“. . . God will do the Rest”
Homily for the Sunday of the Pentecost
By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros
Sunday of the Pentecost
A bishop in Canada told this story: He had celebrated a liturgy of confirmation (we call it in the Byzantine tradition “Chrismation”) to children. After the ceremony he saw a child outside the church and asked him: “were you happy with this sacrament of confirmation?” He said: “yes. I was very happy. “What does it mean to you to be confirmed? The bishop asked. The child answered: “to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit to help me to live like Jesus, who was filled with the Holy Spirit.” “Excellent, said the bishop, but suppose you have died before being confirmed, could you be confirmed in heaven?” – “No!” – “Why?” – “Because there are no bishops in heaven!”
Of course I hope that there will be bishops in heaven, but there will be neither confirmation nor any other sacrament, since in heaven we will see God face to face.
The sacrament of Confirmation is the sacrament of the Holy Spirit, as we say when we confirm in our byzantine tradition: “Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” What does the Holy Spirit mean? In the Creed we start by proclaiming our faith in God the Father: “I believe in one God creator of heaven and earth…” Then in one Lord, Jesus Christ, then in the Holy Spirit giver of life…; So God the Father is the creator, the source of all life, Jesus is the Son of God and the Word of God, which means the expression of God’s mind, and the revealer of God’s will. The Holy Spirit is the power of God which enables us to do God’s will.
In the Old Testament people knew God’s will through the Law, but they had no power to fulfill the Law. The prophets promised that with the coming of the Messiah this power will be given. Jesus had the fullness of the Holy Spirit: He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit; He taught and did his miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit. And he rose from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. And in his last speech to his disciples during the Mystical Supper, He promised them that he will send them the Holy Spirit: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
With the Holy Spirit in us we are enabled to do God’s will. This life St. Paul calls it: The life in the Spirit. What does he mean by that? As human beings, we have to choose between 2 ways of life: a life according to the flesh and a life according to the Spirit, a self-centered life, or a God-centered life. Christianity is not a mere belief in ideas; it is a way of life; and it is a way of life, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. It is a way of life in which we fulfill our true being, the image of God in which we were created.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, explains the difference between these 2 ways of life: the life according to the flesh and the life according to the Spirit. He says: “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Then he enumerates the acts of the flesh: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like”.
Then he goes to the acts of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness; faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. And he concludes: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk by the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:16—25)
If the world today is in bad shape: wars, murders, divorces, immorality, it is because people live, not according to the Spirit, but according to the flesh. We reap what we sow. Do you want to have peace, love, joy, live according to the Spirit of God, follow the way of the prince of peace, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is “the way, the truth and the life. Be filled with the Spirit of Christ. Let the Holy Spirit be the principle of your life. As the sound tree produces good fruits, so the Holy Spirit who fills our heart produces in it good fruits. By dwelling in us, the Holy Spirit becomes the principle of our actions, God’s will becomes our own will, and God’s desire our own desire. We become, as Paul says, a “new creature,” (1 Cor 2:15).
This will not happen without suffering and death. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus, says Paul, have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:16-24). This is not easy; it is the work of our whole life. But let us remember that Jesus Christ saved us by shedding his blood on the cross, and told us that if we want to follow hi, we have o take up our cross every day and follow him. With the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we can grow in love, in faith and in hope. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
They told that one day the devil put his tools on auction. But he said: “there is one tool I will never sell: It is the discouragement!” Never give up; never lose your trust in God’s grace, which is the Holy Spirit himself.
There is a story about a man who passed away and went to heaven. He was met at the gate by St. Peter, who said, “It will take one thousand points for you to be admitted. The good works you did during your lifetime will determine your points.” The man said: “Unless I was sick, I attended church every Sunday, and I sang in the choir.” “That will be 50 points”, Peter said. “And I gave to the church liberally”, the man added. “That is worth 25 more points”, said Peter. The man, realizing that he had only 75 points, started getting desperate. “I taught a Sunday school class”, he said, “that is a great work for God!” – “Yes”, said Peter, “that’s worth 25 points.” The man was frantic. “You know”, he said, “at this rate the only way I am going to get into heaven is by the grace of God.” Peter smiled: “That’s 900 points. Come on in!”
Never give up, never be discouraged, it is enough for us to do our best, with full trust in God’s grace, and God will do the rest.