HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, YEAR A
HOMILY THEME: SPEAKING IN TONGUES
By: Fr. Gerald M. Musa
The Christian world celebrates Pentecost. It 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 in 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 afterward, 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).
Some years ago I celebrated the Pentecost Sunday in St. Joachim’s Church, Holland Park, Brisbane. On this day most people wore a red dress, shirts or scarf to reflect the colour of the Holy Spirit. In front of the altar there was a basket full of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit inscribed on colourful cardboard papers. After the Gospel reading everyone sat down and a selected group of children were sent out to distribute these colourful papers to everyone. The gifts of the Holy Spirit written on these papers were: Knowledge, Wisdom, Understanding, Fortitude, Piety, Counsel, and Fear of the Lord. And the fruits of the Holy Spirit: Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Benignity, Goodness, Longanimity, Mildness, Faith, Modesty, Continence, and Chastity.
As the children went round the church, one of them stood before me, dipped his hands in a basket and handed to me one of those colourful papers and I wondered what was inscribed on it. I opened the paper immediately with some degree of curiosity and PATIENCE was embossed on the paper. I felt as if this was a special message directed to me from above. Before then I had always thought I was so patient with people and situations in life. I had never considered it necessary to pray for the gift of patience, but for other gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit.
However, after a very close self- examination, I realised how many times my patience went thin, I recalled how impatient I am when there are unnecessary and long delays, and sometimes how impatient I am even with my imperfections.
Suddenly, I realised how much I have taken patience for granted and why it is important to pray constantly for this spiritual gift. I realised that gifts and fruits of the Spirit work hand in hand, just as St. Augustine says, “Patience is the companion of wisdom.” 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 actually 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 they 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 apostle 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.
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 this gifts come from the same spirit. Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. 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 of 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 tongue 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 harmonised by the presence of the Holy Spirit. 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 in order 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).