Come Holy Spirit come! Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew; wash the stains of guilt away
Bend the stubborn hearts and will; melt the frozen, warm the chill
Guide the steps that go astray…give them joys that never end.
Amen. — (From the Sequence of Mass on Pentecost Sunday)
Today we celebrate the birthday of the Catholic Church. In other words, we celebrate the inauguration of the Universal Church. When Jesus rose from the dead, the first gift he gave to the Church was the Holy Spirit. He said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (Jn 20:22-23).
Jesus’ first gift to the Church
Before his Ascension, Jesus makes a promise to his disciples. He says to them, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
On Pentecost day the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, and as the Bible attests, “They were devout men (and women) even in Jerusalem from every nation on the earth … and each one was bewildered to hear these men (the apostles) speaking his own language.” (Acts 2:6) They questioned: How does it happen that each of us hears them (the apostles) in his own native language? (Acts.2:8). What is the implication of this message? How does it affect us today?
What happened on Pentecost day was a miracle. The miracle was that God spoke to people of different nationalities in their own native tongues through the Apostles who were uneducated men. It was a reverse of the division that was experienced at the Tower of Babel (cf Gn 11:1-9). Praise God! The human race is once again united after many centuries of division and confusion. Through the Holy Spirit the divided world, marked by misunderstanding, conflicts, and confusion is now united.
We need inculturation
Today there is a serious attempt, by some schools of thought, to teach the whole world the same verbal language in order to unite them. That, however, seems to be an expensive joke. What we need today is “inculturation.” That is, to allow the gospel message to be born in every culture.
Today we are challenged to break down the barriers of division and sectarianism. We are challenged to bring the Gospel to every race and culture and help them understand the marvels of God in their own native languages. We are challenged to help people connect with God in their own concrete historical conditions. We do not need to learn any foreign language in order to communicate with God, our loving Father. If the Church is defined as “the people of God,” then the language of the Church must be the language of God’s people in every part of the world.
The language of Love
What we really need in today’s Church is the language of love. It is non-verbal and does not require an interpreter. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will be able to speak the nonverbal language of love which cannot be taught by any human technique. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will be able to understand each other in family, in the church, and in society.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, the Church will have the courage to carry out the universal mission entrusted to her by Jesus. She will be comforted, directed, and strengthened especially at difficult times. At confirmation each one of us received the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is meant to give us the courage to witness the Faith at all times, even in the face of death.
May the Holy Spirit, which came on Pentecost day, come upon each and every one of us and renew the face of the entire earth. Rejoice Always!
– – – written by Fr. Clem Oyafemi