By Father Patrick Longalong
Feelings or emotions play a big role in our daily life. It is one of the things that separates us from machines. Most often, we might not even be aware of it but emotions affect our mind and how we respond to situations. This is something that we are asked to consider as we read the opening description in today’s Gospel reading.
Fear is something that we experience once in a while to remind us that there is a need to focus our awareness. Most often this emotion is categorized as something negative. However, it is there to help us zero in on a problem so we can deal with it. It is a natural and healthy emotion for as long as we keep it in check and not let it paralyze us from meaningful experiences that allow us to grow as a person and embrace God’s presence. Sometimes when negative emotions are out of balance, the situation we are dealing with might seem too big to handle. It leaves us feeling stressed, anxious, exhausted, and even overwhelmed.
Our annual celebration of Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit is always there to give us the necessary strength and encouragement to face the things that feel beyond our control. The gift of fortitude doesn’t mean we do not feel fear anymore. It means we have the courage not to allow despair to settle in and steal our joy; those times when we worry too much about the “what ifs?”
This past year has been an experience of many fears for people. Fear of stepping out of their house. Fear of being too close to another person. Fear of getting sick. Fear of losing a loved one. Fear of financial hardships. And the list goes on.
Yesterday, I blessed a new car purchased by a friend. He told me that he hasn’t set foot inside a church for over a year because of what is happening. He continued to tell me that he bought this car because last week he mustered enough courage to finally get out. But unfortunately, he got into a terrible car accident. He then paused and with a serious expression said that he is thanking God that he is alive. He was so focused on his fear of the virus, he forgot there were other things that can take his life in an instant, like his car flipping over.
This past year he spent a lot of energy being afraid and closing himself completely from the world. His accident made him realize that no matter how frightening the situation might be, God is always there to watch over us. But we cannot allow fear to take over and take away experiences that give meaning to our lives. Immediately after Jesus’ resurrection, he encountered his disciples at various moments of discouragement, loss, and fear. He spent time with them knowing that it will only be temporary and they are in need of preparation to receive another great gift, the presence of the Holy Spirit.
In the past couple of weeks, we have heard many times Jesus’s mandate to “love one another.” At first, we might think that this is his final instruction to us and the key to staying united. However, this is just part of his disciples’ preparation to take over the responsibility of the spread of the Gospel. The individual manifestation of the Spirit is unique for each person, but since “we are all given to drink of one Spirit,” we are to remain united in love as we build God’s kingdom.
Loving one another paves the way for the Holy Spirit to dwell with us. 1 John 4:8 states, “God is love.” St. Augustine further explained that the Holy Spirit is the mutual love of Father and Son. With this explanation, we can say that God’s presence and the power given to us on Pentecost rests in our ability to unconditionally love each other as Jesus exemplified in the Gospels.
Jesus’ first disciples cannot leave the upper room without the help of the Holy Spirit. My friend could not leave his house because of fear. Jesus, who taught us how to love as he loved, gave us the means to find the courage to overcome fear. John again reminds us that “perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18)
As we celebrate Pentecost this year, let us open ourselves to be renewed once again by the presence of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the necessary preparation to receive God’s gifts is our capacity to love as Jesus loves.
Readings for Pentecost
1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13
Father Longalong is the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, Queens Village, and coordinator of the Ministry to Filipino Immigrants.