HOMILY FOR PENTECOST SUNDAY YEAR A.
THEME: PENTECOST: SPEAKING IN TONGUES.
BY: Fr. Gerald M. Musa.
On January 25th 1959, Pope John XIII announced the plan to call for a general meeting of the Universal Church, popularly known as Vatican Council II. He called the council a “New Pentecost” in which the Holy Spirit is expected to guide, teach, inspire, revitalize, and renew the Church, in the way that the Spirit descended upon the Apostles and enkindled the early Church. The power of the Holy Spirit is alive today and always, and it continues to transform people, guide the church, and renew the face of the earth.
There is much to say about Pentecost. The Catechism of the Church (paragraphs 696-701) dwells extensively on the significance of Pentecost. There are also remarkable books that offer unique perspectives about Pentecost are the Catechism of the Church. Among these are “Pentecost: The Holy Spirit in the Church” by Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens which explains how the power and relevance of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in the lives of believers; “The Holy Spirit and the Church” by Yves Congar which explains the role of the Holy Spirit in the birth, growth and operation of the Church; “The Day of Pentecost” by William Barclay which investigates the historical and cultural context of Pentecost and what all these mean for the early and modern Church.
The Christian world celebrates Pentecost and this is a celebration, which comes fifty days after Easter. The name Pentecost is derived from the Greek word Pentecoste, which means fifty. Pentecost was originally celebrated by the Jews to remember the day the law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Jews also refer to this celebration as the Feast of Weeks since it occurs seven weeks after the Feast of Passover. Moses received the law amidst thunder and lightning (Exodus 19:16-19). Likewise, the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit surrounded by strong winds and fire (Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11). The descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles was a fulfilment of the promise of Jesus. He promised the apostles he will send an advocate, the spirit of truth who will teach and remind them of the things he taught them (John 14:27). Prophet Joel foretold the coming of the Holy Spirit: “And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams; your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28).
On Pentecost day, the Apostles received the power of speaking in different languages (tongues). When they spoke, people from different parts of the world were able to understand them in their native tongue. How did this happen? Various commentators of scriptures attempt to interpret what speaking in different tongues could mean. One interpretation says speaking in tongue means the Apostles spoke as the Spirit directed them; another interpretation explains that speaking in tongues means they spoke different languages, which are listed in the second chapter of Acts of the Apostles. According to this interpretation, the Apostles spoke not only their native Galilean language but also spoke languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Judaeans, Cappadocians, Pontus and Asians, Phrygians and Pamphilians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Cretans, and Arabs; some other scholars say speaking in tongues implies the Apostles spoke one language and every listener was able to understand them in his/her native language; in addition, some interpreters explain speaking in different tongues did not mean each of the apostles spoke all the languages listed in the Acts of the Apostles, but it means each of the Apostles received the gift of speaking other languages other than his native language. Nevertheless, many interpreters of this passage of scripture are unanimous in acknowledging that something spectacular and miraculous occurred in the way the Apostles spoke on Pentecost day and in the way their listeners were able to understand them.
The phenomenon of Speaking in tongues or divine communication is common among different cultures and religious traditions in the world. Among the Greeks, it is called glossolalia. Jewish Old Testament prophets spoke under the influence of the Holy Spirit in prophesying. For example, when Saul sent his army to capture David, they met a group of prophets who spoke in strange tongues ecstatically (1 Samuel 19:20-24). The Acts of the Apostles and Pauline letters have many examples of speaking in tongues among the early Christians.
RELATED: HOMILY FOR PENTECOST SUNDAY
Speaking and praying in tongues are special gifts of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:10-11 states that some are given the gifts of speaking in tongues and others have the gift of interpreting tongues and all these gifts come from the same spirit. Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26). Early Christians were very eager to speak in tongues like the Apostles and they craved so much for the gift of speaking in tongues and were beginning to fall into the error of ranking this gift above every other gift or as the visible sign of piety and holiness. This was why St. Paul reprimanded them saying: If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).
An unknown African in the sixth century expanded the meaning of speaking in tongues when he said anyone who is in the body of Christ speaks in every tongue because he/she is part of the universal church, which speaks every language in the world. Speaking in tongues is not just for the benefit of the speaker but also for the good of the community and so we can also expand the meaning of different tongues as the different forms of services, which are manifestations of the Holy Spirit for the benefit of all. Scripture says, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different kinds of services but the same Lord and to each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit (ff. Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13). Different tongues show diversity, which is harmonized by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Tower of Babel divided the human race and so Pentecost reunites the human race through the language of the Spirit. After receiving the Holy Spirit, the Apostles were no longer confined to the upper room but were sent out into a world of diversity to speak the different languages of the spirit, which include service and forgiveness to renew the face of the earth (cf. John 20:19-23). St. Anthony of Padua says: “A person who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks several languages. These several languages are various ways of witnessing to Christ, such as humility, poverty, obedience, and patience, with which we speak when we practice them towards our neighbour. Language comes alive when it speaks by deeds. Enough of talking; let actions speak. What language of the spirit do you speak in building up your community?
Pentecost Sunday, Year A, 8th June 2014; Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7b, 12-13; John 20:19-23).
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