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Pentecost Sunday and the Gifts of COVID-19

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Solemnity of the Pentecost, Year A

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost. It is a celebration described in the 3rd Glorious Mystery of the Holy Rosary as the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary. This solemnity marks the Birthday of the Catholic Church as the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, has been sent to continue inspiring the Church that Jesus founded. In our liturgical calendar, this marks the end of the Easter Season. Tomorrow, we begin with the Ordinary Time.

What a journey it has been for all of us that while we’ve celebrated Lent and Easter, we’ve also faced the challenges of COVID-19 alongside those seasons by sheltering in place. The past Sundays, the Lord says, “You will no longer see me …” “Where I am going, you cannot come …” Jesus was bidding farewell to His disciples. It was a sad moment as they will no longer see Jesus. It was like Good Friday all over again. Three feelings abound:

1. Pain. When a loved one passes on, those left behind feel a tremendous pain. “How am I going to live my life now?” “How will I be able to fill the absence of a loved one?” “What is the use of living any further if he/she is no longer present?” Since the shelter in place, we felt the pain of not being able to go to work, to school. Our chances of meeting or seeing our loved ones physically had been ceased. We can only see them virtually or maybe meet them at a considerable distance (6 feet apart). For Jesus’ disciples, they felt it too as Jesus assures them, “The world will no longer see me anymore …”

2. Fear or Restlessness. Fear or restlessness is such an uncomfortable feeling. We are afraid to go out. We are restless. We are afraid to do our regular activities: going to the shopping malls, to the parks, and travel for fear of contracting the dreaded virus.

3. Solitude or Loneliness. We are helpless as we are no longer free to do things anymore. We feel that we have become victims of the situation. Some people were even going out to the streets to protest for depriving them of their rights to work and live. We feel as if we are losers in this battle against the dreaded virus, an invisible enemy.

Let us look more carefully and deeply on these three feelings that abound while sheltering in place:

Pain. Two of my best buddies have died the past two years since I came back to St. Anthony Parish: Fr. Mel “Ichoy” (August 24, 2018) and “Fr. Jesse, Jr. “Jum-Jum” (April 23, 2020). Due to unavoidable circumstances, I wasn’t able to attend their funerals in the Philippines. Dying at a young age is painful to bear not only for me but to their families most especially. As time goes on, though grieving stays on, I began to let go eventually. Because of such pain, my love for them has been purified. I realized that I no longer have to go to the Philippines to visit them at the cemetery. Though their absence created so much pain, I know now that they are present to me in a new way. Moving on from sorrow and grief gives a new “presence” and a better situation. From grief, it has now turned into a blessing. Pain brought about by absence purifies presence. Pain brought about by absence beautifies presence. Pain brought about by absence empowers a new kind of presence. Jesus has to leave His disciples behind not because He no longer cares for them but because it is to do something good to them. From now on, wherever they are, He will be present. For His disciples to grow and for all of us to grow today, we have to allow the pain to purify, beautify and empower the presence of the beloved in a new way.

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Fear. Fear or restlessness has its own patron Saint, St. Augustine. He said in his book, “The Confessions:” “O beauty ever ancient, ever new. My heart is restless until it rests in Thee.” We are familiar with these words, but there’s more following, he said, “I searched for you, you were inside me, but I was outside. You were within me, but I was outside of myself that is why I did not find you.” Only God satisfies. We are anxious, worried, and restless because we look for Him on things that are “inessential”. It is like eating “sweets,” the more you eat, the thirstier you become. We look for Jesus in the wrong things. If we are looking for peace within us, do not look for it in recreation or excursions, in your loved ones, in your friends because we won’t find it there. Our hearts are fearful, anxious, and restless because we have been looking for peace, for God OUTSIDE! Unless we find Him within us, we will not find Him anywhere else. God within us satisfies every need and searching that we have. No need for passports, no need for social distance, and no need to even wear a “mask.” Within us dwells the Holy Spirit, who will forever satisfy our deepest longing.

Solitude or Loneliness. We do not want to be lonely. People always say, “Priests, given the nature of their ministry, are lonely people.” Are we? But the truth is, “every one of us is lonely” or “everyone MUST become lonely.” We must make friends with loneliness. Why? Because our loneliness makes us confront our helplessness. When we are lonely, our ego is hurt. When the ego is hurt, it is crushed. And when it is crushed, the soul surfaces. When the ego is destroyed, you will be able to see your soul. Solitude or loneliness is like a “good virus” as it attacks the ego. But when it is destroyed, we don’t die, we discover life because we begin to touch our soul.

Pentecost Sunday reminds us that something good can come out of something thought of to be bad like our sheltering in place. The Holy Spirit, by His gifts, can purify our negative feelings into God’s nature of truth, goodness and beauty.

Thank you “Sheltering in Place” for the gift of PAIN. Pain brought about by absence has beautified presence. It has empowered and purified us. Thank you, gift of FEAR or RESTLESSNESS for by it, we realized that we don’t need to go out in order to find you as you are present WITHIN us and not OUTSIDE of us. Thank you for the gift of SOLITUDE or LONELINESS because you humiliate me and when I am humiliated, my ego is crushed and when my ego is crushed, I can now touch my soul.

One cannot build character without PAIN, FEAR or RESTLESSNESS and SOLITUDE or LONELINESS. The Good News my dear brothers and sisters is that PAIN is GOOD. FEAR or RESTLESSNESS is good. SOLITUDE or LONELINESS is good because these gifts of sheltering in place bring up the best in us!

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