Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pentecost and Family Reunions

Last week, the Church celebrated the great gift of Pentecost, and most of us heard homilies about this being the beginning of something, the birthday of the Church. I won't argue with that (you thought I would for a second there, didn't you?). Pentecost marks the beginning of the Church, the continuation of Jesus' ministry through the work of his disciples...by the way, that's us. It's also a bit of a family reunion of sorts. Hang on we'll get there...
Pentecost, Jean II Restout, 1732.

Pentecost, originally a Jewish pilgrimage feast, was known as the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot (Ex 34:22). It was a celebration of both offering God the first fruits of the people's labors, but also the giving of the Law at Sinai, 49 days after the Exodus from Egypt. As I often do, let's start with some math because who doesn't love some theological math? Pentecost is 50 days after Easter. Great...so? Technically, this whole Pentecost thing goes down 49 days after Passover/Exodus. Important? Yes, and here's why.
The number seven is the number of covenant, personal familial relationship; this is quite simply a blood bond. So 7 x 7? That equals covenant, BIG TIME covenant. Remember in Genesis, how God rested on the seventh day? Let's see, He does not tire, so what's that about? Ah, the seventh day is the day of covenant. He promises to provide for His Creation, and we are created to put our trust in Him, saving that day as a remembrance of that promise and relationship. Basically, seven = covenant = promise = rest. Excellent, so it should be no surprise that, at the giving of the Law, that number and the idea of rest appear...a lot. Look especially at the Jubilee year, 7 x 7 years...49 (Lev 25:8-13). Yep, so every fifty years was a jubilee year, in which slaves were set free, lands were returned, and rest was given to land and people as a sign of the rest granted to men by God. There were also intermittent times of rest, like allowing fields to lie fallow every seven years, so that they may also "rest" (Lev 25:3-5).

So now we have a harvest holy day, a jubilee's worth of weeks from Passover (freedom from slavery), and the celebration of the giving of the Law. Last time I checked, I wasn't Jewish, so what does that have to do with disciples of Christ? We have a holy day (Pentecost), that jubilee's worth of weeks from Easter (freedom from slavery to sin), a celebration of a new law (the Beatitudes), and the harvest, which is both the Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the holy day, and the Gentile nations who are called to enter the family of God, beginning with the 3000 who were baptized following Peter's witness to the Gospel (Acts 2:41).
Whew! And I didn't even get off track...much.

Family reunion time...I'm not sure about your family, but mine is full of characters of all sorts. Most of them aren't doing hard time in a foreign prison, so I think we're doing pretty well as a group. We all live fairly different lives in different places, so how we see the world is also different, but when we get together, there is a shared history, a language that belongs to us, made up of our experiences, jokes, and crazy stories. Whatever may otherwise divide or set us apart takes a back seat to the story that unites us. I think you see where I'm going with this.
But wait! There's more!

The people who had come for Shavuot were also different families, clans, even different nations. Not everyone was a "cradle Jew" (not sure if that's a thing, but Catholics get it), and many were even Gentiles who became known as God-fearers because they came to worship the God of the Jews. There was even a section of the Temple for them called the Court of the Gentiles, which was a sign of God's promise to lead all nations to Himself. The intersection of all of these different groups is the heart of our family reunion, where many people come from any number of world views and speak their own language...literally.

The literal speaking of different languages is a byproduct of human pride way back in human history, in Gen 11:4, when the people decided to make themselves their own top priority, even trying to be equal with God. They decided to build a tower to the heavens (sorry, Led Zeppelin fans, I just can't do it), but what they ended up with was a rusty old ladder of confusion. Not concerning ourselves with issues over genre, God steps in and confuses the people, scattering them and destroying their single language, so they could not continue to cooperate to make themselves their own gods. Disaster, right? Fast forward to first century Palestine, when the tongues of fire landed on the people, and they prophesied in each man's language, the human race was now in the midst of a full-on family reunion (Acts 2). The people suddenly spoke the same language, but not because there was a single Palestinian language, but rather, the language was the story of salvation, the story of humanity's relationship with the God who pursued them endlessly, and who had now given His only Son to fulfill the covenant responsibilities, so that they may again be one family. All people were now able to hear these stories, and Peter, whose boldness now became an opportunity for witness, rather than an opportunity for reproach, proclaimed the fullness of the story of salvation history, the language meant for all people. What happened after that? Harvest. The "fishers of men" (Matt 4:19) Jesus promised his disciples they would become were now welcoming 3000 new believers into the family of God. Even our Community Sunday with the donuts and everything doesn't net those kind of numbers.

What made the difference here? The Holy Spirit lights up the hearts of Jesus' followers. Yes, some Divine inspiration helps, but it's the story that draws the people to those who proclaimed it. St. Augustine saw the importance of the story, the narratio early on, explaining that our focus isn't the minute details and long lists of doctrines and rules, but rather, "golden thread which holds together the precious stones in an ornament but does not spoil the ornament's lines by making itself too obvious," (Augustine, De Catechizandis Rudebus). The details of the ornament of our faith are certainly precious stones that enrich our relationship with God, but the foundation is the story that gives those details unity and meaning.

So next time your crazy uncle goes on about his latest conspiracy theory, or your mother takes an inventory of reasons you haven't found "the one," remember that you have a common language, a story that you share. Let it also be a reminder to you, that both the woman who keeps tapping her rosary on the pew, and the man who whispers the entire Eucharistic Prayer, they share your story and speak your common language because by your baptism, you were made brothers and sisters, one Mystical Body in Christ. Talk to them, ask their story, encourage and pray for them. Who knows, you might find you both like the same music...or maybe you're both just tired of hearing your Fr.'s same old corny jokes.

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