In the last several years, there has been a gradual change in how countries, and even individuals, define themselves and their place in the world. Policies that promote separation and “walls” show a tendency to divide humanity by defining one another as either “them” or “us” and having one objective in mind – to keep “them” out and to protect what is “ours.” I’m not immune to this attitude even in my own life, as I find myself more adamant about protecting “my personal space” and “me time.” The result of this changing global attitude may be the cause of the latest mental health statistics pointing to “loneliness” as the fastest growing health problem we will be facing in the near future.
Each of the readings we hear today for the feast of Pentecost point us in a completely opposite direction to this trend toward isolation and individualistic desires. Every reading calls us to seek out and create community that works together as one unit to meet the needs of its members and the world beyond this community. It is the mandate of anyone who wishes to be an authentic follower of Christ. Without a sense of community interconnectedness, we cannot truly be holy. “Me-only” salvation isn’t even an option.
When the Holy Spirit descended upon the room of frightened disciples who were cowering behind locked doors on that first Pentecost, the disciples “began to speak in other languages,” and people “from every nation under heaven,” who heard them speak, heard them in their own language. Language represented all that divided the Jewish community of Jerusalem; all that prevented them from being in communion with one another. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they became united by one message of God’s love and salvation for the world.
St. Paul describes the removal of those barriers between God’s people in an even more intimate way. He calls the emerging group of followers of Jesus, the Body of Christ. Like the individual parts of a human body, this new community was made up of different “members” who had different gifts and abilities. They would only become truly holy and effective if they saw themselves as one body and respecting and acknowledging the gifts of one another. Only by working together would they be able to live out the mission Jesus asked of them; to become the embodiment of Jesus’ love and forgiveness in the world around them.
In the gospel, Christ reminds the disciples that the gifts he has breathed into them were not to be saved for their own personal salvation, but he sent them out into the world to share those gifts. The love and forgiveness that Christ freely bestowed upon them, they must now give out with the same generosity. Pentecost reminds us that we were never meant to live out our faith alone or that we are to be concerned only with our own, personal salvation. The strength of our own faith and value of our own salvation must be defined by our interdependence and responsibility to the rest of humanity. As Sr. Mary McGlone says in “Celebration,” “Pentecost proclaims that God created our diversity to enrich us, so that understanding one another would lead us to grow in community with all of God’s beloved.”