Pentecost: That they may be one


“Today we feel the wind beneath our wings,

Today the hidden fountain flows and plays,

Today the church draws breath at last and sings,

As every flame becomes a tongue of praise.

This is the feast of Fire, Air and Water,

Poured out and breathed and kindled into Earth.

The Earth itself awakens to her maker,

Translated out of death and into birth.

The right words come in their right order

And every word spells freedom and release.

Today the gospel crosses every border,

All tongues are loosened by the Prince of peace.

Today the lost are found in his translation,

Whose mother tongue is love, in every nation”.

Malcolm Guite

The events of Pentecost are portrayed graphically in the beautiful painting of the scene by the 16thcentury Greco-Spanish artist El Greco. The original is to be found in the Prado Museum in Madrid. My favourite gallery in the museum is dedicated to the work of this great artist. (In second place is the Goya Room with the brilliant portrayals of the Spanish Royal Family in the 18thcentury).

El Greco’s Pentecost is much more sedate than the scene described in the Acts of the Apostles:

“Now there were devout men from every nation under heaven. Parthians, Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:1-11)

It sounds like the maelstrom of people invading Cardiff for a Rugby International or the major boxing tournament on Holy Saturday night.  But the purpose of the visitors to Jerusalem was different. It was to celebrate the great Jewish festival fifty after the feast of Passover.

Into this excitement there is injected another fantastic and ecstatic experience – a mighty wind and tongues of flame settling on the heads of the apostles who then proceed to speaking in tongues in such a way that people from every tribe and nation understand what they are speaking about. Nothing less than the wonders of God.

This, for me, is the real lesson of Pentecost. The gift that God’s Spirit offers is that of understanding that the particular becomes universal, that God reveals himself not just to individuals but to the whole human race. The gift of Pentecost overcomes the curse of Babel when, in the Book of Genesis chapter 11 verses 1-9, we read  arrogant men think they can build a tower reaching to heaven in order to re-create God in their own image and likeness. They are destroyed by the babble of different languages and conflicting instructions, lacking the unity which must lie at the heart of any wholesome and worthwhile activity.

The gift of understanding is an invitation to listen and learn, not to be so preoccupied with our own view and opinion, making judgments about the culture and practices of others, judging by appearances only, not listening to what is really being communicated. These lessons are particularly important in an age of instant communication when information flows backwards and forwards making it hard to digest. Words and language which are meant to be tools of communication can easily become weapons of antagonism and war and breakdown in society. The story of the Tower of Babel is a reminder that often we are captives of our own languages, divided by our inability to hear and be heard, to understand or be understood. The breakdown of communication, with all that implies, lies at the heart of so much of the disfunction we experience around us and within us.

One of the identifying marks of the Church is that it is One. People from every nation, background, culture are bound together through Faith and Baptism. This communion is expressed ultimately whenever we come together to celebrate Mass and become “One Body in Christ”. We are members of that Body which exceeds our capacity to define it. During Easter we have celebrated the redeeming power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Saviour and our Lord. What a joy that here in our own Diocese, Sunday by Sunday, people from “every nation under heaven” enrich the life of our parishes and our Church. They are an inspiration to us all.



On the First Sunday of Lent we welcomed almost sixty people to St. David’s Cathedral as they began their final preparation for Baptism or entry into Full Communion with the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil. They will have experienced at first hand the joy of belonging to the Body of Christ at their Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion. Together with their sponsors and the whole parish community and the wider Diocese, we give thanks to God for the journey they have already made and will continue to make with us. What better way to welcome them and give thanks to God than to celebrate a Mass for New Catholics, their sponsors, family and friends on Pentecost Sunday, 20 May, at 5.30pm at St. David’s Cathedral. All are welcome to join us both for the Mass and for refreshments afterwards in The Cornerstone, opposite the Cathedral.

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