A Homily during the Holy Spirit Mass at the
John Paul II College of Davao
John Paul II College of Davao
The Holy Eucharist celebration in honor of the Holy Spirit has a very long tradition. Since the 16th century, universities and colleges would mark the beginning of the academic year by invoking the presence, guidance and inspiration of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity – the Holy Spirit. In celebrating this Holy Eucharist in our school as we begin the Academic Year 2013-2014, we actually imitate Jesus, Who, at the beginning of His public ministry, was anointed by the Holy Spirit (during His baptism) and was led or driven by the same Spirit. This school-year, we pray that we may be truly Spirit-led and Spirit-driven so that, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we may attain the goals we set for this year.
But we may ask: Why the Mass for the Holy Spirit? Why not just ask God, the Father or God, the Son, the graces that we need for this school-year? What is the relevance of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in our academic endeavors? I guess, a deeper reflection on these questions is proper and fitting.
First of all, the celebration of the Holy Spirit mass in a college or university (or any school) is quite appropriate because it is in school that men and women – teachers, students, service personnel – exercise what we may call our “spiritual nature”. We are all spiritual by nature. It means that although we have a body, we have feelings, emotions, senses, etc., what is decisive in our being human is the fact that we have a spirit. Properly speaking, we are embodied spirits!
By the term “spirit” or “spiritual”, I refer to that immaterial dimension that we have: our intellect and will – two faculties that distinguish us from brute creation. Spirit (Latin spiritus) is distinguished from the soul (Latin anima). While the soul is the principle of life and all living things have soul, the spirit refers to man’s capacity to think and decide, and to be in control of all other faculties. While dogs eat to satisfy their hunger (a mere satisfaction of bodily need or instinct), human beings make food and eat to take pleasure in it, to express friendship and communion and to build a relationship. To celebrate the Holy Spirit mass, therefore, is to affirm that spiritual beings like us exist and that our spiritual nature is more important than the physical one.
Today, this truth about the spiritual nature of human beings is slowly challenged and cast into doubt. The rapid rise of the contemporary mentality of seeking bodily pleasure alone, of what Pope John Paul II called the “worship of the human body”, we need to reaffirm the truth about the spiritual nature of man. Materialism and secularism have placed primacy on the body over the spirit.
In our personal experiences, we can easily detect this primacy of the body over our spirit. Your alarm clock rings and you say, “Five minutes more”. You have a class at 2PM and you say, “Absent muna ako, tinatamad ako eh”. Even in the way you are sitting right now, is it your body that dictates your sitting position or your intellect and will? Whenever our appetites get the head of us, we are governed by our body and our spirit is weakened! And when our spirit is weak, no wonder we only get average grades (sometimes pasang-awa). In this Holy Spirit mass, we ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen our will and to illuminate our intellect so that we may be filled with enthusiasm in our search for the truth.
Secondly, the celebration of the Holy Spirit mass in a college or university (or any school) is very suitable because it is in school that men and women – teachers, students, service personnel – search for the truth. And as Jesus says in the Gospel, “The Holy Spirit will lead you to the fullness of truth”. Therefore, those who want to find the truth of what you are studying – whether in sciences, technology, humanities, languages, arts, etc. – you have to walk by the Holy Spirit and to act in accordance with the promptings of the same Spirit.
Does it mean that those who don’t believe in the existence of the Holy Spirit could not be led to the fullness of truth? No. They can still arrive at the truth, but in a very tedious and difficult way. If they strive for the correct and right exercise of human reason, they may attain the truth, although in a very difficult way and with the high risk of error. On the other hand, those who have faith will have another means of attaining the truth, which is complementary to reason. “Faith and reason”, says Pope John Paul II, “are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” (Fides et Ratio, Introduction).
In this Mass, we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our path towards the fullness of truth this year. This prayer is more necessary today because the fullness of truth is not anymore understood as something objective, something beyond us and greater than us. Instead, truth is understood today as something that depends on our way of thinking, on the changing circumstances, on the situation. Relativism is the greatest ill, error and the most dangerous heresy of our time. Whenever we begin to think in a relativist way, our moral principles would become dependent on our own opinion. We would not think anymore that sex outside marriage and masturbation are objectively sinful and wrong. That is just the opinion of priests and nuns. And they are entitled to their own opinion.
When truth becomes relative, we would not respect authorities. We would reject sound objective teachings or doctrines, either by the Church or by the school. Without the objective basis of knowledge, knowledge itself becomes shallow. Morality itself would be mere imposition. We would say, “Drugs are bad because they are prohibited”. But the truth is that “Drugs, cheating during exams, extra-marital relationships, PMS/masturbation, dishonesty, and other wrong and sinful actions are NOT bad because they are prohibited. Instead, they are prohibited because they are bad! If we are guided by the Holy Spirit, then, we would know that there exists an absolute truth, an absolute moral principle which is the basis of our actions and behaviors.
Lastly, as we celebrate this Holy Spirit Mass in our school today, we not only show that we are spiritual beings with intellect and will and that we are searching for the truth, but also, we are actually trying to create what Cardinal Tagle calls the “culture of depth” (kultura sa pagkalawom). It is very easy for a young student to be very shallow in his or her life. We go to school, attend our classes, go out with friends, go home, study a bit, watch TV, listen to music, go out with friends again, read a little about the assignment for tomorrow – we do all this stuff every day for two to four years. Then, we graduate. But the question is: Have we learned something? Have we become deep as a person? Have we developed a moral conviction in life? Do we have our own decision? Do we know what we really want to do in our life? Do we find direction of our life? In short, have we developed a culture of depth?
You have already developed a culture of depth when you begin to think of studying not for school but for life (Non scholae sed vitae discimus). When you study your lessons not for the exams but for the fun of learning, you are deep. If you enjoy Mondays as much as Fridays, and not lousy on Mondays and with high energy on Fridays, then, you are deep. When you begin to think of the good of others rather your own benefits, then you are deep. When you respect the body of your GF or BF, and decide to wait for marriage before having sexual relations, then, you are deep. When you know your priorities in life, study first before getting serious in romantic relationships, then, you are deep. When you learn to let go and let God in your life, then, undoubtedly you are deep.
One of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is wisdom. (The others are: understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord). Wisdom is the capacity to love spiritual things more than material ones. When we love more the things that refer to God than the material possessions in life, then, we are already deep – we have developed the “culture of depth”.
For these three reasons, namely: (1) to affirm our spiritual nature endangered today by materialism and hedonism (worship of the body); (2) to uphold the existence of the absolute truth in our search for truth (relativism is self-destructive); and (3) to love the spiritual things more than material ones (the “culture of depth”) – for these objectives or aim, we celebrate this Holy Eucharist for the Holy Spirit. May our Blessed Mother accompany us this school-year. May our Blessed Patron Pope John Paul II inspire us more in our search for the Absolute Truth in the person of Jesus Christ. Amen.