As Christ Incarnated restores to human dignity the first man Adam, so Pentecost restores human unity to the disruption of Babel. Language, that means and measure of human communion, was the undoing of humanity at Babel. Again, just as in Eden, the motive was the aspiration of humankind to its own deification. The response from Heaven is to destroy the attempt. For, as God knows, as Satan knows well, and as man himself knows in times of truthfulness, in sobriety and humility, nothing is so calamitous for man as the loss of God. But in pride, drunk on self-worship, we forget what is most basic to our existence: We cannot both have God and be God. We must choose.
At Pentecost, miraculously, every man understood the word of God in his own language, for at Pentecost, the Apostles were endowed with that power to speak to men’s hearts in the language of Heaven. And those who had ears to hear did indeed hear.
And what does this mean on this plane where we live now? Locally, we have a young Polish priest in our parish, who took on the difficult task of learning our language. He speaks English fluently. He also speaks Spanish fluently—because we have a large Spanish-speaking population in our parish as well. He intends to be our shepherd and knows that he must speak the language of the sheep if they are to hear and know his voice.
On a broader plane, our popes have learned many languages and have spoken them fluently, albeit with the accent of their native tongue. They want to be our shepherd. Benedict XVI is multi-lingual, and I read somewhere that Pope St John Paul II spoke 14 languages! They never spoke to their sheep in a tongue foreign to them. The exception is Pope Francis, who refuses to speak English even to audiences composed entirely of English-speakers.
But those who want to deny Pentecost and embrace Babel have more than one means at their disposal. There is also the homicide called “stone-walling.” As everyone now knows, the real horror of the priest scandals, apart from the abuse of minors by priests, was the stone-walling by the bishops. Concerned entirely with self-protection and the maintenance of public image, they refused even to hear the cries of the victims; they denied them their very reality in order to deny the truth. What is that but to consign them to non-existence? And is that not murder? Strong word—but not to those who are victimized by this evil.
That works on a local level too. So many parish priests run from their parishioners, refusing to hear them, to talk to them, to engage with them. They deliver homilies from their safe distance, and they consent to hear confessions when they’re forced into spending the time for it. Otherwise, they keep to themselves, they socialize with each other, or with a small group of parishioners who, for one reason or another—it doesn’t finally matter—manage to be in the priest’s circle of friends. Few parishioners actually know their priests at all. They are stone-walled by their priests—whose habit is to pretend they’re not there so they’ll go away, they’ll disappear, they’ll cease to be. Buffered by deacons, sundry assistants, they claim overwork and intimidate those who seek them out and make them feel small.
And indeed, how many of us do that to each other? Ignore someone who’s a problem, who presents a difficulty we don’t want to deal with, or someone who has something to say that we don’t want to hear. And then, if they’re persistent, we can always find self-righteous reasons to condemn them for speaking…. accuse them of gossiping…or, down where I live, of not being “nice”…accuse them of anything that will allow us to shame them into silence.