23 May The Holy Spirit, an Intimate Friend – Fr Antony (Transcribed talk)
Enlarge the site of your tent and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will possess the nations and will settle the desolate towns. (Isaiah 54:2-3)
The Lord is telling us to enlarge the site of our tent. Maybe as a minister, you are a powerful prayer warrior because the Lord is revealing that many of you who are doing this Pentecost novena are preparing and fasting. Pentecost is one of the greatest feasts of the Catholic Church. The Pentecost novena was the only novena at the beginning of Christianity and in the early history of the Catholic Church. This novena was in preparation of the Holy Spirit and was started by the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles. So, as you are preparing and praying, the Lord is telling you today to enlarge the site of your tent. Maybe you are preaching to 50 people, but now, it will be multiplied. It may become 100–1000 people. Let the curtains of your habitation be stretched out: maybe you had a small little church; it will be extended and will be expanded because we know there are even pastors, bishops, and non-Catholic pastors attending this Pentecost retreat. The Holy Spirit is not the private property of the Catholic Church. He belongs to the whole of humanity. Even before we were born, even before humanity came into existence, the Holy Spirit was there, and it is in His Spirit that humans are being formed.
We remember we were conducting retreats in the United Kingdom, and we had travelled extensively for the retreats of the Syro Malabar Church and other retreats, travelling from Scotland to Southampton. We were going for all these retreats, but on all our journeys, we were praying and claiming the United Kingdom for God. Whenever we were traveling by car, we would look to the East and say, “Lord, we claim the people in the East.” We would look to the West and claim the West. We would say, “Lord, we claim the West for Jesus, we claim the North for Jesus.” We would beg and ask, “Let all those who are in the East bend too low and bow and say: Jesus is Lord.”
Eventually, slowly and mysteriously, the lockdown took place, and this online ministry started. Now it has no boundaries. It is going deep into homes and there are many people who complain that they don’t like our style of English, the way we preach, and that the cultures are different. Although we have an option to switch off or to switch on, the Spirit of God will not permit this because it’s not in our language.
When the Apostles were preaching, they only knew the Jewish language, but other people heard the message in their language as well. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the day of Pentecost, and we truly thank you for tolerating us and for holding on. For persevering, although you did not like us much, but you just persevered with us. Thank you so much! Please hold on as we are not going to stop. We will continue, and we will go on and on, until every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
So, claim His promise today! You have to expand, you cannot just be satisfied. You are among some people in the church, maybe you are a pastor, maybe you are a prayer warrior, or maybe you have a prayer group, but don’t be satisfied with a small prayer group. It should be extended and expanded. The Holy Spirit wants you to spread to the ends of the earth.
I met a priest some time back. He said that he has many parishioners, but they are not coming for Mass. He said that he prayed for them. So, the Lord made him organise a retreat, and almost all of his parishioners could attend this retreat. God’s ways are so different. As you are hearing the word of God, the Lord is healing you. Because the day of Pentecost is a day of miracles, a day of healing. Just as a miracle happened on the day of Pentecost, wonders will take place on this beautiful and powerful feast day of the Pentecost.
We’ll now make a symbolic journey through the Word of God. This is from the book of Tobit. Tobit writes about his life in this book. The book of Tobit can only be found in the Catholic Bible.
Then during the reign of Esar-haddon I returned home, and my wife Anna and my son Tobias were restored to me. At our festival of Pentecost, which is the sacred festival of weeks, a good dinner was prepared for me and I reclined to eat. (Tobit 2:1)
Just like our festival of Pentecost, there was a Pentecost in the Old Testament, but this Pentecost came after seven weeks. It was also called the Day of Thanksgiving and people remembered God’s mighty works. Tobit is coming with his wife and with his son Tobias. They are sitting to eat, but Tobit is a holy man. He cannot eat without checking if there is anybody in his village, in his town, who is without food or who is poor. So, Tobit sent his son Tobias to go and find someone who has no food and call them. But when his son went and checked, he found that there was somebody who had died. So now, Tobit cannot eat when he has heard that somebody has died.
When the sun had set, I went and dug a grave and buried him. (Tobit 2:7)
He went to bury the one who is dead. He was just sitting to eat, when he heard somebody had died. He did not eat.
I did not know that there were sparrows on the wall; their fresh droppings fell into my eyes and produced white films. I went to physicians to be healed, but the more they treated me with ointments the more my vision was obscured by the white films, until I became completely blind. For four years I remained unable to see. All my kindred were sorry for me, and Ahikar took care of me for two years before he went to Elymais. (Tobit 2:10)
This is the suffering of Tobit. As he is going through this suffering, he prays for healing.
Then with much grief and anguish of heart I wept, and with groaning began to pray: “You are righteous, O Lord, and all your deeds are just; all your ways are mercy and truth; you judge the world. And now, O Lord, remember me and look favorably upon me. Do not punish me for my sins and for my unwitting offenses and those that my ancestors committed before you. They sinned against you.” (Tobit 3:1-3)
Tobit, a just man, is praying because he did good, but now he has become sick. In this coronavirus time, we are sick. Many are sick and ask whether it is because of sins committed. It is because something has gone wrong in our life when we all pray like Tobit.
We also read about Sarah. She was grieved in spirit and wept because she lost seven husbands, so the people around her laughed at her.
On that day she was grieved in spirit and wept. When she had gone up to her father’s upper room, she intended to hang herself. But she thought it over and said, “Never shall they reproach my father, saying to him, ‘You had only one beloved daughter but she hanged herself because of her distress.’ And I shall bring my father in his old age down in sorrow to Hades. It is better for me not to hang myself, but to pray the Lord that I may die and not listen to these reproaches anymore.” At that same time, with hands outstretched toward the window, she prayed and said, “Blessed are you, merciful God! Blessed is your name forever; let all your works praise you forever.” (Tobit 3:11)
She is heartbroken and praying. Both Tobit and Sarah are praying, and we read about a miracle.
At that very moment, the prayers of both of them were heard in the glorious presence of God. (Tobit 3:16)
You are attending this online retreat. You may be in Bahrain, New Delhi, Nairobi, New York or New Jersey. Maybe you are in Accra, Cameroon, Myanmar or wherever you are in different parts of the world. Where people are praying, the Lord hears our prayers. And what is the answer of the Lord?
So Raphael was sent to heal both of them: Tobit, by removing the white films from his eyes, so that he might see God’s light with his eyes; and Sarah, daughter of Raguel, by giving her in marriage to Tobias son of Tobit, and by setting her free from the wicked demon Asmodeus. For Tobias was entitled to have her before all others who had desired to marry her. At the same time that Tobit returned from the courtyard into his house, Sarah daughter of Raguel came down from her upper room. (Tobit 3:17)
See, an answer is given. The angel Raphael was sent.
On Pentecost Day, Tobit wanted to eat his food, but he came to know that somebody was dead and that there was nobody to bury him. So, leaving the food on the table, he went and helped. Soon after, when he was sleeping outside, sparrow droppings fell into his eyes and he lost his eyesight. In the pain of a blind man, he prayed. In another place, Sarah is praying because she is humiliated. An evil spirit is attacking her, and she is possessed by this evil spirit. Both prayed and the prayers of both went up to the Lord.
On this day of Pentecost, maybe you are in a difficult situation, down with coronavirus, in the ICU or on the ventilator, and you don’t know what to do. This is the same situation that Tobit faced. Remember that from heaven, when the prayer was being lifted unto the Lord, the Lord sent them Raphael.
And we know that on the journey that Tobit, Tobias and Sarah made, Raphael did each and everything for them for free. However, Raphael just came as a companion, a friend, to be with them. But we read something so profound, something so great in John 14:16.
“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.”
In the New Testament, the New Covenant, what is the Lord doing?
He is sending his Holy Spirit to be with you forever; not just when you are in need. The specialty of the companion Raphael was that he was sent as a friend when in need.
This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14:17)
Where will he be? Inside you, not outside. He is not an outside companion; feel this greatness of the Holy Spirit. He is inside you and he will never depart from you. He is a permanent friend, and on this Pentecost Day, wherever you are, you don’t have to look for the Holy Spirit somewhere outside. He is inside you.
On this Pentecost Day, we are not asking the Holy Spirit to come from somewhere outside. We should rekindle the Holy Spirit within.
For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying of hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)
We need to rekindle the Spirit that we have received in Baptism and in Holy Confirmation. We are asking the Holy Spirit to come and to be reactivated.
Somebody once told me, “But father, if the Holy Spirit is already inside you, then why do you pray: fill me with the Holy Spirit?”
Imagine if your dad is at home, but your dad is paralysed and is sleeping on the bed. Nobody is looking after him, nobody goes and talks to him; he is just there. He is your dad, but nobody is looking after him. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is inside you, but what is his role? Maybe you have not given him any freedom to walk in your life. So, this Pentecost, ask the Holy Spirit to take over your life completely, and he is going to work miracles in your life. He is the spirit that fills the whole earth.
Because the spirit of the Lord has filled the world, and that which holds all things together knows what is said. (Wisdom 1:7)
And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him. (Acts 5:32)
Who will receive the Holy Spirit? Those who obey Him. If you are willing to obey the Holy Spirit, you will see miracles as well. Are you willing to obey the Holy Spirit on this Pentecost Day? If the Holy Spirit is asking you to do something or to pray some prayers, will you be able to do it?
When the Holy Spirit came upon them, fishermen became Apostles. These Apostles then became martyrs. At first, these apostles were just fighting for power and position. Later, they wanted to suffer and make themselves humble. So, we need that same Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who can transform us.
After I became a priest, I was at Tabor Divine Retreat Centre, Mumbai. I had difficulty in preaching the Word of God because I did not know the Word of God first of all and I also did not know how to preach in English. One day before the service, I was hiding inside the chapel and praying for the infilling of the Holy Spirit, asking the Holy Spirit, “You are the teacher, if you don’t teach me, I can’t teach anything. I don’t know English, I don’t know the Word of God, I don’t know anything. But you are the teacher, you are the Spirit.” As I was sitting in the chapel, a lady came up to me and handed me five scripture passages: Isaiah 45:2-3, Psalms 32:8, Proverbs 29:26, 1 John 4:18 and Isaiah 30:20-21. We are not going to read these scripture verses, but she had given me these verses when I had not asked her for anything.
This lady, a prayerful intercessor, told me this prayer. She told me, “Father, you can pray these five scriptures 50 times for 10 days; it will take a minimum of one and half hours a day.”
At Tabor Divine Retreat Centre, we have retreats in six languages. We have to get up at 5 am, and the daily service goes on up to 11 pm. When people come for counselling or for confession, the day stretches longer. So, our life is difficult and extremely busy.
She said, “Father, if you read, you will have a miracle after 10 days.” When I heard ‘miracle’, as an ordinary human person…I know you also like miracles. If I say, “Miracle”, then you will not get up and go. So, when she told me that I would see a miracle, even though it was difficult, I wished to see a miracle. I started to read. After some time, I found it very difficult. I told her, “You know these five scripture passages, first, I don’t know the meaning of any of them; second, I feel very tired when I sit to pray. I feel like sleeping.” Then she told me, “Father, if you sit and you feel like sleeping, then you have to stand and pray.” I told her, “Even if I stand, I may sleep because I am tired.” Then she told me, “If we stand and sleep, then we have to kneel and pray.” I said, “Even if I kneel down sometimes, I may fall down.” She said, “Then you have to walk and pray. Never stop even if you don’t eat or even if you don’t sleep. Pray this prayer. A miracle is waiting for you 10 days later.” So, I did not give up. I walked and prayed the five scripture verses 50 times. It took one and half hours daily.
After 9 days, she called and told me, “Father, you have to go to a particular place, maybe a church, and sit quietly in silence, in solitude, and pray.” So, I went and told my Superior, the father in-charge of the Retreat Centre. He said, “Father, you cannot go because we have a retreat here and we don’t have enough confessors. You have to sit for confessions.” My main duty in those days at Tabor Divine Retreat Centre was hearing confession because I did not know how to preach. So, I obeyed, sat hearing confessions, and I did not go.
Ten days later, with great hope and expectation, I happily called this spiritual intercessor, and I asked, “Now I prayed for 10 days, tell me the miracle.” She asked, “Did you go to that particular place I told you to go?” I replied, “I could not go because I was in confessions.”
Then she told me, “No obedience, no miracle.” I said, “Whom shall I obey?” Then she told me, “You did not explain to your Superior exactly what you were taught, what you were doing. That is why your permission was denied. The Holy Spirit just cannot operate in anyone who is disobedient.” I apologised, told her I was sorry, and asked her what to do next. She told me, “No problem, try another 10 days.” I agreed and thought it okay because I had by-hearted or memorised the scripture passages in 10 days, although I did not know their meaning.
It was now easy for me; it was not one and half hours. The time had reduced, because I could pray it by-heart without looking at the paper. Another 9 days passed, 19 days altogether. She told me to go and pray in another place in silence, in solitude. I told the Superior and explained to him that I was reading some prayers, and as part of the prayer process, I have to sit for a single day in private and personal prayer. He accepted and said it was okay this time. He also made arrangements because I had sought his permission once earlier.
Now I went to a lonely place, a chapel, and I spent the entire day in prayer and silence. I prayed the scripture passages slowly. A total of 20 days had passed. I prayed, and now I wanted to see the miracle. So, I called the lady after 20 days of prayer.
“Please tell me what is the miracle?”, I pleaded.
She replied, “I don’t know what is the miracle. You are a priest. You can ask God yourself what is the miracle. I just got an inspiration to tell you to read five scripture passages for 10 days and that you would have a miracle. It will be a miracle, but I don’t know about God and how he works, but I know there will be a miracle.”
I felt upset because I thought she was just making fun of me.
However, today I know.
When my Superiors asked me to go to Nairobi, Kenya, I went to Nairobi with those five scripture passages and the Word of God inside me. When I reached Nairobi, I understood the meaning of all those scripture passages. Many Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion and cannot make confession in Kenya. The only thing that we can tell them is the Word of God.
There is no other way to tell them or to convince them, because many Catholics have fallen away from the Catholic faith and have become Protestants. As Catholics, we love the Bible, we kiss it, and we keep it aside; we never read it. The reading of the Bible is for Protestants. This is why many have fallen away from the Catholic faith. In Nairobi, many non-Catholics and Protestants attend our retreats. Because we preach the Word of God, the Holy Spirit put inside of me can perform many miracles.
Many families are struggling because they don’t pray. We watch TV, we have time for entertainment, we have time to eat, we have time to sleep, but we don’t have time to pray. The Holy Spirit is first and foremost the Spirit of Prayer.
What is the first function of the Holy Spirit? He enables us to pray.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
The Holy Spirit clearly knows that we cannot do things with our own power. Let’s read an incident in the book of Joshua. Joshua is the prophet of Israel after the death of Moses. He is asking the people to follow God and to avoid all sinful practices.
Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods.” (Joshua 24:15-16)
We can repeat every day: Far be it from me/us that we should watch filthy movies or be addicted to games on the smartphone. Far be it from me/us the spirit of anger, jealousy, pride and competition. We just need to get rid of sins, the other gods.
Joshua explains to the people who it is that has brought them this far; that it is God.
And the people said to Joshua; “No we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:21)
We can repeat every day: We will not serve idols; we will serve the Lord.
Joshua, as a prophet and as a father of the nation, is asking the people to serve and obey God.
The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” (Joshua 24:24)
Although the people made a promise to the Lord, we read a miserable thing later in the book.
Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred ten years. So they buried him within the bounds of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals. (Judges 2:8-11)
This is why the Lord came to know that people cannot be helped from the outside and made a covenant with the house of Israel.
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)
The Lord is setting his law inside our hearts, without which we will not be able to follow it.
As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 2:27)
After having received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Apostles were converted. Similarly, people now know what is to be done. They never lie, and they don’t want to lie. They don’t want to cheat, but they were not like that earlier. People were addicted to bad habits and had impure curiosity. When people ask the help of the Holy Spirit repeatedly, no one has to tell them what is wrong as the Holy Spirit will teach them and help them from within.
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Hebrews 8:10)
What is a New Covenant? It is the Holy Spirit inside you.
And you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:3)
You may be a husband and a wife who do not know how to live. You have a lot of confusion, but you also have an answer. This answer is the Holy Spirit.
What will happen when the Holy Spirit comes to you? When the Spirit comes, we will discern correctly. A person filled with the Holy Spirit will not make any judgement.
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see or decide by what his ears hear. (Isaiah 11:2-3)
In Isaiah 11:6, we read a miracle.
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
Just imagine this scripture passage. A wolf living with a lamb. This is not about the wolf in the forest. This wolf is your husband who is shouting or screaming at you, and he cannot tolerate any word that you speak. The children are afraid of their father. When the Holy Spirit comes, your family will be a new family. There will be love, unity and peace. You will live harmoniously together, because the wolf will see inside of you the Lamb of God—Jesus. Your dad, who is like a lion, will come to you as a calf. He will see the Lion of Judah inside of you because he is seeing through the eyes of the Holy Spirit.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. (Isaiah 11:8)
Can you imagine that something like this can happen? It starts when the Spirit comes. There are people who say, “Father, you know people are jealous of me, and people are angry with me. They don’t permit me to do anything.” You know all these things will be removed when the Spirit comes. When the Holy Spirit comes to you, and when you have been operated through the Holy Spirit, things will change.
The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart, the hostility of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah, and Judah shall not be hostile towards Ephraim. (Isaiah 11:13)
See, this is what you have been praying for all these years, about your own family members, your in-laws, your relatives, and people who are angry with you, jealous of you or hostile towards you. At this Pentecost, when you pray asking the Holy Spirit to take over, the Holy Spirit will come upon you and everything will be transformed.
You need to pray for the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit, I love you, be my love.
Holy Spirit, I thirst for you.
I worship you, I adore you.
I need you, Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit, please come with your fire, come with your power.
I need you, Holy Spirit.
You need to thirst for the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit, come with your fire.
Purify my heart, set my life on fire.
I want to have a new relationship with you.
I want to become a new person.
Get me out of all the bad habits and bondages.
Come Holy Spirit!