spirit” printed on it.  And for want of a better symbol we ended up with this banner in the cathedral. 

However, the problem remained and continued to make me think until an inspiration struck me as I read the gospel this Sunday.  I found the appropriate symbol of the Holy Spirit in the person of St. John the Baptist.  I say “in the person of John.”  Not John, but in his person, in his attitude (I am making this clear because I might be accused of propagating the idea of putting the statue of St. John during the entire year dedicated to the Holy Spirit!).   His attitude is an appropriate symbol for we find in his person the fruits of the presence of the Spirit – joy, serenity and vigilance. 

Joy in the Spirit 
When Mary visited Elizabeth as the gospel of Luke narrates, “the infant (John) leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit cried out in a loud voice, ‘. . . blessed is the fruit of your womb.’ ” (Lk 1: 41-45)  This is one of my favorite scenes in the gospel and how I wish I was there watching these two women smiling, hugging, shrieking and laughing in sheer joy. This joyful encounter is so human, so ordinary (most often one could see this scene at the arrival area of the airport) and yet so extraordinary a scene.  The joy was just so infectious even the baby leapt in her womb.  And what brought about this joyful event?  It was the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.So what is the appropriate symbol of the presence of the Spirit in our homes, in our communities, in our churches and in our lives?  Joy!  We will know that the Spirit is in us when there is joy, when we have a joyful disposition and attitude towards one another and towards life itself.  When I see a family at table eating together with all the natural raucous one creates when the children are there, the giggling, the friendly competition for best part of the fried chicken, the teasing . . . I see and feel the presence of the Spirit in this family.  When I see lovers walking without direction, holding hands, whispering sweet nothings . . . I see the presence of the Spirit in them.  When I see a teacher enjoying teaching her class, an old man so graceful in his old age, a parishioner smiling all the time during mass . . . I see the presence of the Spirit.  And their joy is mine too, for the presence of the Spirit makes others too leap in joy.

Serenity in the Spirit
John was led into the desert wearing a “clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist.  His food was locust and wild honey.” (Mt. 3:4)  In the Jewish mind the desert (together with the sea) is a place of great danger, the abode of Satan and death, and a place of test (e.g. Exodus, the temptation of Jesus).  The desert thus represents a time of crisis, a time of great difficulty.  In this place of great danger, and the test what was the response of John?  John serenely trusted in the providence of God.  In this fearsome and most difficult time of his life John learned to be steadfast.  He did not flee from these difficulties, he did not succumb to the test.  Rather he stood up with courage and learned to live with what he had.  He let God lead him by the hand.  This is what I mean by serenity – calmness and trust.  Serenity does not mean having no disturbance and inconveniences, rather it means that despite the difficulties I continue to trust and rest myself in the providence of God.  This is the symbol of the presence of the Holy SpiritIn our lives when things too hard to accept and understand happen to us, what is our response?  We may find in us anger and denial.  We may become constant worriers and question the goodness of God.  But when we continue to struggle not merely to understand and accept but to trust that God is leading us by the hand then we know that the Spirit is at work in us.  The burdens may become too heavy and inconvenient, but when we carry them with serenity and calmness trusting that something good may come out of these, then we too have discovered the power of Spirit residing in us. 

The vigilance of John, his expectation for the messiah is not a passive vigilance.  His vigilance is not one that only thinks of oneself.  His vigilance is active.  As he prepared himself in the desert he reached out to his community and prepared them too to meet their savior.  “He appeared preaching in the desert . . . , Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 3: 1).  In his life this action of John of preparing not only himself but also his community for the coming of the savior shows to us once more the presence of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit that made him vigilant in a kind of vigilance that proclaimed to all peoples the mercy and love of God.In our lives too we will know that we have permitted the Spirit to act in us when like John we have preached the mercy and love of God through our actions, whether it be in our homes, in our places of work or in our parishes.   The Spirit is there when we become more and more concerned with the well being of our communities and express these sentiments in our barangay halls rather than fret about them in our homes;  when we get involve by offering our time and talent in making Jesus known and loved in our communities, rather than just praying to him in the privacy of our rooms;  when we promote reconciliation and understanding in our families and communities rather than just getting preoccupied with Christmas lights and belens.  The presence of the Spirit like in John makes us reach out to other people, to other families and homes.  This is the vigilance that the Spirit brings and it is a sure sign that he is at work within us.

In my search for an appropriate symbol of the Holy Spirit, I stumbled upon this reflection.  As Jesus said “the Spirit blows where it pleases.”  And I found out that indeed he does.  His symbol is not to be found and confined in the sanctuaries of our churches and in the beautiful banners we make. Instead I found him everywhere – in homes, in plazas, in jeepneys, in the barangays, in department stores, at the back pew of our churches, in our parish halls . . . anywhere and everywhere where joy, serenity and vigilance are found.

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