"May we be better, not bitter, persons after this ordeal."
Metro Manila and most of the country are about to emerge from months of strict lockdown. But are people safe to leave the safety of their homes, reopen their businesses or go to work and face the crowd of people who are certain to flood the streets and workplaces? Will there be a resurgence or worse, a new wave of infections as a result of the easing of restrictions on movement and travel to jumpstart the economy after a prolonged inactivity? Are Filipinos socially responsible enough to live differently moving forward? Is this a question of health/safety considerations as against economy and financial considerations?
Anxiety and fear accompanies these questions. Above all, uncertainty and the loss or lack of control are weighing us down the most.
It is exactly for this time of a pandemic that the feast of Pentecost, which we celebrate tomorrow, has been gifted to us by an all-powerful and all-loving God. People who believe in the Holy Spirit can still be afraid but will not be overwhelmed and paralyzed. Just as the apostles experienced ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit will guide us in making the right choices not only when the enhanced community quarantine is lifted but beyond.
Indeed, the Gospel tomorrow is reassuring; it gives us strength and hope in the midst of anxieties, fears and pain. Scripture tells us that much like us today who are locked up in our homes for fear of getting infected by the virus, the disciples were behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. When suddenly, Jesus appeared before them and said to them, “Peace be with you,” and, after saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord, and he said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.”
Surely even as we face the terror of this contagion, the presence of Jesus in our lives can dissipate fear and anxiety just as the disciples experienced unbounded joy when they once again encountered their master after the desolation of his passion and death. Jesus does not promise us a painless and problem-free living although it is perfectly within his power to do so – He only promises his followers peace and serenity even as like us, we continue to grapple with the pandemic and its concomitant adverse effects.
In the same manner, when he greeted his disciples with “peace be with you,” he is not saying that they will live a relaxed and care free life, free to follow their hedonistic inclinations, On the contrary, Christ ordered his disciples to go out to the world and preach the Gospel – meaning, the disciples will introduce a new religion to a hostile crowd asking them to follow a strange new God and lead a radical/revolutionary way of life. This means persecution and even death to most of them.
After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone's sins, they are retained. Christ promises to send his disciples a helper, an advocate in the person of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit convinces people of their sin, of Jesus’ righteousness, and of certain judgment, He awakens the human heart to hear and see truth in a new way. Upon seeing and perceiving, the human heart cries out for God. As sanctifier, He bestows gifts to the soul namely: wisdom which illumines the mind and instils an attraction to the divine; Understanding or the ability to grasp the truths of faith; Counsel which enables a person to judge promptly and rightly, especially in difficult situations; Fortitude or courage, Knowledge which allows a person to see things from the perspective of God; Piety or reverence and Fear of the Lord.
Pope Francis recalled that the most central trait of the Church's mission is that it is “the Holy Spirit and not the consequence of our ideas and projects." Receiving the joy of the Spirit "is a grace" and is "the only force that enables us to preach the Gospel". Surely with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can find the courage to become missionaries even within the confines of our homes, and within our limited vistas.
The ascension of Christ in heaven is not the end of God’s presence; through the Holy Spirit, God dwells in his followers. As he promised, He will remain with his church till the end of time. All throughout human history, God has shown that he truly abides in us, through the best and worst of time.
As I end the series of columns I have been writing for the duration of Easter, I can only pray that, in the days to come, even as the coronavirus pandemic continues, the Holy Spirit will bring all of us peace and joy, the courage to proclaim the truth, to be good and kind to each other, making all of us not bitter but better persons.
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