Column: Pentecost anticipates universality of church

Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

Certain words sound like the action they describe. That is the phenomenon known as onomatopoeia.

So, a bee buzzes, a steak sizzles on the grill, a baby burps.

Babies also babble, anoth- er example of onomatopoeia, before they learn to talk. They make sounds that have no meaning, even though their parents may find them completely adorable.

In the infancy of the human race, according to the Book of Genesis, people began by speaking a common language they all could understand. But, in the midst of an ill-advised building project, they lose that ability. Their failure to communicate brings a halt to the construction of what is eventually called the Tower of Babel. The name “Babel” also makes a pun, because the people are reduced to what sounds like babble, unintelligible speech to one another (Gn 11:1-9). It may also make a second pun with the name of Babylon, the prominent city in Mesopotamia, which caused Israel so much grief later on.

In Sunday’s first reading, Acts 2:1-11, we witness the reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel. Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, people in Jerusalem speaking various languages are able to understand one another: “They were confused, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.”

In the story about the Tower of Babel, the people undertake the building project because they believe that it would prevent them from being dispersed across the face of the earth: “Oth- erwise, we shall be scattered all over the earth” (Gn 11:4). When the construction stops, they pack up and leave: “There the Lord confused the speech of all the world. It was from that place that he scattered them all over the earth.”

On the day of Pentecost, Jews from all over the world have assembled in Jerusalem: “We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, Cretans and Arabs.”

Despite the fact that they speak different languages, through the power of the Holy Spirit they are miraculously able to understand the message of the apostles about Jesus Christ.

When they return to their own countries, they will do so having heard the good news — the good news that eventually will reach every corner of the globe. In that way, they anticipate the universality of the church. The Holy Spirit will enable diverse peoples and nations to overcome their differences in order to proclaim their common faith in the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

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