Gian Lorenzo Bernini / Public domain
It is often remarked that the coming of the Holy Spirit is the counter to the Tower of Babel. In the story of the Tower of Babel, God scattered humanity throughout the world by giving human beings different languages. The effect of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was that people from different places could understand the one message of the disciples.
When one considers the Christians living in different parts of the world, we are united under the banner of Christ because, like the people in Jerusalem that first Pentecost, we believe in the same one message of Christ. For Catholics, the signs of this unity is even more evident. When we go to a different country, e.g. Italy, where the culture and language are different, we find that we are able to follow in the Eucharistic celebration. The rites are the same, despite the differences in the language. We might not be able to recite the prayers in the same language, but we are reasonably sure that we are reciting the Lord’s Prayer, or the Lamb of God. It is the same Spirit that makes us children of God by the same one sacrament of baptism. When we sin, we estrange ourselves from God and other Christians, and are in need of reconciliation. In the gospel reading today, we hear Jesus breathing on the apostles and telling them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 20:23) Jesus continues to tell them that they have the power to forgive sins. Catholics believe that it is here that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It can be seen that the Holy Spirit enables the obstacles to unity to be removed.
Many of the obstacles to unity are not physical ones. How often have we experienced being in a room of people and yet feel lonely? Connection to others may not be present because of shyness, and shyness is not a physical barrier. In this time when we are encouraged to practise social distancing for the good of everyone, we can use other means to connect. Although these ways of connecting may not be ideal, our care and concern for the common good and for others is a sign that we are connected. When we are indifferent to the situation, and are concerned only with our desires and opinions, we become obstacles to unity.
Feeling frustrated is perhaps normal during this difficult time of dealing with the pandemic. However, frustration can lead us to feel hopeless. When we feel this hopelessness, we stop trusting in God and start to suggest what God could do to make things better. Perhaps it would be better for us to allow the Holy Spirit to help us, especially in prayer, to have greater faith that God has things under control. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen our virtue of hope that despite the difficult times we are in, we are confident that God will lead us to where he wants us. Let us also open our hearts to the love that God the Holy Spirit wants to activate in us, so that this love may be the cause of the unity among us who profess Christ as saviour.
Have a Holy Pentecost!