Homily of His Eminence Jose F. Cardinal Advincula
during the Mass of the Holy Spirit for the Schools in the Archdiocese of Manila
September 06, 2022 at the Manila Cathedral
My dear brother priests, members of the board of trustees of the RCAM-ES parochial schools, persons in consecrated life, school administrators, personnel, teachers, representatives from various schools, colleges, and universities within the Archdiocese of Manila, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ: it is my joy to celebrate this Mass of the Holy Spirit with you this morning, to mark the beginning of another school year. It would have been better if we are all together physically here, but even though we are in different places, we know that it is not the internet that unites us, but the Spirit of God dwelling in each one of us.
Today’s liturgy gives us two stories which describe the coming of the Holy Spirit. First, there is the account of Saint Luke in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-11), which is rich in detail, and uses figurative language. Then, there is the account of Saint John (20:19-23), taken from his gospel which is more discreet, and which depicts Jesus going through closed doors, offering His peace and His Breath of Life.
The contrast between these two stories is rather evident. While the Acts of the Apostles mentions the tongues of fire, the noise, and the heat, John’s account focuses more on what's inside, on the inferiority. Yes, these are two different accounts but actually they are complementary ways of speaking about the Holy Spirit who renews the human heart and the face of the earth. In both cases, the Holy Spirit is depicted as a force capable of recreating us in the inmost depths of our being, and also, our world. Both Luke and John likewise mentioned that this descent of the Holy Spirit took place on the first day of the week. Those who are familiar with biblical language would immediately recognize the expression as used in the creation story, and thus, they would know that this first day of the week, marked precisely by the coming of the Spirit, was likewise celebrating a new creation. John uses the language known by the Christians of his time in order to explain this rebirth.
According to John, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 20:22). The expression brings to mind the text of the creation of Adam when God “blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). It also refers to the text of the Prophet Ezekiel, in the Vision of the Dry Bones (Ez. 37:1-14) when the Lord said, “From the four winds come, O Spirit, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life” (Ez. 37:9). All these my dear brothers and sisters, tell us therefore, that with the coming of the Spirit, there is new life. The coming of the Spirit is a celebration of new life.
Indeed, the coming of the Holy Spirit ushers in a new start. Recall the situation of the disciples. Recall that they failed to keep their promises. They were unfaithful to Jesus, they were scared. Judas betrayed his master, Peter denied Him three times, and everyone else abandoned Him; and so, the apostles needed to be forgiven. They needed to be renewed.
According to John, they were held up in the house, and the doors were locked. Clearly, they were paralyzed by fear. They felt trapped and did not see any way out; but with the coming of the Spirit, the apostles were made to see that there was a way out. That there was a solution, a prospect for the future. Jesus came and offered to them His peace. He breathed on them and gave them the force of His Spirit. The closed doors were opened, and a breath of fresh air moved the disciples to go out, and to proclaim the mighty acts of God.
My dear friends, it has been our tradition to begin our academic year with the celebration of the Mass of the Holy Spirit; and it is quite fitting that we do so. Indeed, our celebration today offers each one of us the opportunity to renew our relationship with the Lord and with one another. It signifies for us a new beginning. The Holy Spirit invites us to renew our lives, to grow, and to improve ourselves.
After two years of the pandemic, when we have already learned to adapt, we admit that there are still many areas to improve on. Especially on the new modes of instruction available. For this, we cannot simply rely on the innovative measures of pedagogy. Just us dealing with the pandemic does not only require medical, economic, and political solutions, but spiritual as well. So, also our educational system. In the time of crisis, we need the help of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In giving us His Spirit, Jesus opens the closed doors in our lives. His gift of the spirit is a gift of courage to help us overcome our fears, and to strengthen us, especially as we begin this school year. It is the spirit that unites us as brothers and sisters and helps us to be responsible for each other. Because we belong to One Body, as Saint Paul teaches us in his First Letter to the Corinthians (12:3b-7, 12-13). We need the Holy Spirit to remind us of Jesus and of His assuring words, “Do not worry, do not be afraid, I am with you always” (cf. Jn. 14:27, Mt. 28:20).
The pandemic brought us difficulties and challenges. We adjust with how we could continue on with our learning processes even while there are still threats of the virus. We are still in the midst of the pandemic, and so all the more, we need to turn to the Holy Spirit to guide us, to enlighten us, to strengthen us, and to recreate us.
We could somehow relate to the experience of the disciples. Because of the pandemic, there were times that we were also locked in. We just called this occasion by some other names like isolation, or quarantine, or lockdown. We remain in our homes and manage not to go out because of fear of contracting the virus. We were afraid to get sick, and we were even more afraid to infect others, especially the vulnerable unknowingly. After more than two years of lockdown and quarantines, there is a danger that we have been so used to being locked in. This must have made us feel secure and comfortable that we might neglect God's call to mission; but even in the time of the pandemic, our mission must continue. Even at the time of crisis, the Holy Spirit opens doors and invites us to go out, to be brave, to be bold, and to be zealous in living out our mission.
Let us ask the intercession of our Blessed Mother, Seat of Wisdom, who through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit became the Mother of God and was with the apostles at Pentecost. Let us imitate her so that we may be more open, more docile, and more obedient to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that will renew our hearts and will renew the face of the earth. Amen.
Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo