Love is the universal language of Pentecost

Brett Fawcett

WORD MADE FLESH

Pentecost – May 15, 2016
Acts 2.1-11 | Psalm 104 | Romans 8.8-17 | John 14.15-16, 23-26

Pentecost is an important and special time for me. I was raised in the Pentecostal Church, and my parents are both ordained Pentecostal ministers. On top of that, I received the sacrament of Confirmation on Pentecost Sunday.

I remember being fascinated to discover that there were charismatic Catholics - people who prayed and worshipped the way that I was used to Evangelicals praying and worshipping, but who also loved Our Lady and the Eucharist.

The Holy Spirit, after all, is always surprising us, and today we hear the story of the first Christian Pentecost, where there is the great miracle of the Apostles speaking in many different languages.

But the greater miracle here is not that the Apostles were gifted with a preternatural knowledge of foreign tongues: The greater miracle is that, at this moment, the divisions between nations and cultures were overcome by the love of Christ.

Those who love me will keep my word. - John 14.23

'Those who love me will keep my word.'

John 14.23

Today, we have a world full of politicians, diplomats and scholars who can speak more languages than the people on Pentecost Sunday could ever dream of, and yet we still cannot achieve world peace or a true world community.

This, of course, we know from the old Genesis story of Babel: In our arrogance and desire to be like God, we end up building walls around ourselves rather than bridges to heaven.

Ever since we have babbled narcissistically at each other in our own languages of self-justification and marginalization, using carefully constructed languages of blame and self-justification ("It's his fault he's poor; he made such stupid decisions!"; "Well, it isn't my fault - I had no choice!").

This only widens the chasm between ourselves and the other. Yet somehow, on Pentecost, those walls are broken down.

Why? Just because the Apostles suddenly spoke in new languages? No; as St. Paul puts it in his famous Corinthian chapter on love: "If I speak in the languages of mortals or angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

It wasn't the languages themselves; it was what they were saying. "We hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God," and the mighty act of God is love.

We often misuse that famous quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times, and, if necessary, use words." Sometimes, we think this means that we don't have to use words, forgetting that this quote actually insists that words are sometimes necessary.

What this line actually calls us to is not to use words less, but to use actions more.

Hans Urs von Balthasar says that Jesus' miracles were a kind of sign language for those who could not understand his teaching - a kind of "visual aid" explaining the love he was preaching about - and St. Francis de Sales literally developed his own system of sign language so he could teach a deaf man about God.

This is the lesson of Pentecost. The universal language is love; it is God's first language.