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Archbishop Follo: The Unity of Pentecost Defeats the Division of Babel

With the wish that the Holy Spirit descend on us and He give us the freedom of true love.

Pentecost – Year B – May 20, 2018

Roman Rite
Acts 2, 1-11; Ps 104; Gal 5.16-25; Jn 15, 26-27; 16.12 to 1

Ambrosian Rite
Acts 2, 1-11; Ps 104; 1Cor 12.1-11; Jn 14: 15-20

1) From the tower of Babel to the Upper Room of Pentecost.

The first reading (Acts 2: 1-11) of this Sunday of Pentecost is taken from the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of Pentecost, bearing in the background the story of the Tower of Babel (cf. Gen 11,1-9).

What does the narration of the construction of the Tower of Babel imply? It is the description of a kingdom in which men, in order to replace God with themselves had acquired so much power to think of being able to construct a way that would lead to heaven to open its doors. However, precisely in this situation, something unexpected occurred. While the men were working together to build the tower, they suddenly realized to be working against each other. While trying to be like God without God’s help, they became losing their man’s status ruining the fact of being created in the image and likeness of God Communion. They had lost a fundamental element of being human: the ability to agree, to understand each other and to work together.

This account of the Old Testament contains a perennial truth that Cardinal Henri de Lubac summarized as follows: “One can build a city without God, but it will always be against man”.

We can see the truth of this statement recalling the distant and recent history of humanity. With the progress of science and technology, we have acquired the power to dominate the forces of nature to manipulate the elements and to manufacture living creatures reaching almost the ability of creating new human beings. In this situation, praying to God seems like something outdated and useless because we can build and realize everything we want without God’s help. However, the chaos and the evil that derive from it make us realize that we are reliving the same experience of the Babel’s Tower.

The unity that men wanted to build in Babel is a project of unity decided by man and whose aim is the glory of man: ”  “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky,* and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.” “(Gn 11: 4). It is a project of unity born from the will of power and fame, that is to say, from pride.

Instead, at Pentecost, the Spirit, with the gift of tongues, shows that his presence unites and transforms confusion into communion. Man’s pride and selfishness always create divisions and raise walls of indifference, hatred and violence. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit makes the hearts capable of understanding the languages of all because it re-establishes the bridge of authentic communication between the Earth and Heaven. The Holy Spirit is Love. The Church, more than the new Babel, is the anti-Babel vivified by the fire of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

If we want Pentecost not to be reduced to a simple ritual or to a suggestive commemoration but be an actual event of salvation, we must beg for the gift of the Holy Spirit, putting us in humble and silent listening to the Word of God and, perhaps, repeating often the recitation “Come, Holy Spirit, Come through Mary”.

On this day of Pentecost, like the Blessed Virgin, we must totally open ourselves to this Gift of God and welcome it into ourselves. May all our humanity be attracted by the Word becoming one body with Christ and living in unity with Christ the Lord, and may our whole life be transfigured and become pure love: love for God and love for our brothers and sisters.

To make Pentecost renew itself in us today, we must be less “engaged” in activities and more dedicated to prayer because the more we will be united to God, the more we will be united among ourselves in the cenacle of the Church, which proclaims that Christ is the center of the world.

If, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we pass from the Babel of egoism to the Pentecost of Love, we will “decentralize ourselves and re-focus on God” (see Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) and aggregate in joyful and strong communion.

With his gift the Holy Spirit assembles the human being in unity, as St. Irenaeus taught: “Man has escaped the hands of God with sin, but behold, the hands of God return man and shape him again and again. The hands of God are the Word and the Holy Spirit “. These hands, to restore unity, must also take each one of us to be shaped again according to the image of God. “Dispersed and interiorly divided, it is for the love of God and in the love of God that we will be recomposed in perfect unity so that our body responds to the spirit, the law of our body does not conflict the law of our spirit and all our being is consumed in divine praise and in love “(Divo Barsotti).

2) The Pentecost of and with Mary.

Saint Luke carefully describes the nucleus of the first community awaiting Pentecost: “All these (the eleven apostles) were assiduous and unanimous in prayer, together with some women and with Mary, mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1.14). Therefore, there are four categories of persons present in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost:

1- The apostles, who are the pillars of the nascent Church. They, who met the resurrected Jesus in Galilee (see Mk 14: 27-28), returned to Jerusalem to wait for the Spirit according to the promise of Jesus during the last supper (see Lk 24: 42-49, 4-5).

2- The women. It is probable that these are the women mentioned by St. Luke in the Gospel as present at the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Lk 8: 1-3; 23.49.55; 24.10). The group of pious women was not less sensitive than the rest of the first Pentecost Assembly to the descent of the God who showed himself as fire. The love that held them at the foot of the cross of Jesus and led them first to the Sepulcher on Easter morning, was ignited with new ardor. The tongue of fire has stopped above each one of them and also they will be eloquent in speaking of the Master to the Jews and to the Pagans.

3- Mary. She is the only woman presented with her name and with her status: “Mother of Jesus“. With her presence, which bears witness to the historical reality of the incarnation, she is the element of continuity between the birth of Christ and the birth of the Church, both works of the Spirit.

4- The brothers of Jesus, that is, his relatives, who have gone from an initial disbelief to the faith in the Risen One, especially when he appears to James, as St. Paul recalls (see 1 Cor 15: 7). Then the family mourning the death of Jesus is transformed into the Easter joy.

It is on the presence of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ, in the Cenacle the day of Pentecost that I would like to share further, brief reflections.

Let’s imagine being present in the Upper Room with Mary, more than ever “Full of Grace”. As in the day of the Annunciation, she is filled with the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1:35).  On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit “spreads out his shadow “on the nascent Church, because under his breath it receives the strength to” proclaim the great works of God “(see Acts 2:11). What at the incarnation had taken place in Mary’s womb, now finds a new implementation[1].

A new mission begins through the Mother of Christ. We can say that on this day the Church is generated by her. From Mary, the Bride of her Son is born to the world, and new duties await her. Jesus has now ascended into Heaven and left his Mother on earth so that she could offer her maternal care to the nascent Church, his mystical Body. It is moving and comforting to know that the nascent Church is welcomed into Mary’s arms, nurtured by her, and supported by her from its first steps in the world. The tongue of fire that has rested on the head of Mary will not let her speak in public but will make her speak to the Apostles, guiding and consoling them in their mission as evangelizers.

The Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of the Church (On March 3, 2018, Pope Francis has established that the obligatory memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church is being celebrated every Monday of Pentecost), dedicates herself to this new maternal mission.  May the new liturgical feast desired by Pope Francis increase the growth of the motherly sense of the Church.

In this context, may the Consecrated Virgins, who with their complete gift of themselves to Christ and with an exemplary life live a spiritual motherhood in joy, be of example: “Rejoice, virgins of Christ: the mother of Christ is your sister. You could not be mothers of Christ in the flesh, but you did not want to be mothers for the love of Christ. He who was not born from you was born for you. However, if you remember his words – and you must remember them – you are also his mothers because you do the will of his Father “(St. Augustine, Discourse 192).

It is a spiritual motherhood lived in the service of charity and in prayer, which is dialogue. In fact, in the dialogue with God, they open themselves to the dialogue with all the people they meet and of whom they are mothers, mothers of the children of God (see Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins, 29).

 

Patristic reading

Saint Augustin of Hippo (354 – 4309

Sermon XCIV

 On the same words of the gospel Jn 16, 8 “He will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”

1. When our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was speaking at length of the coming of the Holy Ghost, He said among the rest, “He shall convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”1 Nor when He had said this, did He pass on to another subject; but vouchsafed to convey a somewhat more explicit notice of this same truth. “Of sin,” said He, “because they believed not on Me. Of righteousness, because I go to the Father. Of judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged already.”2 There arises therefore within us a desire of understanding, why as if it were men’s only sin, not to believe in Christ, He said it of this alone, that the Holy Ghost should convince the world; but if it is plain that besides this unbelief there are manifold other sins of men, why of this alone should the Holy Ghost convince the world? Is it because all sins are by unbelief retained, by faith remitted; that therefore God imputeth this one above all the rest, by which it comes to pass that the rest are, not loosed, so long as proud man believes not in a Humbled God? For so it is written; “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”3 Now this grace of God is a gift of God. But the greatest gift is the Holy Ghost Himself; and therefore is it called grace. Forasmuch “as all had sinned, and needed the glory of God; because by one man sin entered into the world, and death by his son in whom all have sinned;”4, therefore, is it grace because given gratuitously. And therefore is it given gratuitously, because it is not rendered as a reward alter a strict scrutiny of deserts, but given as a gift after the pardon of sins.

2. Therefore of sin are unbelievers, that is, the lovers of the world, convinced; for they are signified by the name of the world. For when it is said, “He will convince the world of sin;” it is of none other sin than that they have not believed on Christ. For if this sin exist not, no sins will remain, because when the just man lives by faith, all are loosed. Now the difference is great as to whether one believe that Jesus is Christ, or whether he believe in Christ. For that Jesus is Christ even the devils believed, and yet the devils believed not on Christ. For he believeth on Christ, who both hopeth in Christ and loveth Christ. For if he have faith without hope and love, he believeth that Christ is, but he doth not believe in Christ. Whoso then believeth on Christ, by believing in Christ, Christ cometh unto him, and in a manner uniteth Himself to him, and he is made a member of His Body. Which cannot be, but by the accession of hope and love.

3. What mean again His words, “Of righteousness, because I go to the Father “? And first must we enquire, if the world is convinced of sin, why it is also of righteousness? For who can rightly, be convinced of righteousness? Is it indeed that the world is convinced of its own sin, but of Christ’s righteousness? I do not see what else call be understood; since He saith, “Of sin, because they believed not on Me. Of righteousness, because I go to the Father.” They believed not, He goeth to the Father. Their sin therefore, and His righteousness. But why would He name righteousness in this only, that He goeth to the Father? Is it not righteousness also that He came hither from the Father? Or is that rather mercy, that He came from the Father to us, and righteousness, that He goeth to the Father?

4. So, Brethren, I think it expedient, that in so profound a depth of Scripture, in words, wherein peradventure there lies some hidden truth which may in due season be laid open, we should as it were together enquire faithfully, that we may attain5 to find healthfully. Why then doth He call this righteousness, in that He goeth to the Father, and not also in that He came from the Father? Is it that in that it is mercy that He came, therefore it is righteousness that He goeth? that so in our own case too we may learn that righteousness cannot be fulfilled in us, if we are slow to give a place first6 to mercy, “not seeking our own things, but the things of others also.” Which advice when the Apostle had given, he immediately joined to it the example of our Lord Himself; “Doing nothing,” saith he, “through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind, each esteeming the other better than themselves. Not looking every man on his own things, but also on the things of others.” Then he added immediately, “Let this mind be in each of you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the Form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man; He humbled Himself, having become obedient even unto death, yea the death of the cross.”7 This is the mercy whereby He came from the Father. What then is the righteousness whereby He goeth to the Father? He goes on and says; “Wherefore God also hath exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name; that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the Glory of God the Father.” This is the righteousness whereby He goeth to the Father.

5. But if He Alone goeth to the Father, what doth it profit us? Why is the world convinced by the Holy Ghost of this righteousness? And yet if He did not Alone go to the Father, He would not say in another place, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He That descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven.”8 But the Apostle Paul also says, “For our conversation is in heaven.”9 And why is this? Because he also says, “If ye be risen with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Mind the things which are above, not those which are upon the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”10 How then is He Alone? Is He therefore Alone because Christ with all His members is One, as the Head with His Body? Now what is His Body, but the Church? As the same teacher says, “Now ye are the Body of Christ, and members in particular.”11 Forasmuch then as we have fallen, and He descended for our sakes, what is, “No man hath ascended, but He That descended;” but that no man hath ascended, except as made one with Him, and as a member fastened into His Body who descended? And thus He saith to His disciples, “Without Me ye can do nothing.”12 For in one way is He One with the Father, and in another one with us. He is One with the Father, in that the Substance of the Father and the Son is One; He is One with the Father, in that, “Being in the Form of God, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” But He was made One with us, in that “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant;” He was made one with us, according to the seed of Abraham, “in whom all nations shall be blessed.” Which place when the Apostle had brought forward, he said, “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy Seed, which is Christ.”13 And for that we too belong to that which is Christ, by our incorporation together, and coherence to That Head, It is One Christ. And also for that he says to us too, “Therefore are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.”14 For if the seed of Abraham be One, and That One Seed of Abraham can only be understood of Christ; but this seed of Abraham we also are; therefore This Whole, that is, the Head and the Body, is One Christ.

6. And therefore we ought not to deem ourselves separated from that righteousness, which the Lord Himself makes mention of, saying, “Of righteousness, because I go to the Father.” For we too have risen with Christ, and we are with Christ our Head, now for a while15 by faith and hope; but our hope will be completed in the last resurrection of the dead. But when our hope shall be completed, then shall our justification be completed also. And the Lord who was to complete it showed us in His Own Flesh (that is, in our Head), Wherein He rose again and ascended to the Father, what we ought to hope for. For that thus it is written, “He was delivered for our sins, and rose again for our justification.”16 The world then is convinced “of sin” in those who believe not in Christ; “and of righteousness,” in those who rise again in the members of Christ. Whence it is said, “That we may be the righteousness of God in him.”17 For if not in Him, in no way righteousness. But if in Him, He goeth with us Whole to the Father, and this perfect righteousness will be fulfilled in us. And therefore “of judgment” too is the world convinced, “because the prince of this world hath been judged already;” that is, the devil, the prince of the unrighteous, who in heart inhabit only in this world which they love, and therefore are called “the world;” as our conversation is in heaven, if we have risen again with Christ. Therefore as Christ together with us, that is His Body, is One; so the devil with all the ungodly whose head he is, with as it were his own body, is one. Wherefore as we are not separated from the righteousness, of which the Lord said, “Because I go to the Father;” so the ungodly are not separated from that judgment, of which He said, “Because the prince of this world hath been judged already.”

1 (Jn 16,8
2 (Jn 16,9-11.
3 (Pr 3,34 Jc 4,6
4 (Rm 3,23 Rm 5,12.
Mereamur).
Praerogare.
7 (Ph 2,3 etc.
8 (Jn 3,13
9 (Ph 3,20
10 (Col 3,1-3.
11 (1Co 12,27
12 (Jn 15,5
13 (Ga 3,16
14 (Ga 3,29
15 Interim.
16 (Rm 4,25
17 (2Co 5,21).

[1] In the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater at number 24, St. John Paul II emphasizes the role of the Virgin Mary in the birth of the Church and reveals a continuity of Mary’s motherhood: “In the economy of grace, implemented under the action of the Holy Spirit, there is a singular correspondence between the moment of the incarnation of the Word and that of the birth of the Church. The person who unites these two moments is Mary: Mary in Nazareth and Mary in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. In both cases, her discreet but essential presence indicates the way of birth from the Spirit. Thus, she who is present in the mystery of Christ as a mother becomes – by the will of the Son and by the work of the Holy Spirit – present in the mystery of the Church

About Francesco Follo

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