One Voice to Profess One Faith
The Book of Genesis tells us that at Babel God confused the tongues of men because of their pride. Ever since then, communication between nations has been difficult, and, at least partly for that reason, international peace has been hard to keep. Only once and briefly has God restored a single language to mankind. On Pentecost, the Apostles preached to pilgrims from many lands, but each heard them speaking in his own tongue.
What happened at Pentecost was, of course, miraculous, Now, Pope John Paul II has a “gift of tongues” not in a miraculous sense but in the sense that he easily learns languages other than his native Polish. When he addresses people who speak the world’s major languages, he is able to speak those languages quite well. But he even seeks to learn at least a little of the more exotic tongues when he is about to visit some exotic countries. Thus he learned how to offer Mass in “Pidgin English,” that odd half-English language invented by European merchants in the South Pacific. When the Pope celebrated Mass at Papua-New Guinea in May, 1984, he said, for instance, “Yumi Pre” (“Let us pray”) and “Bodi belong Kristus” (“Body of Christ”). The people were pleased to hear him speak their words: it made them feel that John Paul was truly their pope. (Some of the natives even wore tee-shirts stamped in Pidgin: “Mi Likim Pop” – “I love the Pope.”)
One of the papal stops on that same journey was at Fairbanks, Alaska. In his brief talk then, John Paul recalled how when he last visited Fairbanks he was greeted by a seven-year old, Mollie Marie, who gave him a bouquet of the Alaskan state flower, forget-me-nots. He said he was sad to hear that Mollie Marie had since died, but he would never forget her loving gesture. And he assured the people of Alaska and the people of the whole United States that, even when he was far away from their shores, he would “forget them not.”
We must wait until the resurrection of the dead before all human beings will once more be able to speak to each other in the same world-language. Meanwhile, however, whether we are gifted like the pope at learning the tongues of other nations, there is one international language that we can use even now, and that all men understand, because they read it in each other’s eyes. It is the language that shy little Mollie Marie spoke when she handed the forget-me-nots to the Holy Father. It is the language of love.
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q475: How can we learn to appreciate the overwhelming Pentecost event and apply it to our daily lives?
This is one of those Sundays where a person tends to hear the readings and look “out there,” not realizing that the message is also meant “in here” for us today. We can’t seem to get our arms around such awesome happenings, things like “tongues of fire” on everyone present, Jesus’ surprise appearance through locked doors, and then a “now it’s your turn” mandate to carry on his mission.
Anytime we are reading about or experiencing supernatural events, we find ourselves in the presence of “mystery.” It is not for us to understand the “how”; rather, it is for us to believe that all of this fits into God’s plan of salvation. That means that we simply Trust him, listen to him, and follow his commands.
John’s gospel (Jn 20:19-23) packs a powerful punch in only a few words. We could paraphrase them like this: “I give you Peace; I give you the Holy Spirit; I send you to do my work; You will be forgiving and compassionate like me.” All of that sounds like a “graduation” speech for a small bunch of folks behind locked doors, probably scared out of their wits that they might receive the same treatment as Jesus, and not knowing what to do next.
The beauty of Pentecost is the reminder that we have the Holy Spirit within us, as a very precious gift of God. Baptism and Confirmation empower us with a fullness of the Spirit that is sufficient to carry out our part in God’s plan of salvation. That is all we need to know; trusting in that fact, we can avoid the paralysis of fear when confronting our sick culture. Jesus confronted his sick culture also, in a teachable, non-threatening way. He dwells within us by the power of the Holy Spirit; all we need do is try to imitate his gentleness and courage, challenging and encouraging those we meet to reach for higher values.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Apostolic succession began when the Risen Jesus imparted his power of sanctifying to the Apostles, who in turn entrusted that power to their successors, the bishops (CCC #1087). The Sacrament of Confirmation in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church (CCC #1288).
Come Holy Spirit
The Book of Acts uses the Old Testament images of God’s presence — fire and wind — to depict the coming of the Holy Spirit as he comes to enable the church to begin its mission of proclaiming the gospel to all nations. The gift of tongues tells us that the coming of the Spirit reverses the confusion and division that came upon the earth at the time of the Tower of Babel. However, as St. Paul tells us, it is easy to be so taken up with the dramatic and spectacular gifts of the Spirit, like the gift of tongues, that we may forget the reason for these gifts. These gifts of the Spirit are not given for our personal enjoyment or prestige, but for the common good of the church, to build up the body of Christ. In today’s Gospel Jesus gives the Spirit and the power to forgive sins so that the church may fulfill it mission of reconciliation — “to reconcile all things in Christ.” Whatever gifts we have been given, no matter how spectacular or commonplace they may be, they are given to be used for others.
Come Holy Spirit, give us the wisdom to recognize the gifts you have given us. Inspire us to so use those gifts in harmony with others that we may more truly become the one Body of Christ.