Pentecost, an Atonement for the Tower of Babel

Three days ago I intimated that the Most Reverend Archbishop Hebda used Holy Scripture to promote a humanist agenda divorced of theology.¹ He used the story of the Tower of Babel as a segue into “celebrating diversity,” which, if you read the story, you know is a stretch, to say the least. The diversity to which God treated the men in the story was not a gift to be celebrated but an obstacle to be lamented; He shattered their ability to communicate and scattered them across the globe, that man might not conspire with great edifices to exalt man, but in humility to exalt God.²

Far be it from me to fail to applaud round the clock for such lofty Christian virtues as Atoning for White Privilege by Naming and Pandering to Every Possible Ethnic Group, but if we’re going to proof-text the Bible to justify it, the Tower of Babel story is insufficient.

For that, we must look to the Pentecost, which yesterday we celebrated at Mass. In Christian contexts, the Pentecost was the 50th day after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the day in which the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered apostles:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter goes on to rebuke the mockers, attesting to the influence of the Holy Spirit and backing it up with prophetic scripture pointing to that very moment. He preaches Christ crucified and resurrected, and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Before the day was over, the apostles had baptized 3,000 souls; it was the first major conversion event in the history of the Church.³

Indeed one can find in the Pentecost a joyful festival of nations. The Pentecost really is an occasion to, if not outright celebrate diversity for its own sake, in the first, breathe a sigh of relief that our diversity does not hold us back from either delivering or receiving grace, and in the second, to behold and embrace each other in all our mutually foreign splendor. This truly is a gift from God.

But this observation is only of secondary or even tertiary importance in understanding the story of the Pentecost.

First and foremost, the Pentecost is a birthday party of sorts for Christ’s visible presence on the earth, the evangelizing Church. That is the true and first cause of our joy. The Pentecost commemorates the day in which the Church first began to make a sizeable dent in civilization. It recalls for us one of the Holy Spirit’s primary functions on earth: to spread the gospel. It moves us to go forth and preach the good news and baptize penitents for the forgiveness of sins, that the whole world might see God’s face.

It shows us that the Holy Spirit helps us, not to reinforce barriers, but to smash all barriers to reach those in need of God’s grace, be those barriers linguistic, cultural, geographical, or otherwise.

Secondly and perhaps of even greater importance, the Pentecost points to Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, in that it is a reunification of what was once separated. Witness: In the Tower of Babel story, God separated humanity from itself. On the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit reunited humanity to itself.

That very same theme, of separation and reunification, is also found in the complementary stories of the separation of man from God’s grace in the Garden of Eden, and the reunification therein in Christ’s crucifixion.

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Art via The Rebel God.

Maybe it was that very exegesis that His Excellency Archbishop Hebda was driving at in his homily three nights ago; he was just three days ahead of schedule. I would like to extend him that benefit of the doubt.

Still, it must be reported that yesterday’s priest (whom I will not name, because he is not an archbishop) did not even touch upon the main idea of the Pentecost, namely that evangelization (yes, using words) is a blessed vocation which Christians are called to emulate according to Jesus’ instructions and in view of 2,000 years of apostolic Church teaching.

And really, why would he? The post-conciliar Church isn’t about evangelizing. It’s about sweeping under the rug the inconvenient truths of the historic Magisterium, such that Holy Mother Church might more faithfully resemble the empty shapelessness of modernism, all in the name of ecumenism.

Nevertheless, I experience no cognitive dissonance in admitting that yesterday’s Mass was a lovely celebration of the Pentecost. I extend my due expressions of gratitude to the priest and all those who make Mass happen. My parish does a wonderful job at liturgy, and there was nothing offensive about the service aside from what it lacked.

Also, you can’t beat this worship aid for artistic merit:

 

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Pentecost by John August Swanson.

 

Notes:

  1. “At Hebda Reception, Diversity Trumps Substance”; The Cynic Testifies.
  2. “The Tower of Babel” (Gen. 11:1-9); Revised Standard Version; Bible Gateway.
  3. “The Coming of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2); Revised Standard Version; Bible Gateway.
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