Let us be guided by the Holy Spirit

One of the enduring images associated with Pentecost is that of Mary and the disciples of Jesus, gathered in the upper room, with tongues of flames lingering above their heads, while the Holy Spirit descends upon them like a dove.

May 26, 2023

Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Fr Nicholas Hoh, OCD

Pentecost Sunday (A)
Readings: Acts of the Apostle 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13;
Gospel: John 20:19-23

One of the enduring images associated with Pentecost is that of Mary and the disciples of Jesus, gathered in the upper room, with tongues of flames lingering above their heads, while the Holy Spirit descends upon them like a dove. This image illustrates what we find in the 1st Reading of the Mass of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1-11). The descent of the Holy Spirit effects a transformation upon the disciples, as they are able to speak in languages previously unknown to them: “Parthians, Medes, and Elamites…Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, visitors from Rome…Cretans and Arabs; we hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God” (Acts 2:11).

This miracle of Pentecost is meant to be read together with another biblical episode: the building of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9). It begins by explaining that humankind spoke one tongue. They were of one people, of one culture. It was easy to communicate with one another, and to work together. Indeed, what humankind at that time experienced was wonderful! However, what should have been a blessing became a curse, when humankind, out of pride, decided to make use of their unity for their own selfish purposes.

Being of one mind and heart, they decided to build for themselves a tower that would reach up to the heavens. Such a tower would, they imagined, enable them to make a name for themselves. Seeing the selfishness of mankind, God then intervened by confusing the people and their language, making it impossible for them to understand one another. Losing their unity, they were unable to complete the tower, and humankind was scattered throughout the earth.

Why did this come to pass? Doesn’t God desire all to be united and to live in harmony? The answer to that question is: Yes! Of course, God desires unity, for everyone to be of one mind and one heart. However, in the story of the Tower of Babel, there was a distortion of harmony and unity. Unity was used in the service of human pride, and for a selfish purpose. They believed that by building the tower, humanity would be able to reach the heavens and touch the divine. In essence, the building of the tower was a reflection of that very sin of our first parents – the desire to be like God and to be independent of Him.

Therefore, pride and hubris led to tragic consequences for the human family. However, with Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit reverses the curse of the Tower of Babel. No longer will differences of language be an obstacle to unity and the worship of God. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Good News proclaimed by Jesus is now open to all peoples, regardless of origin, language or culture.

There’s another nuance of the story of Babel and Pentecost. If in the story of Babel, humanity thought that they could reach God and the heavens by means of a tall tower, it is in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that humanity is given the means by which we can be sanctified and made holy. It is by this sanctification that we are made one with the Lord. God is reached not via a building, but by His grace and power. It is by God’s merciful love that our sins are washed away, and it is through our communion with the Lord that we are led to heaven. At the 5th week of Easter, the liturgy emphasises the desire of the Lord that we, His children, should be where He is: “I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too.” (John 14:3)

Christ, our Good Shepherd, is the way that leads us to all fulfilment and blessings. It is by following Him that we are shown the way to our salvation. Yet, it is Christ Himself who sends the Holy Spirit upon us so that we may always know the right path that leads us to Him: “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26).

As we come together to celebrate Pentecost, let us ask for docility of heart, that we may always allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Let us make room for Him, so that the Spirit may teach us the ways of the Lord. May we constantly ask the Spirit to strengthen us, enlighten us, and enhance His sevenfold gifts within us, so that we may experience fully the joy of being disciples of Jesus Christ. And, being made one of mind and heart by the Holy Spirit, may we all, as one Church, journey together, helping one another, to follow and hear the voice of our Good Shepherd.

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