A WINDOW TO PENTECOST

This homily is based on John 20:19-23 for Pentecost Sunday.

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The Oratory of St. Francis Xavier on the campus of Xavier School Nuvali

There is a mysterious, but beautiful stained glass window in the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier in Nuvali. There are over twenty such windows in that chapel, each one designed by artist Carlo Tanseco, and each one a piece of art in its own right. Every time I walk into the chapel, I never fail to be surprised to find myself suddenly bathed in the light and colors streaming through the windows.

Yet there is one particular window that you won’t see unless you go into the reconciliation room, where it is installed behind closed doors. It’s an image as mysterious as it is instructive because it teaches us a couple of valuable lessons about the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The window is named “The Two Standards,” the title of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s reflections on the battle of good and evil in the world and the choices we have to make between the two. You may not be able to guess the theme when you first catch a glimpse of this window because it doesn’t give us the usual stereotypical depiction of angels battling demons. Instead you find two suspiciously identical-looking angels hovering on each side of a person who stands in the center of what looks like a maze.

The image of the artist's rendition and not the actual window
The image of the artist’s rendition and not the actual window

Only when you look closely do you catch the deception: The angels are far from identical: While the blue angel wields a heavenly sword, the red angel carries the devil’s fork. More remarkably, the blue angel is grasping the scarlet tail of the false angel! St. Ignatius famously wrote that the evil spirit that tempts us often appears disguised as an “angel of light,” and the only way to catch it is to wait patiently for it to reveal its “serpent’s tail.”

It’s a great reminder for us to be careful because we often rationalize the things we do, invoking the best of intentions or even claiming that we are “following God’s will” to justify something we want to do. Sometimes what seems like a noble thing is exactly what the evil spirit wants us to do! And I think we’re pretty good at whipping up a great sounding excuse to justify any of our actions! We need to wait patiently and prayerfully, asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us discern if what we claim is God’s will actually is. It’s possible that it may just turn out to be our own desire as a result of the devil’s temptation.

Both angel and demon will try to make their way to us and to win us over, but as shown in the window, they can do it only through the maze of our thoughts. It is through our thoughts, according to St. Ignatius, that angels and demons will attempt to influence us, and it is through our thoughts that they will try to affect our feelings and shape our decisions.

For me, this is an important lesson in discernment. First of all, it’s a relief to realize that not all our thoughts should define us because they do not all belong to us. Some thoughts are ours for sure, but there are also thoughts that just literally occur to us because of our environment. More importantly, there are thoughts that are prompted by good and evil spirits–that’s why again, we need to discern carefully where our thoughts are coming from so that we can follow those that come from the good spirit and allow them to influence our actions, and reject those that come from the tempter.

How do we discern? The shortest answer comes from the Lord: “By their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16). We need to anticipate where a particular decision will lead–in terms of its effect on other people, but also in terms of its effect on ourselves, including how we will feel. Will we be led closer to God or farther away from Him?

There is a third lesson hidden in the window. If you have the patience, trace the path of each angel with your finger. Both paths are equally convoluted because aren’t our thoughts usually messy and complicated? But there is one important difference between the angelic and demonic paths. The evil angel will never find its way to the person’s heart the way the good angel can. Every once in a rare while, St. Ignatius teaches, God will touch our hearts directly without the usual recourse to our thoughts, and we will simply feel His presence and know His Will. It is a rare and mysterious and wonderful thing, and God does it for reasons only He knows. But the truth is, in a way not possible for angels and demons, only God Himself–the Holy Spirit–has a direct path to our hearts.

Today, the Feast of the Pentecost, we recall the gift of the Holy Spirit poured onto the Church and into our hearts. We are always bathed in the light and colors of the Spirit if only we open our hearts. Let our prayer today be the words inscribed on the window, as inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola:

“Grant us the grace to know the deceits of the enemy
and the grace to follow and imitate the Eternal Lord and King.”

Happy Pentecost to all!

The stained glass window designer, Carlo Tanseco, at work in the construction sight of the chapel.
The stained glass window designer, Carlo Tanseco (2nd from right), at work in the construction site of the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier, Xavier Nuvali.
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26 thoughts on “A WINDOW TO PENTECOST”

  1. Thank you very much, Fr Johnny for this very beautiful reflection. I will always remember this every time I need to discern on my thoughts. God bless you always.

  2. Yes!Father,the Holy Spirit thus work at all times in us,if we just let Him work within us and listen to His prompting inspirational moments what He wants from us to do,that will give God the Glory He deserves from us here and now.Always Love and service to His and for His people is the only answer in this life in respond to the Love He has for us.Father God bless our days while we are still on this earth.Thank you!

    1. I think you have identified the most important challenge we all face: How do we actually LET the Holy Spirit work within us? I guess the answer will be very much related to a faithful prayer life.

  3. Happy Pentecost, Father J! We really need the gift of the Holy Spirit to sustain our faith and empower us to be disciples of Christ. Thank you so much for a very beautiful reflections!

  4. thank you father for these blessings. i am humbled by how great your personal touch affects our lives. i knew i had to make a choice very soon… God however, knew better, i had to make a choice yesterday. so amidst the busy day yesterday, i was placed in a tight spot… and i had to choose. it was a matter of accepting the present reality or being stuck in my old redundant ways. i being accustomed to how my past was, wanted to delay as much as i could…. i know how things turned out yesterday was because of the Holy Spirit… and i am glad i did make that choice. your homily Fr J hits the spot again… could not have it any better. thank you again soooo much! best regards!

    1. I’m so glad that you received the guidance you needed even if it was a quick choice. Regular prayer helps develop a sense of who God is and what He wants, so sometimes we can guess what He wants. I believe that’s what happened to you yesterday.

  5. The gospel is about the gift of choice God has given us to show that among His creations, we are the most special. But for every decision that we make in life comes the responsibility of making sure that we are on the path of righteousness and that whatever compromise we reach should be according to His will. Every choice in life has its own positivity and negativity which in reality is a fight between good and evil. We have to trust our hearts that what we are about to do is for the good of others because by doing this we are showing God our unconditional love for Him and our devotion to His calling. Our minds may be misled by sinful influences and deceptions from almost everywhere but if we allow our hearts to be guided by the Holy Spirit, our choices will never go wrong. Happy Pentecost, Father Johnny! :)

  6. Fr. Johnny, thank you. The first thing I did after waking up today at 5am is to search for your homily. I thought there won’t be any but I doubt it. Again your words or God’s words keep stirring my mind and heart. God bless.

  7. This homily is BEAUTIFUL and DEEP. My thanks go beyond words to you Fr Johnny for being a wonderful homilist and to Carlo for his artistry!!!!!

    HAPPY PENTECOST!

  8. My husband, Lito Santiago, walked from our home to the chapel for the first time today. A walk that would have taken five minutes before, now took about twenty. We took it slow, and it was not easy, but what was important was we did not stop until we reached the Lord’s home. This is a wonderful gift on the Feast of the Pentecost.

    1. Winnie, you don’t know how happy I was to read your piece of news! Based on what I saw in the hospital,it’s been a miraculous recovery, thanks to prayers and the care that Lito has been receiving from people like you. Please tell Lito I’m rooting for him. He was always one of my favorite characters in Xavier!

  9. Thank you for sharing this beautiful artwork and the “illumination” to accompany it. I think Csrlo is related to my spouse. Maybe I will be fortunate enough to see this chapel in real life one day.

    It is a great image and reflection for big discernment moments, or daily examen, or when we gather ourselves before the sacrament of Reconciliation, or even as we reflect upon the gifts of the Spirit and how we use/share them!

    Happy Pentecost!

  10. Amen! Happy Pentecost, Fr. J. May we allow the Holy Spirit to continue to guide & inspire us in our journey towards God & choose to carry out His will for us.

  11. Strength and empowerment given to us allow us to go beyond were no men have ever gone before bearing the tourch of love and commitment we light their candles of people who do not know him and spread the goodnews enriched them with humility and love. GOD BLESS US

  12. God knows….and I am grateful, again and again. Thank you,Father, for this reflection….the Holy Spirit has indeed “visited” me today.

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