The name "Pentecost" means "fifty days," and is the designation of the great feast celebrated by the Jewish people fifty days after the Passover. However, the name has taken on greater meaning to Christians because of what happened on a particular Pentecost some two thousand years ago. Pentecost is celebrated as the "birthday of the Church" because it was at the time of Pentecost, seven weeks after Jesus' Resurrection, that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. From today's first reading (Acts 2:1-11).
This ability to speak in tongues is but one gift of the Holy Spirit, but it is one often misunderstood. Today we think of "speaking in tongues" as something that occurs in Pentecostal churches where one member will begin speaking something that sounds like gibberish to most listeners, but another, blessed with the gift of interpretation, will "translate." That's not really what we see going on in today's reading.Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,which parted and came to rest on each one of them.And they were all filled with the Holy Spiritand began to speak in different tongues,as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heavenstaying in Jerusalem.At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,but they were confusedbecause each one heard them speaking in his own language.
I was visiting a parish in another state one year for Pentecost and they had the first and second reading divided into two parts, each read by a different reader (for a total of four), and each in a different language. One was in English, one Spanish, one Korean, and the fourth was in a different Asian language I could not identify.
They were doing this as a kind of gimmick for Pentecost Sunday. But I couldn't help think it sounded more like the Tower of Babel than Pentecost. The story of the Tower of Babel is told in Genesis chapter 11. The people of the earth all spoke one language at the time, and worked together to build an impressive tower that was said to reach nearly to the heavens. God decided that was too much and so He confused their languages and scattered the peoples across the earth.
This confusion of languages is the opposite of Pentecost. In Acts we read of people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Egypt, Asia, Libya, Rome and elsewhere, all who speak different languages, but all of whom could miraculously understand the speech spoken by the Galileans proclaiming Jesus. It was about an opening of communication, not a confusion of languages.
The message they preached was one of salvation and reconciliation. It was a message of liberation from sin. They preached of Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead. It was -- and is -- a message that has power to grant eternal life but only if it is understood and received by the hearer. And so God granted the gift of understanding to those who heard this first gospel preached that day.
The importance of communicating the Gospel message has not diminished in 2000 years. But the ability of people to hear it seems to have diminished. I don't believe it is because people have any less desire to find forgiveness and reconciliation. I believe there is simply too much static drowning out the message. Between television, movies, the radio, cell phones, texting, Facebook, Twitter, 24 hour news, constant updates and postings and the like, there is simply so much noise it is a struggle to figure out what is important and what is simply fluff.
But all of those sources of distraction are also potential means of communication. We are blessed with so many tools for preaching the Gospel that the Apostles did not have. Can you imagine what Peter, Paul or John would have done with the Internet? If they had the ability to post a message and have it read by millions? What would they have written? What would the world look like if the Apostles had a Twitter account?
We will never know because they did not have access to modern means of communication. But you do. "Apostles" means "witness" and you are today's witnesses to the power of God's love and mercy and the forgiveness that can be found in Jesus Christ and through His Church. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the gift to be able to communicate that message to the masses. That same gift was given by the Holy Spirit to all those who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation. That means you and I have the same ability, and the same responsibility, to proclaim Christ to the world.
Let us pray today for the wisdom and courage to do so in the many occasions God grants for evangelization in our lives.