Benedict XVI’s homily stresses the contrast between Pentecost and Babel. “Unity can only exist as a gift of God’s Spirit, which will give us a new heart and a new tongue, a new ability to communicate.” On 7 October, at the start of the Synod of Bishops, he will proclaim Saint John of Ávila and Saint Hildegard of Bingen, doctors of the universal Church.
Vatican City – Pentecost, the “baptism of the Church’, is the feast of unity, of understanding God’s choice, against those who “believe they are so powerful they can build their own way to heaven in order to open the gates and put themselves in God’s place.” Benedict XVI stressed this dualism between Pentecost and “Babel” on the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles, a day in which he announced that at the start of the next Synod of Bishop, he will proclaim Saint John of Ávila and Saint Hildegard of Bingen, doctors of the universal Church.
“Pentecost,” the pontiff said during the Mass he celebrated this morning in Saint Peter’s Basilica, “is the feast of human unity, understanding and sharing. We can all see how in our world, despite us being closer to one another through developments in communications, with geographical distances that seemingly disappear-understanding and sharing among people is often superficial and difficult. There are imbalances that frequently lead to conflicts; dialogue between generations is hard and differences sometimes prevail; we witness daily events where people appear to be growing more aggressive and belligerent; understanding one another takes too much effort and people prefer to remain inside their own sphere, cultivating their own interests.”
This is the opposite of the “unity” that, following today’s Biblical readings, led the pope to mention Babel, “a kingdom in which people have concentrated so much power they think they no longer need to depend on a God who is far away. They believe they are so powerful that they can build their own way to heaven in order to open the gates and put themselves in God’s place. But it is precisely at this moment that something strange and unusual happens. While they are working to build the tower, they suddenly realise they are working against one another. Whilst trying to be like God, they run the risk of not even being human-because they’ve lost an essential element of being human: the ability to agree, understand one another and work together.”
“This biblical story contains an eternal truth: we see this truth throughout history and in our own time as well. Progress and science have given us the power to dominate the forces of nature, to manipulate the elements, to reproduce living things, almost to the point of manufacturing humans themselves. In this situation, praying to God appears outmoded, pointless, because we can build and create whatever we want. We don’t realise we are reliving the same experience as Babel. It’s true, we have multiplied the possibilities of communicating, of possessing information, of transmitting news – but can we say our ability to understand each other has increased? Or, paradoxically, do we understand each other even less? Doesn’t it seem like feelings of mistrust, suspicion and mutual fear have insinuated themselves into human relationships to the point where one person can even pose a threat to another? Let’s go back to the initial question: can unity and harmony really exist? How?”
“The answer lies in Sacred Scripture: unity can only exist as a gift of God’s Spirit, which will give us a new heart and a new tongue, a new ability to communicate. This is what happened at Pentecost.
“But let’s look at today’s Gospel in which Jesus says, ‘When he comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to the whole truth’ (John, 16:13). Speaking about the Holy Spirit, Jesus is explaining to us what the Church is and how she must live in order to be herself, to be the place of unity and communion in Truth; he tells us that acting like Christians means not being closed inside our own spheres, but opening ourselves towards others; it means welcoming the whole Church within ourselves or, better still, allowing the Church to welcome us. So, when I speak, think and act like a Christian, I don’t stay closed off within myself-but I do so in everything and starting from everything: thus the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of unity and truth, can continue to resonate in people’s hearts and minds, encouraging them to meet and welcome one another. Precisely because it acts in this way, the Spirit introduces us to the whole truth, who is Jesus, and guides us to examine and understand it. We do not grow in understanding by closing ourselves off inside ourselves, but only by becoming capable of listening and sharing, in the “ourselves” of the Church, with an attitude of deep personal humility. Now it is clearer why Babel is Babel and Pentecost is Pentecost. Where people want to become God, they succeed only in pitting themselves against each other. Where they place themselves within the Lord’s truth, on the other hand, they open themselves to the action of his Spirit, which supports and unites them.
During the Regina Caeli after the Mass, addressing the 30,000 people present in St Peter’s Square, the pope said, “The Spirit, who spoke ‘through the prophets’, with the gift of knowledge and science continues to inspire women and men who engage in the pursuit of truth, proposing original path towards knowledge and greater understanding of the mystery of God, man and the world. In this contest, I am happy to announce that this coming 7 October, at the start of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, I shall proclaim Saint John of Ávila and Saint Hildegard of Bingen, doctors of the universal Church. These two great witnesses of the faith lived in very different historical periods and came from different cultural backgrounds. Hildegard was a Benedictine nun at the height of the Middle Ages, a true teacher of theology, and a major scholar in the natural sciences and music. John, a diocesan priest during the Spanish Renaissance, took part in the work of cultural and religious renewal of the Church and society at the dawn of modernity. But the sanctity of life and depth of teaching makes them perpetually present: the grace of the Holy Spirit, in fact, projected them into that experience of penetrating understanding of divine revelation and intelligent dialogue with the world that constitutes the horizon of permanent life and action of the Church.”
“Especially in light of the project of the New Evangelisation, to which the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be dedicated, and on the vigil of the Year of Faith, these two figures of saints and doctors are of considerable importance and relevance. Even in our day and age, through their teachings, the Spirit of the Risen Lord continues to resonate in his voice and enlighten the way that leads to the only Truth that can make us free and give full meaning to our life.”