YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST
HOMILY THEME: LANGUAGE OF THE SPIRIT
BY: Fr. Gerald M. Musa
HOMILY: 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. Just as Moses received the law amidst thunder and lightning so did the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit surrounded by strong winds and fire. The descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles was in fulfillment 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 Ezekiel 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).
We can imagine the experience of the Apostles who received the gift of the Holy Spirit dramatically in the upper room. “They were in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong wind…then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (cf. Acts 2:1-11).
The Apostles received the power of speaking in different languages (tongues). When they spoke to people from different parts of the world that 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 mean 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 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 groaning 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. “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. 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 neighbor. 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).