A few weeks ago a group of professors from the University of Chicago presented a new dictionary to the academic world. It contains 21 volumes and took 90 years to complete! And it is for a language that no one has spoken for 2000 years! That language is Assyrian, once spoken in Mesopotamia and Babylon, and one of most ancient written languages. This new dictionary opens the door for the study of many written works from a civilization and culture that influenced the world more than 3,000 years before Christ.
The ability to speak is a phenomenon that distinguishes us from the animals and is the foundation of human communication. We use words to express everything from our most basic needs to our most profound thoughts and deepest feelings.
Yes, when we know a language, we can speak to any another person who knows the same language. But we also know that we need more than words to communicate. How many times do we say that we’re having trouble communicating with our partner, our children, our coworkers, our friends, even though we are speaking the same language! In the Bible, the Tower of Babel (Genesis: 11:1-8) is a symbol of the breakdown in communication caused by selfishness and pride, which divide us. The Bible says that God separated the people when he gave everyone different languages, but this is like a symbol or a parable that teaches us that in reality, sin is what breaks down communication and creates divisions.
The Acts of the Apostles teaches us that the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost started a transformation that reached to the very roots of the human condition. As Christ had promised, the Holy Spirit breathes life into the Church and creates a New People of God. Here the Bible gives us another language-based symbol. The apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaim the Good News and everyone present, people from different parts of the world, understand in their own language. Completely opposite the Tower of Babel, now all peoples are united by faith in Jesus Christ.
We are united with Christ in the sacrament of baptism through the Holy Spirit. In the sacrament of confirmation, the same Spirit inspires us and gives us the power to be disciples. In the Eucharist, the Spirit converts the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and transforms us into the Living Body of Christ. The Spirit that we receive inspires the Church to fulfill its mission of forgiveness and reconciliation. If sin and egoism are the fundamental causes of the breakdown of communication in our life, now we have the ability to overcome the resulting division and separation. This is the promise of Pentecost. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ continues to be present with us and to call us to unity and solidarity. It is for this reason that the Church is called catholic; catholic means universal because it embraces all peoples.
As disciples of Christ, we want to pay close attention to our words. The words we speak are powerful. They have the capacity to cause joy or pain, to build up or tear down, to unite or separate, to heal or wound. The lack of communication that we experience is almost always due to sin. Pentecost calls us to unity and solidarity.
Father Dave Foxen, MSC