I can’t help but reflect on Pentecost this year in relation to the historical moment we are living as we slowly begin to emerge from a pandemic we’ve been experiencing for over a year.
The pandemic has left its marks, to a greater or lesser degree, on all of us. Like it or not, this year has changed us as people. Despite all the advice on how to live this extraordinarily difficult time in the best way, we realize now as we start to open the doors and emerge from our places of isolation that we have been affected physically, psychologically, and spiritually. And not only we ourselves, but our world and our churches.
The question arises: how are we called to respond to this situation?
In a similar way, after Jesus ascended into heaven, we could say the apostles were huddled all together behind closed doors. Under one roof were the memories of three years of intense discipleship in the company of Jesus, tainted by the memory of betrayal. Sadness and mourning illuminated by a resurrection they have not yet fully understood. The fear of what they might find on the other side of the door that for a while protected them from the outside undermined the hope of the promise of the Spirit’s coming.
But heaven never forgets its promises. On that first Pentecost, the Spirit came and filled the whole house where the apostles were and rested on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit manifested itself publicly in the ability to speak different languages, and the apostles opened the door and emerged from where they had been hiding.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?”
In fact, Scripture does not mention that the apostles opened the door and went out into the street; the Word just tells us the people of Jerusalem could hear them speaking in their own language. But as extraordinary as the gift of tongues may be, perhaps opening the door and leaving was the first act of courage, the first of many, on the part of the apostles. This is important because the gift always comes from God, but the gift becomes sterile if we don’t open something in ourselves so it can come out.
The bestowing of the gift of the Spirit could have happened in a remote place, in a small town, but it happened in Jerusalem, which at that time was full of Jews “from every nation under heaven.” Unbeknownst to the apostles, the whole world was at their doors. The crowds guided by the same Spirit were concentrated beside them and when the apostles emerged from behind closed doors and went outside, every nation under the heaven was able to hear the wonders of God in its own language! Why is this important? Because the purpose of all the gifts we receive is to make the wonders of God known to the world.
Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
I ask myself if I live with this awareness, knowing that I too have the entire world at my door. I wonder if my heart can open this wide, wide enough to embrace the world. Because this is the measure of the heart of God, the entire world! But can the entire world fit in our hearts?
Something very beautiful about living in community is the opportunity to know the heart of God through my sisters. Letting my sisters enlarge my heart. It is on their faces that I see mirrored so many realities that I do not know, that I have never experienced, that are unknown to me. The Lord touches each of our hearts in a unique way, empowering us to speak a specific language for the benefit of someone, whether in the family, in the community, or in the world. That person is always there on the other side of the door of our heart.
The apostles were also empowered by the Spirit to speak in different languages, to go to different peoples. God wants to reach everyone, and he speaks each person’s language. What a difference it makes when someone speaks our language! I understand this better now that I am in the United States. Even though I have no problems understanding and speaking English, when I really want to say something important, I feel an urgency to speak my native language, Portuguese. Whenever a particular chaplain celebrates Mass in our chapel, at the moment of the distribution of Communion, he says to me in Portuguese: “O corpo de Cristo. The Body of Christ.” This always moves me. Certainly I would understand if he spoke in English, but at that moment it is not the Portuguese that I hear but God saying that he loves me.
It isn’t so much about hearing our own language the Scripture passage describing that first Pentecost is speaking about. It is above all to let every gift we receive become this language of Love. It is to discover that the other, who is different from me, speaks the same “language,” and that I am called to share with that person something about God himself.
Let us not doubt that our openness to the Spirit makes things happen in our lives and—through us—in the life of the world, even things that seem impossible. It doesn’t matter if these things are big or small, what matters is that they contain eternity. Every gift we receive and have the courage to share resounds for eternity.
Today, whether we are aware of it or not, the world is also at our door. It is in our neighbor, in our co-worker, in the stranger we come across in the streets of our city, it is on the screen of our phone or it pops up on our social networks. How many of these people speak the same “language” as us?
At this Pentecost, let us ask the Lord to help us recognize the gift that has been given to us by his Spirit, the language that has been entrusted to us. Every time we have the courage to open the door of our heart and go outside, we will find the entire world waiting for us, a world waiting to hear the wonders of God in its own “language.”
Sr Marta Gaspar
Photo Credit: Mateo Cerezo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons