What a year we have had! If you simply reflect upon the past year, we can easily see the similarity to Babel, with fear, ambition and faithless arrogance leaving the world in chaos, in fear and disunity. As a result of the pandemic, fear has taken hold of all societies. Travel has been shut down. People are isolated from one another. In the United States, political division and strife rules our society. Public schools are in disarray. Jobs and companies are in chaos. Congress is so divided that it has become dysfunctional. This is modern Babel.
Pentecost is often contrasted by the Old Testament story from Genesis regarding the Tower of Babel. The contrast could not be greater.
The people in the Genesis story ambitiously initiated a project of building a city with a high tower to rule over other people. The project ended in disarray when the people could no longer understand one another.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes enabling people of every dialect and language to understand the apostles, drawing people together from all over the world.
The sin of the people of Babel is subtle. After the flood, God commanded Noah to “be fertile and multiply and fill the earth”, just like God had told Adam and Eve. Like Adam and Eve, the people at Babel became arrogant and disobedient. They chose to follow their own ambitions. They lacked the Holy Spirit.
Human arrogance and disobedience brought about separation from God and one another, leading to original sin.
God desires unity among us. Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit, erasing original sin in Baptism. In the Holy Spirit the unity God desires of all peoples is restored.
We often miss the point of Pentecost, and even the Sacrament of Confirmation. After the sacrament of Confirmation, people often act as if Church is over, school is out, and they disperse. They do not return. They don’t really accept the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is invisible to our eyes, but the “fruits” of the Holy Spirit are all around us to see. You can’t miss it if you look.
Let me just begin with the history of the Mass, the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. The young apostolic Church emerged from early persecution. There were no church buildings for 2-3 centuries after Jesus’ Resurrection. Today, Mass is being said daily in almost every country on earth. The Body of Christ is in tabernacles in almost every city and town on the planet. Jesus told us, “The Kingdom of God is at hand”, and “I will always be with you. In the Church, Jesus is present in all seven Sacraments He gave us. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are everywhere. St. Paul taught,
Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.
We have a lot of confessions every week in our parish. With three priests we generally stay pretty busy offering fifteen “man-hours” of confessions every week. Thanks be to the Holy Spirit, people come. No one forces them. They come of their own free will. Why do they come? We hear jokes about Catholics and confession in the media. However, hundreds come here to confess each week. This has astounded me over the years. When someone comes into my confessional, I often find myself saying in amazement, “Thank you, God.” This level of sacramental life in our parish can only be through the Holy Spirit.
Weddings, baptisms, first communions, confirmations. We have them because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. There can be no other reason.
In another place St. Paul tells us,
Now the works of the flesh are obvious:
immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry,
sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy,
outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness,
dissensions, factions, occasions of envy,
drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.
I warn you, as I warned you before,
that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Then, Paul shows us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
The fruit of the Spirit is love. This love is chosen; it is a decision. It is not an emotion. In the Spirit we choose love, and all else falls in line. We live in the Spirit when we live the Sacramental Life of the Church. We must choose this. If we do, the Spirit will guide us through life.
Come Holy Spirit, come.