The Gospel and Simplicity
Originally posted in Facebook by Fr. Michael Cheong, FMVD
The readings today talk about the gift of the Holy Spirit and begin to prepare us for Pentecost. The first reading tells us that many people were filled with joy at hearing the good news about Jesus from Philip. Upon hearing this, Peter and John, who represented the Apostles, went over and confirmed their faith through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel, Jesus also talks about the sending of the Holy Spirit after his own ascension into heaven.
One question we could ask ourselves is, why do we need the Holy Spirit as Christians? Is it not enough to believe in Jesus Christ as my Saviour and friend? Why does Jesus have to send His spirit to us? First of all, because Jesus is no longer physically present as he was 2000 years ago. The Holy Spirit makes Him present in our time, so that, as his first disciples did, we could also experience his words and his actions in our lives in a real way. The second reason can be found in the second reading. As Christians, we are also called to "be ready to give reason for our hope" and our faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, we too are called to give testimony to our faith through our words and actions. The Holy Spirit inspires us to witness to our friendship with Jesus, and gives us the courage for the sufferings that we go through because of living out His values as a resurrected Christian.
Today, we will ponder on the sin of greed. Compared to the sin of lust, greed might not seem that serious. In fact, there is so much public scandal about the sin against the 6th commandment in our media today. But what about corruption? What about social injustice? Is that not just as harmful to our society and to life in general?
St Paul warns us also of greed. In fact, he calls it the worship of an idol. For a Hebrew of his time, that would be the most fundamental and serious sin that one could commit. (Do you recall Moses and the golden calf?) Greed corrupts the heart. It builds up a habit of being selfish and wanting to have more for oneself without considering others. Greed is not only for money or possessions. It could be for status, for power or self-realization. It justifies consumerism, that makes one feel right to use and to dispose of whatever one can get with one's resources. Greed makes us indifferent to others. That is why our present pope seems to speak repeatedly against this "disposable" culture. When we allow greed to take root, what begins to matter become only my own "needs", and even moreso my own "rights" or "likes". Therefore, greed works more subtly... as seriously as other sins, but in a different way.
The opposite of greed is simplicity. In fact, our society does not make it so easy to see the benefits of living a simple life. Simplicity as a Christian does not mean being simplistic. Simplicity in faith refers to a thinking Christian, who makes oneself constantly aware of what is essential in our faith and in our lives. "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be added onto you." This is such a repeated maxim, but bears that deep wisdom of life. Do not set your hearts on that "everything else", but on the essence of the Kingdom - love. "To love God with all your heart, with all your strength and with all your mind is the greatest commandment. And the second is like the first, to love your neightbour as you love yourself." These are the essentials of life, and the Spirit gives us the strength and conviction to testify to it by the way we live.
There are many good people in the world, but the point is not if people are good or bad. For most, the point is if they are focused or distracted. Greed makes us distracted. We begin to worry about so many things and anxious to accomplish them, such that we have no time or energy left for the essentials. Don't you find yourself sometimes rushing through the day and doing so many things but feeling like you have done nothing at the end of the day? Certainly, there are many things we need to do in life, but another thing is to let them steal the place of the essential things in your heart. Simplicity helps us refocus on those essentials that truly matter, to make choices for them, and to painfully let go of certain things.
Simplicity comes from prayer. The first things that greed takes from us are our prayer and relationship with God. It makes us doubt God and the possibility of living a simple life. Perhaps, that is why it is called an idol. Simplicity is a God-like attribute. God Himself is simple - LOVE, pure and simple. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit is "in us and with us", and even if the world does not recognize him, we can, when we pray.
Perhaps, that is the greatest testimony of our faith in our day - that there are other things that matter in life than what social pressure dictates: like love and relationship, forgiveness, friendship, gratitude and reconciliation, respect and harmony, prayer and reflection, happiness, time with loved ones, care and tenderness, and all else that your own heart will tell you. And though we suffer for not keeping up with everything that we think everyone may have achieved, there is joy, fulfilment and happiness. It is not easy to go against the flow. That is why true faith in Jesus is always confirmed in prophetic witness.
As we meditate on these things, let us ask the help of the Spirit, who consoles us and gives us hope. The Spirit gives us his gifts to help us. He gives us wisdom and understanding, the strength and the courage to make choices for today. He is the Spirit of the here and now, the spirit of possibility and change. He makes Jesus alive for us, who comes to us again today in the Eucharist and the sacraments, to touch, to heal, to renew, to redeem...
"Come, Holy Spirit! Help me to renew daily my faith in Jesus, and to live as He lived"
Fr. Michael Cheong is a Singaporean missionary priest of the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity. His current assignment is in Rome, Italy.