Dearly beloved brothers and sisters, it gives me great joy to welcome you to the fifth month of the year, the month of God’s highly favoured one, our Mother Mary, the month of May. This is the month in which, in the Church and individual homes, the utmost loving and ardent reverence of prayers and pieties from the hearts of Christians are elevated to Mary. We constantly ask her to pray for and with us even as we strive daily in our Christian vocation as our Master and Lord has taught us.
It is also the month in which ten days after the Lord’s ascension into heaven, we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit and his most generous and abundant gifts upon the Church in the Pentecost event as recorded in Acts 2:1-13.
Going back to the beginning, at the moment God created the heavens and the earth, the description of the earth was one “without form and void and there was darkness over the surface of the deep” (Gen. 1:2). In the midst of this shambles, the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. This means that there was a confusion of the elements in the beginning of time but with the action of the Holy Spirit, the hovering over the waters, order was restored to the world. The action of the Spirit in Genesis, at the creation of the world, is reformed on the day of Pentecost. Just as it happened at the beginning of time, there was darkness, chaos and confusion and fear among the Apostles who were locked up in the Upper Room. Then the Spirit hovered over them, this time, in tongues of fire. The Pentecost is therefore the day of a “Second Creation”, a day of recreation, a new humanity being formed.
In the same way, the incident at the tower of Babel, in which there was a confusion of human tongues and an ensuing scattering of the people all over the earth, was upturned on the day of Pentecost with the harmony of language, as everyone at the scene could hear the one language being spoken by the Apostles although in their mother tongues. Not only was there a unity of language but the scattered people, from all tribes and nations of the world were unified. Meaning to say that the bedlam and misperception of Babel is once more returned to order by the Pentecost. This indeed is the Power of the Holy Spirit.
The purpose of Pentecost was, and still is, the empowering of the Church with the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church and the spring of her authority for mission.
One of the chief reasons for the celebration of the Year of Mercy is the fact that mercy is the essence of the Gospel and it lies at the heart of the Christian faith. Our belief in a God of Mercy is not superstitious because it was and is still demonstrable in the person of Jesus Christ. The Father manifested his mercy, first and foremost, in the Incarnation of his Divine Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, [Jesus Christ], who died on the cross for our salvation. Reading John 3:17, we see the connection between Divine Mercy and the Incarnation: “for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.” A God who is not interested in condemnation but salvation and healing [Cf. John 8:10-11].
To corroborate this fact, I will like to share with you the words of a Redemptorist Priest, by the name Reverend Father Dennis J. Billy which is very apt for consideration. He says: “When he walked this earth, Jesus lived for others and greeted everyone he met with mercy and compassion. Mercy was the reason he entered this world. Mercy was why he forgave sins. Mercy was why he cured people of their physical ailments. Mercy was why he cast out demons. Mercy was why he suffered and died for us. Mercy for others was what he asked of his Father from the cross. Mercy was what flowed from his pierced side in the form of blood and water. Mercy was why he sent his Spirit to dwell in the hearts of the members of his body, the Church.”
Considering the event of John 20:22-23, “… and when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained,” Jesus’ ministry of mercy and reconciliation will continue through the apostles [2 Cor. 5:18-20; James 5:14-15]. However, when Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the apostles in the supper room, he did not simply give to the Church a juridical competence or external empowerment to forgive sins, [though on one hand it is the case] but more than that he gave the Church a real power, a “power intrinsic to its very being as Church” and that power is the Holy Spirit. As the Great Doctor of the Church in the West, Saint Ambrose, points out, the Church has the power to forgive sins but only in the sense that the Church has the Holy Spirit who has the power to forgive sins. Hence we see that the Holy Spirit forgives sins, to make our souls healthy and whole again through the divine sacraments because he himself is the remission of all sins.
Talking about the Holy Spirit as the Fountain of Mercy, it becomes clear at this point why he is rightly so. Fountain is something really spiritual, as it denotes “continuous and endless flowing” to represents the eternal nature of a mystical dimension and also the infinite nature of its source. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, the sacrament of Christ who is invoked at the celebration of every sacrament: [Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Orders, Matrimony, and Anointing]. How do we come about this? Looking at the relationship that exists between the Father and the Son, the bond of love that is shared between them is not simply a ‘what’ but ‘whom’; this bond of love is whom we call the Holy Spirit. As it is the formulary for concluding our Liturgical prayers, it expresses ‘who’ this bond of unity and love is: “… We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.” The Holy Spirit is the source of mercy because he is the bond of love shared by the Father and the Son and from that bond every grace, blessing and healing flow.
My Dear friends in Christ, in the last month’s edition we reflected on the topic “How often must I forgive?” a touching topic for our world today. We have a stake in dishing out God’s mercy to every man and woman of our time. Again, this question is very pertinent and valid: what do we achieve and where are we headed if there is no mercy and forgiveness ingrained in our very being that we have to repay every wrong done to us with a new wrong? The consequences cannot but be evidently of a lamentable degree. Drawing from the wisdom of St. Augustine, the highest form of alms giving is to pardon those who have wronged us and show mercy to them. Since mercy is the key to the Christian life, it is very sensible for every Christian to pray for such virtue that they may be emissaries of God’s mercy, not done grudgingly but sincerely. This means making recourse to the Holy Spirit who is the fountain from which springs the mercy of God to teach and help us in this very spiritual charge. Peeking deeply into the inspirations of Saint Ambrose, it would interest us to know also that while we yield to the demands of Saint Paul to “forgive one another as God has forgiven us in Christ” [Eph. 4:32] “human beings only perform a ministry but do not exercise any power of their own because it is by the Holy Spirit that all sins are forgiven.” This simply means that each time we heed the call of Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount to be merciful [Matt. 5:7], hearken to his unquestionable call to be merciful like the Heavenly Father [Luke 6:36], we embrace that privilege of performing actively in the very ministry of the Holy Spirit.
May the Holy Spirit, as we celebrate this Pentecost, truly flood our hearts with his grace, power and mercy. Amen
Holy Spirit, Fountain of Mercy, Pray for us.
+ Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
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