This Sunday’s Gospel Message from the Priest
Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday
Today is the feast of Pentecost. “Pentecost” actually means “fifty”. Why was this name chosen? Because fifty days after the feast of Passover, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples of Jesus who were gathered in a place in Jerusalem. We hear the story in the first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles.
But the Gospel reading, taken from the Gospel of John, tells us about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as well. According to John, on the day of His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” If we compare the two passages, we may wonder: on what occasion was the Holy Spirit poured out on the Church: on the day of Pentecost as narrated by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles or on the day of Easter as narrated by John the Evangelist? If we were to read on in the Acts of the Apostles, we would be even more astonished because several more times we are told that the Holy Spirit descended on different groups of people. The question must be answered: the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the sending of the Holy Spirit are not three separate events. The death of Jesus, his resurrection, and the sending of the Holy Spirit form one mystery of salvation. Therefore, according to the liturgy of the Catholic Church, the Easter season ends on this day. The feast of Pentecost is the closing of the Easter celebration. The Paschal candle, which symbolizes the risen Christ and has been standing in front of the people since Easter night, is taken from the altar today; that is, the Easter season is over.
The Evangelist John especially emphasizes the unity between Jesus’ death, Easter, and Pentecost. When Jesus was crucified, for John it meant: Jesus is exalted, Jesus is glorified. John paints Jesus on the cross as a king sitting on his throne. That means that John saw a very close connection between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. In addition, he also saw a very close connection between Jesus’ death and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. John describes Jesus’ death by saying: “He bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19: 30). The last breath of Jesus was for John nothing other than the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, just as on the day of the Resurrection, He once again breathed on His disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And the water that came out of the spear pierced Jesus’ side was for John also clearly the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In John’s view, the unity between Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost was so close that he did not feel the need to recount the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in particular. With the Resurrection of Jesus, his gospel was complete.
The evangelist Luke was a little different. He continued his gospel with the Acts of the Apostles. Acts has been called “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit”. What a great name. Just as the four Gospels are the good news of Jesus Christ, so Acts is the good news of the Holy Spirit. It tells what the Holy Spirit does in young people. Several times he describes how the Holy Spirit descended on the new disciples. But one time the Holy Spirit descended in a spectacular way, in a very striking way, namely on the 50th day after Easter, on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descended after the disciples had prepared themselves for nine days. Suddenly they changed radically: from cowards and timid, they became witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection, full of confidence and courage.
We too have prepared ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit, but not just on the feast of Pentecost. In our lives too, the Holy Spirit is constantly active. Not just when we are baptized or when we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Every day and every moment, the Holy Spirit is active in the Church and in our hearts, provided we are open, provided we are willing to receive Him, and provided we humbly pray to receive Him. That is why today we pray with the Church around the world: “Come Holy Spirit. Enlighten the hearts of your people. Straighten the crooked. Warm the cold. Heal the wounded. Come Spirit of Truth.”
Father Wifridus Ngalla, cicm
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
On this day, the Church celebrates the feast of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus into Heaven. To understand the meaning and purpose of this feast, I think, we need to remember that the feast of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus is still celebrated in the atmosphere of Easter. In the liturgy of the Church, the Easter period continues until the feast of Pentecost.
This feast of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus only continues the feast of Easter. Because of His resurrection, Jesus has entered into His glory. If we read the Gospel stories, it is clear that Jesus is no longer part of the world. He was no longer an ordinary man. He has become something else. When He met His disciples after His resurrection, they did not recognize Him at first. Mary Magdalene, the first disciple to meet the risen Jesus, thought he was a gardener. Often the disciples were in doubt: was this the Jesus they knew or had he become something else? He entered the house, even though all the doors and windows were locked. Suddenly He came and suddenly He was gone.
Of course, the disciples could not doubt that Jesus, after His resurrection, was truly alive. He ate and drank with them. He showed the scars on His body. They recognized His voice, His gestures, the way He hung out. Surely they were not mistaken. They did not see a ghost. What they saw was none other than Jesus Himself. But on the other hand, we must admit that He had changed too. He was different from before. They just didn’t know how that otherness should be called. We know now. Jesus has entered His glory. The new life after He died is different from ordinary life. It is a victorious life, a glorious life, a life that can never perish again. Life with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.
On this Ascension Day, we celebrate the definitive glory of Jesus. As a good teacher, Jesus organized a period of learning for His disciples after He rose. Even though He was no longer of this world, He appeared to His disciples from time to time. But the period of study was limited: no more than 40 days.
One day He would leave definitively: forever. But what is interesting is that this parting did not take place in a sad atmosphere. It was very different from the time of His death on the cross. At that time, the disciples were very sad; they felt completely devastated. But now at this definitive farewell, they were joyful; they were excited. The Lord’s ascension was by no means experienced as a sad event. The evangelist Luke especially emphasizes this: “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Lk 24:52b).
We have to admit: it was a strange farewell. Jesus is leaving. He is gone forever and the last words He spoke were: “I will be with you always, to the end of the age”. He leaves, but He stays with His disciples. He did not leave to distance Himself from us, but to be closer to us. Until now. Until the end of time.
Right now, He is with us: through the Holy Spirit, through the Church, through the sacraments, through the Gospel. As Jesus once said: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). We can add even more if there are hundreds of people gathered in His name, as we are today. In this communal celebration, we can still meet Him; we can still associate with Him, even though He has left this world.
May our feelings now be the same as those of the disciples who witnessed the Lord’s ascension. May our hearts also be full of joy and eager to carry out His commandments. May our hope be just as strong, for Jesus is with us until the end of time.
Father Wifridus Ngalla, CICM
Sixth Easter Sunday
The Gospel reading talks about the Holy Spirit. The quote was taken from Jesus’ farewell speech to his disciples. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit. Or more accurately, Jesus would pray to God the Father and the Father would send the Holy Spirit. Jesus said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, the Spirit of truth, to be with you always”. Another helper, Jesus said. So, they already had a helper before? It is true that while He was alive, Jesus Himself was the helper of His disciples. But after His death, He would send another helper. The word used in the original text of John’s Gospel – “paraklites” – actually has more meanings than “helper only”. Besides helper, the word also means: defender, comforter, protector, supporter, encourager, inspirer. All these meanings must be understood at once when it is said that the Holy Spirit is another helper. By sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to help and accompany His people. By sending the Holy Spirit, He remains with His disciples. Jesus has always emphasized His unity with God the Father. “He who sees me sees the Father” (John 14:9), He had said. Now Jesus revealed His unity with the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Spirit of Truth is proof that Jesus did not leave His disciples as orphans. The coming of the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ way of remaining in the midst of His people. Those who have the Holy Spirit, have Jesus Himself.
We believe that our relationship with God is a relationship of love. And the proof of our love is none other than our loyalty and obedience to Him. And if we truly love Him then of course we will do all His commandments. And in doing all His commands, He is always with us and helps us. It is a very beautiful relationship of love, when we carry out our mission based on love for Him.The sign of Jesus’ love for us His disciples is the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who accompanies our lives and keeps us in His love. That is the beauty of God’s love.
Jesus remains our guarantee. He will not leave us either. For He Himself said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him”. The message for us is: Let us continue to carry out our mission in the midst of this world, in our duties and services every day, with a spirit of love for God and for others, as anything and anywhere. That in carrying out that mission, we experience many challenges, difficulties, suffering and rejection. Sometimes we become discouraged, doubtful and confused. But we are sure, we are not alone. The promised Helper Spirit is always with us, affirming and strengthening us, He always loves us. In love and with His love, everything is beautiful.
Father Wifridus Ngalla, CICM
FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
The Gospel we read today mentions what only believers can see. The Gospel quote is taken from a conversation Jesus had on the last night of his life, as described by the evangelist John. In the conversation with the twelve apostles, Jesus spoke about His Father. Philip kept reacting: “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us”. Jesus said to Philip: “I have been with you for so long, Philip, and yet you do not know me. He who has seen me has seen the Father”. Seeing Jesus is the same as seeing the Father. At that time, many Jews saw Jesus, but they regarded Him as an ordinary man. They did not see the Father when they met Jesus. But believers see more than what can be seen. God cannot be seen with human eyes, but even so, a believer will be able to see God in Jesus.
Today we can take a quick look at our own faith. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to examine the state of our faith a little. Are we able to see what the unbeliever cannot see? Do we see the creator God in the creations around us? Do we see the Lord Jesus in the poor, the sick, those who need our help and love? Do we see God the Father in Jesus Christ? Do we hear the voice of God the Father when we hear the words of Jesus in the Gospel? Or is our faith still too shallow and our view of faith too narrow? Is our trust still too weak? If this is the case, we need to pray with a sincere heart: “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).
Father Wifridus Ngalla, CICM