One of the quotes on my office wall is from St. John XXIII as he opened the Second Vatican Council:
We are not gathered here to argue the truths of faith, they have been passed down from
generation to generation. We are here to figure out how we can transmit the faith to
tomorrow’s men and women in such a way that will penetrate their consciences and
thereby move consciences to live by faith!
This came to me as I reflected on the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit, which we find in our first reading for the Feast of Pentecost this Sunday (Acts 2:1-11). There are so many remarkable things in that account that Luke gives us! There is that “noise like a strong driving wind” that drew a crowd to where the apostles were. Then there was the appearance of “tongues as of fire” that descended on each of the apostles. And there is just the fact that these apostles, who not long before this, locked themselves in an upper room out of fear, are now going out, boldly proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to anyone who was listening!
But what struck me more than anything, I guess because of the times in which we are living, is that when the apostles came out and spoke to the crowd, everyone in the crowd could understand them, even though they came from different parts of the world, and spoke different languages. Maybe you could say it was a miracle of communication, even without Google Translate and Zoom and Skype, and all the rest.
We believe that at our baptism we, too, received the Holy Spirit, which was confirmed at our confirmation. And so, we, too, are called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our challenge is to proclaim the Gospel in such a way, following John XXIII, that people can understand.
But in order to speak in a way that makes sense to people, we need to listen to them. In our politics, and in our “culture wars,” there doesn’t seem to be much value placed on listening to the “other.” But how can I truly communicate with you unless I am willing to listen as well as speak, and to be impacted by what I hear?
In the Gospel reading option for Cycle B (John 15:26-27, 16:12-15), Jesus says to His disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” It has been my experience that the more I listen to those whose experience and background and culture are different from mine, that I gain in understanding and knowledge of the truth.
And so I wonder, at this time in our history, that, as the Holy Spirit is moving us to be witnesses to the love of God in Jesus Christ, that we are also being called to listen and to serve, so that our testimony may be better understood and accepted.
May we be found, in the words of those listening to the apostles, speaking of “the mighty acts of God.”
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.