Sunday, June 1, 2014


Pentecost is an amazing feast. My dad used to say that society has it backwards. We celebrate Christmas really big, Easter is a lot less, then Pentecost is just a whimper. His idea was that Pentecost should be the biggest feast. Easter should be next. Christmas should be minor by comparison. That is because the feasts build on each other. They build to a climax and that climax is reached when the Holy Spirit is poured out on a new church. 

The Catholic church is a bit different. It sees Easter as bigger than Christmas for sure. Pentecost is part of Easter. That feast lasts the whole 50 days and more. The Ascension and Pentecost are just the aftermath of the Easter victory. They make clear just how big a deal the resurrection was. Jesus not only breaks the power of sin and death. He also opens the door to heaven. Last week we saw that means we can go to heaven. This week we see that heaven can come to us. Mind boggling. All the power of God is available to us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus made it possible. Now the Holy Spirit makes it actual. 

The readings are interesting. There are 4 options for the first reading. Each one emphasizes something different about Pentecost. I shall just talk about one. That is the Tower of Babel. Scott Hahn explains a little of what is going on: 

From this bad line, came the nations who tried to build the Tower of Babel in order "to make a name [Hebrew = shem] for themselves" (Genesis 11:1-9). In other words, they were trying to build a kind of "counter-kingdom" to stand against the name of God. 
As an aside: it’s interesting to note that in Genesis there seems to be a connection between the "name" (shem) and a person’s relationship with God. The big sinners in Genesis - beginning with Adam and Eve who fall for Satan’s promise of being "like gods" - all seem to be trying to make a name for themselves, to exalt themselves, to live as if they don’t need God. 
Think back to Cain. When he builds a city, what does he do? He "names" it after his son, Enoch (see Genesis 4:17). That’s all the builders of the Tower of Babel were doing. Trying to glorify their name, their works. 
The righteous ones in Genesis don’t try to exalt their name. Instead, they rejoice in the blessings of God - they "call on the name of the Lord." While Cain is glorifying his name, his righteous brother Seth is hallowing the Lord’s name, seeking His blessing (see Genesis 4:26).
So what we see in the aftermath of the flood is the renewed people. What do they want to do with the new graces they have been given? They try and create something to compete with God. They build a city and a tower with its top to the sky. 

God looks and sees that man needs to have his wings clipped. He is to powerful and will not humble himself before God. It is a question of our technology getting ahead or our morality and our spirituality. As Spiderman says, "With great power comes great responsibility." They lacked the responsibility so God took away their power. The way He did it was by confusing their language. 

What happened at Babel because of a lesser grace is somewhat reversed at Pentecost when the greater grace of the Holy Spirit arrives. The languages are still confused but the Holy Spirit intervenes to make communication possible. Mankind can be united without being corrupted. 

We see a similar thing happening with some of the Jewish rituals. Thinks like being circumcised or not eating pork or not working on the Sabbath. They served to protect the Jewish people from the influence of gentiles. It was important under the old covenant. The new covenant was stronger. They no longer needed those walls to keep gentile thinking from overwhelming it. It was now strong enough to take on the gentile culture and win. That is what eventually happened with Constantine making the Roman Empire Christian.

This continues to happen. We see human power increasing. Technology allows humans to do things they never could before. We need the grace to be able to handle the power without destroying ourselves morally and spiritually. We seem to be struggling. Advances in genetic engineering and reproductive technologies allow us to do more good and more evil. Smart phones are great but they can enable your kids to watch porn on a playground. Knowledge of evolution and brain chemistry is fascinating but it can tempt a person towards atheism. We need the Holy Spirit to keep us growing in grace as we grow in technology. 

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