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'How does each of us hear in our own language?'

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

Sunday, June 8, 2014
Pentecost Sunday
Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

Today, throughout the world, people gather in the name of the Lord to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. The readings for the day are rich in meaning and in nuance. “How does each of us hear them in his native language?” The rich meaning of this single sentence has been probed by Scripture scholars, theologians and even religious educators throughout the ages. God truly wanted communication to have a spiritual aspect to it.

When I was a child, my father cautioned me that there was a topic that we should never introduce at any dinner table but our own. That topic was religion and I know I do not have to tell you that the advice did not find a place in my heart. Still, I often wondered why it was all right to speak about religion at our own table. The answer is found in the Pentecost story. We spoke a common language.

My father’s advice was repeated in many places but those days have passed. Today, religion is a subject of conversation at countless events and in virtually every place imaginable. And I must admit that the inadequacies of language frequently cause more misunderstanding than genuine agreement.

Throughout my own religious learning, I have discovered that faith has a language all its own. From time to time, I have had theology professors whose faith spoke as loudly as the facts. No matter what form of language is used, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.” No matter how different our languages, we proclaim our faith together through the unity of the Holy Spirit.

The place where this phenomenon is most apparent to me is at cathedrals in large cities. The experience of worshipping there is one all Catholics should have on occasion. Those who gather in New York, Rome, Paris and countless other parts of the world often speak many different languages. Some come from remote parts of the world.  Yet in this atmosphere of faith and in the accepted language of the liturgy, people announced the faith they have in Christ risen and living in the Church.

On this Pentecost Sunday, Christians gather throughout the world to acknowledge that the Spirit guides and guards the church. The atmosphere that the Spirit brings is one of peace and acceptance. Differences are put aside and we realize we do indeed share a common language given us by the Spirit — the language of faith.

As we are sent forth from this proclamation of faith, we move into a world ready to hear the word of Christ. In our community there are people with divergent talents and a variety of gifts. Our promise today is to use the gifts to further the kingdom.

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