The Ascension Of The Lord, Year B
Open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. Experience true joy and true freedom.
We human beings are physical beings. We have physical needs, desires and aspirations. Whether it is a comfortable house, a flashy car, good food, music, enjoying performing art, exotic holidays, or physical intimacy; these physical enjoyments are important to us. But these often only offer fleeting satisfaction. They do not fulfill us. Consider this: What joy is there in living in a big comfortable house if I live in it all by myself without anyone to share or even anyone to visit me? What joy is physical intimacy if I do not connect with the soul of the person I am intimate with? In the morning after, as two intimate strangers, as we each go our own way, all that is left is a profound sense of emptiness.
The truth is, we are not just physical being; we are also spiritual beings. When God created us, He created us in His image and likeness. He placed in us an eternal and indestructible soul in the likeness of Himself. He then placed within our souls His Spirit, the Holy Spirit which is the love of God Himself. This makes us human beings a unique creation of God. Whereas the animals are physical bodies without souls and angels are pure spirits without bodies, God created human with both a physical body and a spiritual soul. This explains why while physical enjoyments are important to us, by themselves physical enjoyments cannot fully satisfy us. We have spiritual needs. We long for the intangibles – we seek love, we seek companionship, we seek connection, we ultimately seek inner fulfillment.
My brothers and sisters, that we have both physical and spiritual needs is something so basic and yet so elusive to many. This paradox has driven many to seek happiness in the wrong places. And the only reason this paradox even exists at all is because we have been deceived by the devil. In the beginning, when God created Adam and Eve, their physical and spiritual aspirations were in perfect alignment. Consider this: “the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” (Gen 2:25) As Adam and Eve shared physical intimacy; they also shared a deep connection of their souls. The physical intertwined with the spiritual. It was beautiful. The thoughts of exploiting each other just for selfish physical gratification never crossed their minds. Then the devil deceived them to do exactly that; and sin enters the world. After their fall, they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths to cover themselves. And when God came looking for them, they hid themselves (Gen 3:7-8). The hid away from God, who is love (c.f. 1 Jn 4:8,16).
Today, we continue to hide from God. My dear friends, reflect upon this for a moment. Do I seek joy and fulfilment in the wrong places? Am I obsessed with just satisfying my human physical needs? Does the fact that I need both physical and spiritual fulfilment remained elusive to me? And it is not just me who does that. Even the rich and famous people who seems to have everything does that too. Even as the materialistic world satisfy every of their physical needs, many are never fully satisfied. The truth is, all of us have a void in our soul that can only be filled with the spiritual. And in whatever form our spiritual quests come, God is the ultimate source of all spiritual fulfilment.
St Paul said in the Second Reading this week, “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other,” (verse 16-17) Of course it does not mean, as the Manichaeism heresy suggests, that it is wrong to seek physical fulfilment. Rather, if I seek physical fulfilment to the exclusion of spiritual fulfilment, my desire becomes distorted and true joy will continue to elude me. St Paul continued, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” (verse 19-21) “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (verse 22-23).
My dear friends, it is often that we over-emphasise our physical quests. This extends beyond our quest for material goods. The First Reading recalls the first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon a group of frightened disciples. Like us, the disciples were over-emphasised in the physical, in their case, their concern in their physical safety overrides their spiritual needs. It is just like the disproportionate fear we are currently witnessing regarding the COVID vaccine, even among many Christians. In Australia, AstraZeneca is the prevalent vaccine being administered. The chances of developing a blood clot from the vaccine is minute, about 1 in 250000. Yet many are disproportionately afraid. And here is another important fact. In our population, there is a small number of people with medical conditions that make them unsuitable to receive the vaccine. So, these vulnerable people can only be protected through herd immunity. In other words, a sufficient number of the rest of us need to be vaccinated in order to protect these our most vulnerable. Being vaccinated is in fact a way to show our love for our neighbour, a cornerstone Christian practice. Yet like the disciples who locked themselves in the upper room, many Christians are paralysed by fear.
Like the disciples in the upper room, I am called to open myself to let the Holy Spirit descended upon me. My brothers and sisters, this is indeed the meaning of Pentecost, to free ourselves from the constraints of the flesh, embrace God’s Spirit and be truly free. It is to come to the realisation that my spiritual well-being is paramount to my attainment of true happiness. And when this joy wells up in my heart, as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, it becomes “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:14) When our hearts are truly filled with the joy of God, we cannot contain it. We are compelled to share it. The Samaritan woman “left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!’” (Jn 4:28-29) Similarly in the First Reading, when the disciples were no longer afraid, they left the upper room, went out into the open, speaking boldly (verse 4-6).
Jesus said in this week’s Gospel, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (verse 12-13) A true test of whether we have indeed received the Holy Spirit of God is whether we produce the good fruits of the Spirit in abundance: in the words of St Paul this week, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. On the other hand, if we are indulging in selfishness and self-gratification, then bad fruits will surely follow: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”
My dear brothers and sisters, this Pentecost, let us open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. Be truly joyful and be truly free. Peace be with you.