Mass of the Holy Spirit 2018

UA Community. 22 June 2018

Every year, here at UA, we mark the beginning of a new academic year with the Mass of the Holy Spirit. And as we gather this morning, at the Lord’s table, we implore God to fill us, to swathe us with his holy Spirit as we face another challenging year.

Let me begin with an “adapted” story I’m sure some of you have heard:

Once there lived two brothers who lost their parents at an early age. They worked together on their family farm. Some years later, the elder married and had a family with 2 children. The other, however, chose to remain single. They worked hard together in the day and at harvest time, they shared their produce equally.

One day while the single brother was working in the fields, he thought to himself, “It’s not right that we share everything equally. I’m alone and my needs are simple. My brother has a big family. He needs much more.” With that in mind he took 5 sacks full of grains and slowly went to his brother’s barn and placed the sacks secretly. He did so every week.

Meanwhile, the married brother thought to himself, “It’s not right that we share everything equally. After all, I’m married and I have my wife and children to look after me in years to come. My brother has no family and no one can take care of his future. He really should have a bigger share.” So each week he took 5 bags of grain and put them into his brother’s barn quietly.

This went on and both men were puzzled because their grain never dwindled.

Then one night, on the way to each other’s barn, the two brothers coincidentally met on the road and they found out what was happening all this time! They dropped their bags, embraced and laughed out load.

De Mello in his version of this story concluded with this comment: “where the two brothers coincidentally met, there is the Holy Spirit!”

I believe this story is one creative way to understand what the Holy Spirit is all about. The word “SPIRIT” refers to the general temperament or disposition, to the overall attitude or frame of mind of a person or a group or a community. And when that general disposition or attitude closely reflects or resembles that of God, it is called a “holy” spirit.

Perhaps the easiest way to define or describe the holy spirit is to define or describe its opposite: the evil spirit.  In the bible, especially in the Gospels, the evil spirit devastates and disturbs. It destroys one’s health, one’s happiness, one’s well-being. People possessed by evil spirits live miserable, abnormal lives. Second, the evil spirit divides. It divides people and breaks up communities. People possessed by evil spirits isolate themselves, preferring to live by alone, cut off from relationships. Third, the evil spirit suffocates and stifles. People possessed by evil spirits often live in empty tombs, building walls around themselves, literally choking themselves to death. Finally, the evil spirit is violent. Persons possessed by evil spirits tend to be ferocious and almost always engage in vicious acts.

On the other hand, what does the holy spirit do?

If the evil spirit breeds destruction, the holy spirit, by contrast, brings out the best in people. The holy spirit, descending like fire, gave the apostles confidence in themselves and made them courageous to preach God’s word. Second, unlike the evil spirit that divides, the holy spirit unites. “That they may be one” was Jesus’ prayer for his apostles as he promised them the Holy Spirit. Love, unity, forgiveness spring forth from the holy spirit, while from the evil spirit come division, hatred, and revenge. Third, while the evil spirit suffocates, the holy spirit removes everything that hinders us from experiencing the beauty of life. It makes us well. It makes life, not a burden, but a joy. Finally, unlike the evil spirit who is characterized by violence, the holy spirit personifies mercy and gentleness. As the prophet Elijah discovered, God’s spirit was not in the strong winds that shattered rocks, not in the fire or in the earthquake. God’s spirit was to be found in a low whisper and gentle breeze.

In short, a holy spirit represents everything that moves us toward God. An evil spirit, on the other hand, represents everything that pulls us away from God.

Isn’t the struggle between these two spirits – the holy spirit as protagonist and the evil spirit as antagonist – a constant theme of most movies? J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy has the honorable Frodo and his faithful Hobbit, human and elvish companions on one side and the army of the evil wizard Saruman and his awful Orcs on the other. In The Harry Potter, we have Harry and his good friends versus Voldemort and his evil minions.

The question we can ask ourselves is: whose side are we on? Or more pointedly: Am I a holy spirit? Or an evil spirit? Am I the source of strength and comfort and clarity? Or am I the source of misery and confusion and division for others? What kind of spirit do we commit to bring in to the University? Is it the holy spirit of excellence, of integrity, and of collaboration? Or is it the evil spirit of mediocrity, of overweening pride, and of indifference?

The reason we celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit is to implore God, to sincerely seek his help, so we can generously and freely give our best spirits – our holy spirits – for the duration of this new academic year.

The dove has always been the primary symbol for the Holy Spirit. There is a reason for this. Doves are not only known for their acuity, their strength and unflappability – the very qualities of God’s spirit. They’re also known for their “domesticability” – if there is such a word. They’re easy to tame. We have been gifted with God’s holy spirit, and all we have to do is to tame it, to let it stay, instead of shooing it away. The more we tame the Holy Spirit in us, the more it will bear fruit – what we call the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

We pride ourselves in being a Catholic University. As a catholic university, we should all be experts in domesticating or taming the Holy Spirit and in reaping its fruits. It will indeed be a shame if UA becomes a place of division, of irresponsibility and apathy – because if that happens, the first to fly off and leave is the Holy Spirit.

And so as we begin this academic year, like the two brothers who coincidentally met on the road, let us pray that everything that we are and everything that we do become manifestations of  the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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