|This is me praying in Spanish.
19 May 2013. Solemnity of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104; 1 Cor 12:3-13; John 20:19-23
When I was missioned to the Kino Border Initiative at the US-Mexican border in 2011, I didn’t know how to speak Spanish. I could glean a few words here and there, owing to the Spanish colonial history of the Philippines. But that’s about it. Every day, I would pray the Padre Nuestro before breakfast at the comedor. Fr. Alfeo Nudas SJ, my Juniorate professor advised us, “If you are not sure, say it with confidence.” And so I tried speaking in Spanish with great confianza, but I knew understanding was not just about speaking. “Communication,” John P. Kotter said, “comes in both words and deeds, and the latter are the most powerful form.” (Leading Change)
And so I tried communicating and understanding the plight of undocumented migrants, not just through words, but in deeds. It was muy dificil, however it became less and less difficult as the days progressed. In theater, actors before the play internalized their roles. Eventually, they became the character they played. This theater background of mine was a good starting point. Embracing and internalizing my responsibility, I began to open my heart to be transformed by them.
Eventually, cooking frijoles and tortillas, praying in Spanish, washing dishes and providing assistance to both migrants and volunteers, I gradually understood. Beneath both words and deeds that seemed disconnected, we come to gain a sense of oneness, a spirit that connects us all. The women who have been victims of violence and rape need not describe to me the gory details, or the men who had been separated from their families need not explain to me their experience for me to get it. I just understood deeply. Their plight had become mine.
I believe this is Pentecost. Our discovery of humanity’s connective tissue is what we celebrate today. The disciples who have been disappointed gain new hope from renewed understanding. The barriers of division, brought about by a variety of languages, have collapsed. People from different places, began to understand the disciples who were speaking in tongues, their own tongues. No one was lost in translation.
We remember the Tower of Babel which was unfinished. There was division because they did not understand each other. They wanted to be like God so they thought they could reach God in the highest heavens. That was their folly. And so God’s punishment was to scatter them throughout the world. This was the myth that explained our different tongues, and why union among nations had been elusive.
Pentecost then is the antithesis to the Tower of Babel. We need not build a tower to reach God. It was God’s decision to come down to us and be one of us. We need not quarrel in disagreement, because the Holy Spirit that is given to us allows us to understand each other, both in words and in deeds.
And thus Pentecost celebrates communion. And people who are united in heart, mind and spirit, naturaliy becomes a church under one God-head, Jesus Christ.
This is therefore not the time to build fences. This is the right time for us to destroy them.
Globalization destroys physical divisions. The internet has broken boundaries. There are emerging global languages that would allow more people to understand each other better, beyond the division of creed, color and culture. Human categories of division such as nations and subdivisions are illusions. There are no superior races, we are all human beings, wrought from the same earth, loved by only one God.
And thus it is time. It is time to rethink what does it mean to be a parish. In the past, parishes were territorial. If one resides within the territory of the parish, then the parish priest can demand that all your faith and sacramental practices were spent within the parish.
But to assert authority today, as a feudal lord to his serfs, is not the way to go. Parishioners can now choose where they want to worship. Because modern transportation, roads and bridges have broken down boundaries. Twitter and facebook statuses and posts have popularized recommended churches with the right ingredients – short and substantial homilies, great music (which our brothers and sisters from different sects exploit to its maximum potential), and a warmer community. Today, we priests sell our wares, hoping people will buy them; before, when the next church requires a long travel by karitella, parishioners were stuck with whoever they got.
And thus on the Solemnity of Pentecost, we dream that wherever our parishioners go, they will always feel at home in whatever church they choose. In wherever part of the globe they visit, they will feel this oneness and unity. They will always get a good pastor who gives substantial inspiring homilies, good music that brings them to the lofitier ideals of meaning, purpose and division, and a warm welcoming community that embodies the one and only love of all, Jesus Christ. Is this the new Jerusalem?
After all, we all reflect on the same Scripture; we share the same stories of faith; and we are all united by one Love. Within our own differrent traditions, we Catholics are united by the Pope.
There is no reason for us then to build fences.