When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. 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 Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement, they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phyrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travellers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
Today, the Church celebrates Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles as tongues of fire over their heads, infusing them with the power and courage to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to all peoples and lands. This is the mission of the Church, to bring the gospel to the four corners of the world, where each person can hear in his native language all that God has done for us through Jesus, all the mighty acts of God.
Pentecost is when the confusion of Babel is reversed. At Babel (Gen 11:1-9), the arrogance of men who spoke the same language attempting to reach God was stopped by God’s confusing their tongues, so that those building a tower in hopes of reaching heaven (symbolic of our earning our salvation by our own efforts) could no longer understand each other, and so could not accomplish their foolish plans. At Pentecost, men and women of all lands and multiple languages now hear and understand that salvation comes through God’s grace, won for us by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
At Pentecost, the apostles first found the courage to speak boldly of Jesus. They would continue to do so throughout their lives, leading most to martyrdom and others to exile. At our Baptisms and Confirmations we, too, are infused with the Holy Spirit, empowered with the same Spirit of fortitude to announce the gospel boldly, to speak the truth with passion, to live joyfully and answer with respect and gentleness when others inquire about the hope that is in us (1Pt 3:15).
It is a good day to pray openly, to give thanks for the freedom we have to believe and live lives centered in Christ. It is also a good day to offer prayer and sacrifice for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not free to openly live lives centered in Christ because of the persecutions suffered by Christians in so many countries today. Today is a day to be courageous in our faith.
Father of light, from whom every good gift comes, send your Spirit into our lives with the power of a mighty wind, and by the flame of your wisdom open the horizons of our minds. Looses our tongues to sing your praise in words beyond the power of speech, for without your Spirit man could never raise his voice in words of peace or announce the truth that Jesus is Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. (Liturgy of the Hours, Alternative Prayer for Pentecost).