Pentecost Sunday has arrived and with it the end of the Easter season. This is normally when we hear a homily at Mass about today being the ‘birthday of the Church’. Birthday of the Church? While this is true it tells us little of value for Christian living in 2017. However, if we review how the Pentecost event is described in the Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 2, verses 1-11, which is today’s first reading) we can learn that it is far more than a birthday.
The Acts describes a gathering of believers praying in a room (no doubt, hiding out) and what is striking is the mix of peoples in attendance. There were not only Jews from Palestine but people from various parts of the Roman Empire with different languages and cultures. There were Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Egyptians, Cretans, Arabs, Cappadocians, and Mesopotamians. As the group is praying the Holy Spirit unexpectedly appears in the form of a ‘violent wind’, enabling everyone to understand and be understood. How can people with different languages converse with one another? Acts sees this as an effect of the Holy Spirit, not only empowering believers with strength and power to become one Church but also to transcend human boundaries of language (a reversal of the Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel). The common language is not Latin or Hebrew but the love of Christ, which remains the common denominator for the Church today. Pentecost is a celebration not only about the birth of the Church but how the Holy Spirit works in the world, not only in the first century, but today.
The Pentecost story also reminds us of something that is important today, namely that communication- always difficult even with those who speak the same language- is enabled by the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit which forms the bridge between peoples with differences, cultural, linguistic and ideological, if only we would will to cross that bridge to achieve communion with our brothers and sisters.
Today we celebrate the Holy Spirit who is alive, empowering us to live, act and love. It is the Holy Spirit who goes before us to allow different peoples to live in peace and understanding. The question always is but do we want to understand another?
MDA doctors in order to bring healing have to understand and be understood in countries with different languages. This requires learning other languages in order to show the power of God’s healing love in action. Perhaps you can help their work through prayer and financial support.