Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
In speaking with you about Pentecost I must speak of what cannot be fully explained. All we can do is reverently gaze into the mystery of God’s final movement toward us, the alienated and distant men and women who, with Adam and Eve, have broken off relations with God. Words cannot capture the enormity God’s merciful love for us; they buckle under the weight of it. So Scripture and the Church employ symbols to try to carry Pentecost’s meaning to us. Sometimes symbols are more effective than words in conveying the truth of stupendous events.
Essentially Pentecost is the final movement of God’s journey toward us. The initial movement begins in Genesis with God in the Garden of Eden. Note that it is God who makes the move. It is God who initiates; God who offers; God who loves us first. He chooses us. We do not choose him. He chooses us first because He is the superior. If it were otherwise, and indeed when people think they first choose God, then men and women in their pride would fancy that they are in control.
The story of the Tower of Babel is the story of the prideful people who thought they could build a tower to God. But in doing that they were usurping God’s role. They were the initiators, they were trying to be in control, they were setting the specifications, they were going to discover God and then they would determine His existence. What they forgot is that it is God who discovers man; it is God who determines our existence; God who speaks first. It is only when God speaks that things come into existence.
And so the story of the Tower of Babel is a recapitulation of the story of Adam and Eve. Once again man is filled with pride. Once again man tries to be God. And once again reality is fractured, nations are shattered, and destruction, disunion, misunderstanding, along with a total breakdown in communications occurs. Mankind now speaks in different languages and even people who so speak the same language are no longer able understand each other.
But in spite of human arrogance God continues to move toward us. God pursues us in His everlasting search for those who have strayed from the sheepfold of fundamental truth and reality. He sends us prophets, kings, and priests. The message of His love and truth flashes across the pages of human history and human religions. Finally, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is born in the womb of humanity; a child is born to us, a Son is given us. He is named Mighty Counselor, Prince of Peace, the Anointed One who can heal those who are alienated, shattered, and miserable. God utters and sends His Word in a language that everyone can understand.
In the Incarnation God’s Word becomes flesh and God lives and moves even closer to us. On the Cross God’s Word hands over His Spirit and thus inaugurates God’s final movement toward us. Actually, in the context of the cosmic vision that we are seeing here, the death, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost are events forming one unitary whole. In that context Pentecost becomes the completion of the Annunciation. The Word of God becomes human flesh and blood. Thus God enters not only our history, not only into our temples and holy places, but into human hearts and souls and all that it means to be human.
It is all so marvelous, all so universal and huge, all so beyond our comprehension, that mere words buckle and only symbols can hope to carry the precious freight. So we speak of the Dove, of the Wind-Breath of God, of the Paraclete, and of the tongues of fire. We are into the deepest part of the Mystery, namely that God created us not just to follow rules and regulations but in order that He might be intimate with us deep within us, in the deepest meanings of the word love, so that we can now live our ordinary lives in extra-ordinary ways. We are empowered now fill all that is ordinary with the extra-ordinary love of God.
The work of Christ in giving us His Holy Spirit is the work of bringing us into a language that we can all understand. It is the work religion, of re-ligamenting, of bringing our bare bones, dried up because of lack of love, back into one Body filled with the Blood of Christ and the life of God. The work of Christ in sending us His Holy Spirit is that of making us His blood brothers and sisters. The work of Christ and the Spirit is that of reconciling and forgiving, the work of loosening that which holds us in our own isolation and our sterile self-centeredness. The work of Christ, now raised in power by the Holy Spirit, is the work of bringing a holistic communion to a people that are alienated, fractured, shattered, and divided in the desert of not loving when they could have loved. The work of Christ and the Holy Spirit is overcoming sin. Sin is the name of all that has caused us to ignore our chances to be better persons. Sin is the name we put on all that hurts, divides, and separates us from each other and from God. But Christ has given us the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive and overcome sin.
The Church speaks in the tongues of all men and women of every race, culture, and nationality. She speaks with a common language because she utters God’s only and unitary Word. Of all the diversities in humanity the Church makes one inter-dependent unity. She is the opposite of the Tower of Babel because she is built by God, not by men and women. We call Pentecost “the birthday of the Church” because she is animated and ensouled on this day to speak and utter the Word of God and bring common understanding and common union in every language in a way everyone can understand.
Our task, therefore, is to be that source of healing for others. Ours is the mission of speaking God’s language where we work, among our colleagues, associates, friends and neighbors. Ours is the ministry of healing that which is divided, of inspiring those who have become jaded and cynical, of animating those who have lost hope, and of telling all who have missed their chances of being better persons that there is a second chance, because there is a Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is at work in the mysteries of life — in death, love, suffering, and beauty. Because of Pentecost God is to be found in the mystery of insight, those insights that turn truth into wisdom. He is present in the mystery of our self and in the mysteries of those round us. Anytime we struggle with these mysteries the Spirit of Pentecost is moving in us crying out: “Abba, Papa, Father” and our struggle becomes the question or questing of God’s meaning and purpose in our lives.
May the Holy Spirit become the Person whom you quest and the Spirit of your lives. And may you find moments in His presence… moments snatched away from the ordinary busy-ness of our daily lives, moments when you receive Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Strength, and Reverence for God’s mysterious presence and purpose in your life and in our shared lives.
About Charles Irvin
Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”