Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pentecost: "The Birthday of the Church"

As you get older, birthdays get more difficult. Especially the ones ending in "0". The so called "Big Os": 40; 50, etc.

It can be a time for reflection. And Catholic blogs are no exception on this Pentecost - often referred to as "The Birthday of the Church".

Don Marco of Vultus Christi presents a series of reflections on Pentecost

"Christ’s glorious triumph over sin in our lives is something that must be worked out day by day and hour by hour; this is our personal participation in “the combat stupendous” of the Prince of Life (Easter Sequence, Victimae Paschali Laudes). Paschal joy is not incompatible with spiritual combat; it is the fruit of it. And for those who are stricken in battle and fall into sin, there is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter who is everywhere present and fills all things. The Holy Spirit is sent for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit descends to heal our wounds, to renew our strength, and to lift us when we fall."

Zadok the Roman gives us an extract from Parochial & Plain Sermons.

"This wonderful change from darkness to light, through the entrance of the Spirit into the soul, is called Regeneration, or the New Birth; a blessing which, before Christ's coming, not even Prophets and righteous men possessed, but which is now conveyed to all men freely through the Sacrament of Baptism. By nature we are children of wrath; the heart is sold under sin, possessed by evil spirits; and inherits death as its eternal portion. But by the coming of the Holy Ghost, all guilt and pollution are burned away as by fire, the devil is driven forth, sin, original and actual, is forgiven, and the whole man is consecrated to God."

Terry at Abbey Roads 2 writes on the "Convincing Power of the Holy Spirit".

"It seems to me the Church and the world desperately needs this convincing power of the Holy Spirit, His illumination of conscience, in order to attain the healing of sin and division through obedience to His promptings and urgings in the deepest recesses of our hearts, guided by the teachings He transmits through the Church."

Elena Maria Vidal at Tea at Trianon sets out a number of reflections on the theme of The Pentecost.

"The Holy Spirit comes to each of us at our baptism and later at our Confirmation, which is our own personal Pentecost. There is much discussion today of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as the gift of tongues, of prophecy, of discernment of spirits, of visions, etc. but they are extraordinary gifts given in special circumstances to benefit the Church and souls. The "ordinary" gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to each of us through the sacraments and it is for us to use and develop them. The seven gifts are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord; it is these gifts which will make us into saints. They increase in proportion to the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. In the words of St. John of the Cross: "For the purer and the more refined in faith is the soul, the more it has of the infused charity of God; and the more charity it has, the more it is illumined and the more gifts of the Holy Spirit are communicated to it, for charity is the cause and means whereby they are communicated to it." (Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book II, Ch. 29)"

In Babel Undone by Richard J. Mouw at First Things (1998) the author reflects on Pentecost as the reversal of Babel.

"In the Christian scriptures, there is a more profound corrective to Babel’s chaos: Pentecost was God’s reversal of Babel. There the confusion of tongues was replaced by effective communication. On that founding event of the Christian church, multiculturalism was not eradicated, but people were nonetheless capable of understanding each other: "Are not all these who are speaking Galilieans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in our own native language? . . . [I]n our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power" (Acts 2:7-11).

I take the Pentecostal alternative to Babel seriously, because I believe the miracle of Pentecost really did happen. But I also believe that it can serve as an alternative trope for anyone who refuses to allow Babel to function as the normative image for the human condition. Babel represents one kind of multi-culturalism. It posits an irreducible diversity, a loss of common patterns of understanding; Babel confuses, divides, and erects barriers. Pentecost, on the other hand, represents a very different kind of multiculturalism. The Pentecostal experience does not eliminate the diversity of tongues, but it provides us with the ability to communicate across linguistic and cultural boundaries. Pentecost heals, unites, and promotes understanding."

In The Church and the City by Monsignor M. Francis Mannion in First Things (2000) the theme of Pentecost as the reversal of Babel is further developed.

"As the story is told in Genesis 11:1-9, Babel is the archetype of the confused, disoriented, fragmented city-the place where, to humble human pride, "the Lord confused the speech of all the world." The confusion of Babel is significant because it has been replicated in every city in history. In the poem "The Rock," T. S. Eliot described modern London as a city full of the "knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word." James Dougherty of the University of Notre Dame describes the modern city as "never silent; it speaks with a voice of its own, the voice of false prophets in Jerusalem, of sophists in Athens and Carthage, of gramophones and television in London and Wichita. Like the prophet’s cry, the city’s own voice summons the citizens to believe-but to believe in their common self-sufficiency and in the durability and satisfaction of the city’s goods. Its call to worship is ultimately to self-worship."

The problems of Babel are reflected in modern America in our ongoing debates about history, identity, the future, and how we can live together as a nation. The America of the recent past has lost faith in words, in reliably coherent meanings, in the possibility of common language, in the very idea of truth. We live increasingly in a culture in which language is suspect, a culture of contestation regarding meaning, a world of illusions and hyperreality.

The mission of the Church is to reverse Babel, to give new voice and understanding to communities struggling to achieve meaning. Such a reversal began at Pentecost. We read in the Acts of the Apostles (2:4-11): The disciples "were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them. . . . [The people] asked in utter amazement, . . . ‘How is it that each of us hears them in his native tongue? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites. We live in Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya around Cyrene. . . . Yet each of us hears them speaking in his own tongue about the marvels God has accomplished.’"

The mission of the Church is to speak the language of Pentecost, to introduce this voice into the city of Babel, to find and engage those voices in Babel that seek out and give expression to truth. Christians individually and the Church corporately are called to a ministry of the word that will redeem the language of the city, provide a meaningful account of life, and enable the citizenry to speak a language that is unitive, cooperative, and dialogical. "

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