Published May 12, 2005
“The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world. It holds all things together and knows every word spoken by man!”
The opening Antiphon for the Pentecost Mass is comforting; perhaps especially for a diocese like ours where so many people speak so many different languages and follow so many different cultures. Whenever I listen to the story of the first Pentecost, I am reminded of how small the world was when those words were written. Parthians, Medes, and Elamites might have spoken different languages, but they were close neighbors by our standards. They experienced a marvelous expression of the Holy Spirit on that day because they could understand God’s Word in their own language. They were invited to see themselves as one people.
This past weekend, I followed something of a Pentecost agenda. I greeted the hundreds of leaders from the Hispanic communities in our archdiocese as they met to design a pastoral plan that will guide us in the future in our service and outreach to our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters. This plan is not simply a program for helping people who speak Spanish to fit into the structures of the archdiocese but a design to help the entire archdiocese to be shaped and formed anew influenced by the many gifts that come from people who have recently joined us from Central and Latin America. The plan is really an opportunity to allow the gifts of our Hispanic members to penetrate the heart of this local Church and to open all of us up to the gifts that they bring to us through the Holy Spirit.
Later that same day, I celebrated confirmation at Christ Our Hope Church in Lithonia where a number of the people wore native attire from several African nations. Some spoke with accents of Asia. Some of the music was Caribbean in melody and rhythm. And there was the noticeable and always welcome presence of English spoken with that delightful Irish cadence. It was clear that the work of the Holy Spirit is still very much alive in this local Church, bringing us together from a world that seems so much more vast and expansive that that of the first Pentecost assembly.
The Holy Spirit holds us all together as a single Church, professing a common Faith, sharing the One Bread and the One Cup. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles not only describes the wondrous spirit of unity that the first Pentecost revealed, it also describes the struggles that the early Church faced in preserving the harmony that the Spirit offered. We still struggle with those same challenges. Some might believe that our oneness would be enhanced if we all spoke the same language, but that has never been the way that the Spirit effects unity. A few might suggest that we could bring greater harmony if we form small communities that are isolated from one another. Here again, the Spirit always brings us together with all of our uniqueness—never asking us to compromise who we are or the gifts that we have.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is to realize that the Spirit uses all of our differences and individuality to fashion a single family of Faith. We are sometimes tempted to short circuit this work of the Spirit active in the Church today as always.
I love Pentecost, not because it is a trouble-free feast, but because it is the celebration of the work of the Spirit going on even today and quite obviously in North Georgia. “The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world. It holds all things together and knows every word spoken by man.” Alleluia!