“We hear them speaking in our tongues of the mighty acts of God.” This verse captures the meaning of Pentecost. Fifty days ago, the Lord rose victorious over the grave, thus redeeming our fallen human nature. Ten days ago, He ascended into heaven, having completed His mission. And yet, there remains a problem: humanity remains divided. There remains discord and disunity among men and women, a discord that began with Adam’s sin and a scattering that began at Babel.
Thus, in order to continue bringing humanity back to God, the Lord sends His Holy Spirit. For the crowds outside the upper room did not hear babble – the word coming from “Babel”. They heard the “mighty acts of God” in their own language. The “mighty acts of God” may perhaps be Christ’s miracles and teachings, but fundamentally the “mighty acts of God” are Christ’s Incarnation, His Passion, death, and Resurrection. This is the essence of Peter’s first sermon on Pentecost. Because if it was human ego that scattered humanity across the face of the earth, then divine condescension and grace would gather the nations once again into a pleasing offering to God in the Son.
Pentecost has to be seen as an extension of the Lord’s recapitulation of humanity. To be recapitulated means to be “brought to a head again” because, with Adam, we decapitated ourselves from God by sin. The Holy Spirit, then, allows us to be members of Christ’s Body with the understanding that Christ is our Head. Because the Church’s unity is not a human creation, but the gift of the Holy Spirit. And this unity serves to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord” to all the nations, because it is for all peoples that the Son of God took on a human nature, died, and rose again.
Pentecost, then, is Babel’s remedy. God allows us to keep our disparate languages, only to unite us in that which is not human in origin, but is certainly truly human: faith in the Son. This is because the Holy Spirit dwelt among human beings before Pentecost. St Irenaeus of Lyons says that the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ, “becoming accustomed in this way to dwelling with the human race, to living in men and to inhabiting God’s creation.” The Holy Spirit allows us to participate in Christ’s divine sonship. Everything that the Son enjoyed with the Father while on earth is now opened to all of us. For “the Spirit accomplished the Father’s will in men who had grown old in sin, and gave them new life in Christ.”Happily, today is also the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin. We see in Mary a foreshadowing of the Church. Just as Mary brought the Word to Elizabeth, so the Church brings the Word to the world. And even in these times when churches are closed, the sacraments are sporadically celebrated, and fear grips faithful hearts, remember this: that on Pentecost morn, the doors were locked, the Church was gathered in deep prayer around our Lady, and they were afraid. And yet, by a sudden rush of the Holy Spirit, they were compelled to proclaim “mighty acts of God” from the room. For the mission of the Church to unite all peoples so that the world may be offered to the Father in Christ begins with prayer, disposing our whole being to the Lord and praying Veni, Sancte Spiritus.
Joseph Yuson – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta