by Father Mike Stubbs
The lector faces a formidable challenge in Sunday’s first reading, Acts 2:1-11. It presents a list of words difficult to pronounce.
They are the names of the various ethnic groups and nationalities that have gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost: “We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs.”
Despite their differences, these pilgrims originate from countries all belonging to the Roman Empire. The network of excellent roads that the Romans had constructed to enable the movement of their armies has also facilitated the travel of these pilgrims to Jerusalem.
Good roads contributed to the unity of the Roman Empire. Good roads would also eventually make it easier to spread the good news about Jesus Christ.
The pilgrims who had journeyed in from afar to Jerusalem would journey out, far and wide, to share with others the wonderful events of Pentecost.
The pilgrims speak a vast array of different languages, each one proper to his or her native land.
At the same time, they are all able to understand the apostles’ proclamations about Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is able to overcome these barriers of language that could separate them.
Even though a wide diversity prevails among the pilgrims in their mother tongue, most of the pilgrims would understand at least a little Greek. That language operated as a second language in the eastern half of the Roman Empire. In his conquests, Alexander the Great had brought the Greek language and culture to that part of the world.
That is why the New Testament was written in the Greek language. The widespread knowledge of Greek enabled the message of Christ to travel throughout the Roman Empire.
Sunday’s first reading shows us the beginning point of this process. That is why we call Pentecost “the birthday of the church.”
The descent of the Holy Spirit supplies the driving force that would bring thousands to Christ. It would energize missionaries to share their faith with others. It would strengthen Christians to stand firm in the face of persecution.
On this feast of Pentecost, we do more than merely commemorate an historical event. We celebrate the enduring presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
The Spirit, which worked so many miracles in the past, can still do wonderful things for us.