Pentecost C

Each heard them speaking in his own tongue

At Babel, says the Book of Genesis, God “confused the speech of all the world.” Since then one of the most powerful factors keeping people apart and unfriendly is the inability of one nation to understand what the other nations are saying.

This is sad, and certainly out of harmony with God’s ideal. Occasionally, He shows us that to remind us that after the resurrection of the dead the whole world will once more “speak the same language” (Gen. 11, 1).

Sometimes He hints at this by natural means. In our time, for instance, He has given us Pope John Paul II, who has a gift for learning languages. When he addresses people of the major language groups, he speaks in their own vernaculars.

God gave a miraculous gift of tongues to the Apostles on Pentecost. They spoke to the crowds of Jerusalem in their own Aramaic tongue; but those who did not speak Aramaic heard the words in their own languages: “Each of us hears them speaking in their own tongue” (Today’s first reading).

Even if we are not gifted by wit or miracle to speak many languages, there is one language which we all can speak and all men can understand.

Blessed Rose Philippine Duchesne spoke this language. Rose (1764-1852) was the foundress in this country of the Society of the Sacred Heart. She spent most of her life in the United States in Missouri, teaching school to children of European background; but it was her dream to teach Indian children. Finally, in 1841, when she was 72, this devout nun got her wish, establishing a school in Kansas for Potawatomi Indian girls. Practically, she proved a failure as a teacher because she could not learn the difficult Indian language. But she could and did take care of the sick and pray for the Indians. This, the Potawatomi understood and appreciated. In fact, they called her “QUAH-KAH-KANUM-AD. Woman Who Prays Always”.

People of every nation appreciate the language of love. Like Pentecost it reverses Babel.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q269: There is an “explosion” of activity in the budding Christian community, beginning with the outpouring of gifts from the Holy Spirit on this Pentecost celebration. There must be a reason?

The first thing one notices is how the “timid” and fearful disciples, gathered in prayer in a locked room, are empowered by the Holy Spirit for a purpose: to speak about the mighty acts of God (Acts 2:1-11). St. Paul later teaches that each of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for a purpose: to empower one to act for the benefit of the common good of all (1 Cor 12:3-7).

The real purpose of such an abundance or outpouring of gifts from God becomes clear when we meditate on today’s short Gospel (Jn 20:19-23). Jesus appears to the fearful disciples and immediately gives them his peace. He then does something very significant: he shows them his wounds, which — as Peter would later teach (1 Pet 2:24) would remind them of Isaiah’s words, “by his wounds you were healed.” Jesus then empowers them to go forth, and to be forgiving just as he was forgiving.

We hear nothing about “avenging” him because of His agony and death; we hear nothing about using “force” to spread His message; we hear no words of condemnation from his lips. Instead he shows us his wounds to remind us what he endured for our salvation, gives us the Holy Spirit, and commands us to continue his mission of loving forgiveness. Now it is our turn. We know that we have been empowered (baptism, confirmation) and have received gifts to use to benefit others. What are my gifts, and what am I doing with those gifts?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM!The “mighty deeds of God” that the first “pentecostals” were proclaiming certainly included God’s mercy and forgiveness (CCC #277). By being forgiving, we share in God’s divine power (CCC #1441), because God’s grace is always the source of all forgiveness (CCC #2010). Sacramental forgiveness is God’s revealed way to become reconciled with God and with all the Church, through Baptism and Reconciliation: there is no offense that the Church cannot forgive (CCC #981-982). Do I have a forgiving heart? Do I receive Sacramental forgiveness at least monthly?

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Q425: The doors were locked “for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19-23). What was this “fear” all about?

I remember reading some time ago about a Jewish man who said, “I always keep my suitcase packed, because we Jews are always between pogroms!” A “pogrom” is violence targeted against a specific group of people. Today we almost exclusively associate the word with attacks against Jewish people or Jewish settlements. I don’t know if the reading I quoted or paraphrased was said in jest, but I suspect it was also a deadly serious comment on the continued history of society’s treatment of the Jewish people, and therefore a constant threat. But religious persecution between Christians and Jews really started the other way around.

John’s gospel was written a couple of generations after the resurrection of Jesus. In the political economy, the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Roman army a generation earlier than his gospel. In the religious economy, the early Christians were considered a threat to Judaism because of their non-adherence to things such as ritual circumcision and various purity/dietary laws, not to mention their insistence that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. So the Christians were banned from the Synagogues. This led to a vigorous polemic between the two groups, and it shows in several places in John’s gospel. Closer to the time of Jesus’ passion, we saw how Saul (Paul) and other Pharisees persecuted the Christians, with Saul even following them into Syria to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment. Deacon Stephen had been stoned to death for defending his faith.

All of these things were foreshadowed or hinted at in the earlier conflicts with the Pharisees, and the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus the Christ. Peter showed his personal fear during that process, denying he even knew Jesus. For all of those reasons, the apostles had real cause to “fear the Judeans” (the actual Greek translation). But when Jesus appeared, his Presence brought Peace.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Jesus gave the apostles his Peace, and the awesome gift of the power of sanctifying (CCC #1087): “If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them…” In this way they became sacramental signs of Christ. In turn, this power was entrusted to their bishop successors (ibid.).

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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 its 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.

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