Sorry for the late post this week. Saturday I worked for hours, and got lost in all the amazing readings, in the Old Missal and the New, for the Vigil and Ember Days, and all the rest. Sunday I stay away from the computer. Monday I had a kid in the hospital. Today I’m finally ready to focus on the Sunday readings.
Bishops who were there called Vatican II a “new Pentecost.” Like Pentecost, it is misunderstood.
From my recent reading I have come to appreciate the comparison. They were not saying that Vatican II was really exciting, or a new beginning, or the birth of the Holy Spirit.
They were saying something specific. At Pentecost, the Church went out to all the nations because the Church learned from the Holy Spirit to speak all their languages. Both literally and figuratively, Vatican II is a new Pentecost because Vatican II put the Liturgy in the vernacular.
Let me trace this dynamic through last Sunday’s readings.
In the reading from Acts 2, there are two parts. In the second part, pilgrims from many nations say of the Apostles, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?” It is exactly parallel to Our Lady of Gaudalupe: “Isn’t Jesus the God of the Spaniards? How then does his mother appear as one of us?”
“Yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
Notice that they are not speaking in our own tongues whatever makes us comfortable. That is not why the Church uses the vernacular. They are speaking “of the mighty acts of God”: the vernacular is important because it allows people to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And that is the subject of the first part of our reading. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” It is the power of the Spirit, not the power of human accommodation. They speak in tongues – but tongues of fire. They speak, but – the pun is obvious in Greek – they speak not with human breath, with the breath of God, a strong driving wind (in Greek, “breath”) breathed into them from outside.
Pentecost isn’t about dumbing things down. It is about the Spirit transcending our weakness.
So too in 1 Corinthians 12. The Gospel transcends “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons.” “Jews or Greeks”: that means insiders and outsiders, and it means different cultures. You don’t have to speak Latin, or be European, or a Spaniard, or brought up and educated as part of the club. “Slaves or free persons”: and you don’t have to be rich and powerful.
But why not? Again, not because we dumb things down; that is not the meaning of Pentecost or Vatican II. Unity comes by the power of Baptism, the work of Christ and his Holy Spirit: “we were all baptized into one body.” The Unity is the Unity of the Body of Christ: “all the parts of the body.”
And we are talking only about the Spirit who lets us say, “Jesus is Lord.” Vernacular is about proclaiming Jesus, not about affirming difference for its own sake. “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts” – “but the same God who produces all of them,” and they are all “given for some benefit.” It is Jesus building up his body. The Gospel is preached in many languages by the power of Jesus building up the Body of the Church.
And then we had John 20. “The doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews.” There are different ways to deal with the divisions in the world. One way is to lock yourself up, to build barriers and set yourself apart from the world. (This is a popular reading of the “Benedict Option,” though I don’t think Rod Dreher, or St. Benedict, or Pope Benedict, would read it that way.)
But Jesus bursts through their doors. And though preachers often focus on the “fear” and so assume that Jesus’s gift must be courage, what he says, twice, is “Peace.” He gives them the peace of his presence within them. The peace to face martyrdom. The peace which binds people together.
He shows them his hands and his side, invites them to find peace in his Cross. Again, not to paper over differences and try to be popular, but to set aside fear by being united to him, by the proclamation of his
And he breathes on them, giving the ministry of forgiveness – above all, the ministry of Confession. But his words are tough: not, “don’t worry, everyone’s going to heaven, forget about sin,” but “whose sins you retain are retained.” They have a saving mission, a power that only Jesus can give, to work for the reconciliation of man with man and man with God, to give the peace that only Jesus can give.
Christianity – and Pentecost, and the right response to Vatican II – isn’t about locking ourselves behind closed doors. But neither is it about capitulating to the culture. It is about the power of Christ, staking everything on the power of the Gospel, proclaimed to all nations, to build up one body.
Do you lock yourself behind closed doors? Why?