Sunday Homily, May 31, 2020
Pentecost Sunday, Cycle A: Sunday, by Fr. Claude Perera
of the Apostles 2:1-11
The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost
Spirit Will Renew the Face of the Earth.
Reading: 1 Corinthians
The Holy Spirit Unites All in Christ Jesus.
After the Resurrection, Christ Imparts the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
As we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost today, the Easter Season ends. It was on this Pentecost Day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. This was the beginning of the Church. You read in today’s first reading what happened on that day. As soon as tongues of fire rested on each of the apostles, what happened? They were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak different languages. In the audience of the apostles, there were people who had come from many places in the region who spoke different languages or mixed dialects like Parthian, Median, Elamitian, Mesopotamian, Aramaic, Turkish dialects, Greek and its dialects, Phrygian and Pamphylian dialects, Demotic, Coptic, Cyrenaic, Latin, Cretan dialects and Arabic. The marvel was that each one of these foreigners heard the apostles speaking his own language. They were amazed and astonished. They wondered, “How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language? How do these ordinary and illiterate Galileans know our languages?”
To understand this, we must go to the story of the Tower of Babel in Gn 11:1-9. This story is what we call an etiological (Greek aitia – meaning, ‘cause’) narratives, which tried to explain the origin/cause of something. The biblical author here is trying to explain the multiplicity of nations and their languages. Gn 11 begins saying that all human beings originally spoke one and the same language. Early humans led by pride wanted to reach God, and they built a tower to go to heaven, the divine abode. Now, Yahweh came down to see the city and the tower that the people had built. God said that they are up to this kind of enterprises because they are a single people who communicate using one single language. They will do worse things in the future at this rate. Then, God said, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language there, so that they cannot understand one another.” So, he scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city. That place was called Babel (possibly from the Hebrew verb balal meaning, ‘mixing’ or ‘confusing’), since there Yahweh confused the language of the whole world and scattered them all over the world.
Now let us compare the two events. In Gen 11, a disobedient humanity, in trying to unite themselves against God, is brought low by confusing their medium of communication. In Acts a multiplicity of people from various lands desirous of hearing the words of the apostles understand the language or the medium of communication of the apostles without attending any language immersion courses. In the first instance, it was their pride that destroyed them. In the second instance, it was their humble docility that saved them. Pride was led by the evil spirit, docility by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enlightened them to understand the apostolic preaching. They all received the same Spirit. That Spirit united them as one. At Pentecost, the division affected at Babel is negated and a new unity and a bond are affected, by the Holy Spirit. Hearing the message of the apostles, their lives begin to change through love. All begin to speak one single language, namely, the language of love.
In the second reading of today this is explained very well when Paul wrote his First Letter to the Corinthians. He spoke to them about the nature of the Church as the body of Christ, of which He is the head. Like the rest of the parts of the body, others are the members of that body, each having a unique role to play for the functioning of the whole. The diversity and multiplicity of the body is united by the one and same Spirit.
God did not create a divided a humanity. Their pride called down on them division. We are a divided humanity. Despite all our advances in modern technology, communication skills and social media, the divisions widen by leaps and bounds rather than unite. American anthropologist Carleton S. Coon has divided humanity into five races: Negroid (Black) race, Australoid (Australian Aborigine and Papuan) race, Capoid (Bushmen/Hottentots) race, Mongoloid (Oriental/ Amerindian) race and Caucasoid (White). In addition to these, there are an umpteen number of local varieties and mixtures of races of which people are too conscious. There are 195 countries in the world. There are more than 7000 languages, let alone dialects. India alone has over 400 languages, of which 22 are official languages, let alone hundreds of dialects. It is said that some 4300 religions are adhered to in the world. Resulting from this diversity there are many clamours and even conflicts for independence, sovereignty, or racial supremacy. Church itself is divided in terms of denominations. The history of the Church shows that we fought wars as divided Christians.
The Homo Sapiens has forgotten that his basic biological structure is the same. That is the reason why the body organs of human beings could be donated and transplanted, and blood be transfused to a fellow-human irrespective of the race and other labels (provided they are medically compatible). Then, what is it that divide wo/man? It is our animal instinct that divided us. The traditional etymology of the word wo/man is related to mind, i.e. thinking. Animals do not think or rather do not have a developed thinking capacity. The thinking, categorizing, willing and judging wo/man makes and fosters divisions. In dividing we give into our animal instinct. Struggle for supremacy led by pride is a product of the instinct. Are we allowing ourselves to be led by our instinct or the superior thinking mind? Biology tends to unite, despite diversity. In the same way, and even a more powerful way, the Spirit unites us despite our differences. Of course, we must accept our diversities and differences. But let such differences be healthy. We can live together despite man-made differences. For we are all children of God. We are brothers and sister in Jesus Christ or the Cosmic Christ. We Christians must be agents and catalysts of unity in the world. For we were all baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. We are fed with His Body and Blood. The Holy communion in which we participate must affect a fraternal bond among us. The Holy Spirit of Jesus who activates us was given to all of us. Thus, should we not accept one another as we are and for who we are despite our differences. Such unity is the work of the Holy Spirit. On this feast of the Pentecost, can we be more open the promptings of the Holy Spirit to think and work together united as members of the Church and as the human family?