The Spirit Lives to Set us Free and Binds us All in Unity…

Reflection for Pentecost Sunday. Year B. 2018
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
Archway, London


On a Pentecost Sunday, a pastor asked his congregation to do something “spirited” to demonstrate that they have received the Holy Spirit. In frenzy, people started speaking in tongues and falling over each other. He urged them on to do something “crazier”. People started jumping on chairs and tables and knocking things over. The pastor felt that it wasn’t good enough. So he pushed his luck and urged them do the craziest things for the Lord. At this, one man dashed to the altar and made off with the offertory collection. And the pastor chased after him screaming: “This is now pure madness!”.

Friends, on Pentecost day (as we shall celebrate this Sunday), the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles like “tongues of fire” and they spoke in tongues! i.e. their speech was understood in the language of everybody that heard them. People have taken the liberty to interpret “being in the Spirit” in all sorts of ways including being inspired to do crazy things.

But Jesus spoke about his own Pentecost experience and this could help us to decipher what such experience really means.

In Luke 4:18-19, as Jesus announced that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him (Pentecost), he immediately details that the Spirit inspires him to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to give new sight to the blind, to declare freedom to the oppressed and to announce the coming of God’s favour!

In other words, the Spirit inspired him to his mission of love. St. Paul notes in the Second Reading (Gal. 5: 16-25) that love is the first fruit of the Spirit. It is the indispensable sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. To love is to will (desire) the good of the other. If you desire the good of the other, then, the Holy Spirit is working in you.

From love flows joy (happiness) which people search for in all the wrong places. Mother Teresa has a good advice: “Don’t worry about doing great things, do the smallest things with great love and you will be happy.”

St. Paul also lists patience as flowing from love. We become impatient with others because they are not doing things our way; they are not moving fast enough towards the goal that we want. But if we are really “willing” or desiring the good of the other, then we are patient even with what we might consider their slow progress. If my life is not about me but about what is good for you, then I’m patient with the pace that you are giving.

The last fruit of the Spirit in Paul’s list is self-control. Those who lose their cool are not focused on the good of those around them; they are preoccupied with their own feelings, with their frustrations of why things are not being done according to their tastes and instructions (my secretary would probably call me a hypocrite for preaching this one. Well, madam, I preach to myself too).

On the other hand, Paul also lists attitudes that are obtained where the spirit of the world as opposed to the Holy Spirit reigns. These include; immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, selfishness, dissension, factions, drunkenness, orgies etc. We could clearly see sexual sins in the list; impurity, lust, orgies. While there is a distortion that sees sexual sin as the only sin, on the other hand, there is a growing tendency to normalise it which is equally flawed.

Our sexual lives can become disordered precisely in the measure that they are employed outside love; when they become mere means to pleasure, when we use others like sex toys. It is such approach that is behind the scourge of pornography, human trafficking and sex trade which has become a multi-billion dollar industry in our world today.

However, Paul places even greater emphasis on attitudes that divide us; hatred, rivalry, jealousy, dissension and factions. Pentecost invites us to take a good hard look at these realities in our lives.

When divisions, hatred and rivalry dominate us, the spirit of the world is at work not the Holy Spirit. How much time, spiritual and psychological energy do we spend brooding over rivalries, over people that we hate, over people that we feel that slighted us?

If your focus is truly on the good of the other, then you’ll master your own thoughts and feelings and reactions, always putting them in the service of the other. St. Paul concludes: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus, has crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the spirit, let us also follow the spirit.”

All of us who have been baptised and confirmed and have therefore received the gifts of the Holy Spirit are therefore given the matching orders to nail to the cross all that is not of love in us. That’s what Paul is saying. Uncover all those passions, attitudes and desires that are opposed to love and crucify them. Put them to death and then walk in the way of the Spirit which means “willing” or desiring the good of the other even in the simplest way. And you’ll find the happiness you seek.

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