When the string of a pearl necklace snaps and the pearls fly off in all directions, bouncing across a pale marble floor, they seem like jets of water flying out of a broken water pipe or like unruly children running to hide in the most unlikely places. Trying to gather them up again seems near impossible as they bounce and roll further away.
Zygmunt Bauman likened our time to these loose pearls that have no string to give them unity and meaning. Though it might seem excessively apocalyptic comparison, it seems to me that it has truth to it and that the string has indeed broken, little crazy pearls bouncing every which way. What’s more, sometimes they are not even authentic pearls but false ones and there are no strings that seem to be capable of holding them together.
Like at the tower of Babel the most obvious sign of fragmentation is the inability to communicate. Babel means “doorway to God,” but mankind wanted to reach this doorway on their own, separate from Him. Confusion is born from the pride of seeking supremacy for oneself. Communities fall apart, groups shatter, societies crumble the moment when each member decides to walk his own road, thinking it better than everyone else’s. And so people stop listening to each other. Everyone starts speaking their own language and each person’s world closes in around them in their isolation, spinning on their own center of gravity like wild satellites in space.
The Christian community is born however is born when “they were all in one place together” (Acts 2:1). And they hear one voice that lives in them in different ways, as tongues of flame. The original word gets translated into the lives of each of them in a special way.
The voice is like a piece of string or a driving wind that reminds us of the voice of God on Sinai when He gave his law to Moses. In fact, Pentecost was also the feast celebrated by the people of Israel in gratitude for the gift of the Law. The law was the very identity of the people and even more so when they had no land to call home.
In Babel, pride hid behind the appearance of good, behind the desire to draw close to the doorway of God. But behind this longing hides the desire to reach God on one’s own, with one’s own ingenuity and tenacity, and ultimately, without God. We can see in this desire the first expression of that heresy that Pope has recently re-condemned in Gaudete et exultate: a form of Pelagianism in which man believes that he can achieve all things on his own, by his own strength.
The Church itself runs the risk of repeating the errors of Babel when it seeks mere appearance of greatness, when it tries to achieve great things but without God in the center.
The Church of Pentecost is the church of communion – invisible but understood by all, without excluding or dividing. The Church hears the voice of God and not its own voices.
This tension between communication and fragmentation is visible in so many different contexts: in politics, in society, in groups of friends and in communities. This text from the Gospel invites us to rediscover the string that can hold the pearls together. We must begin to evaluate the way in which we communicate because our words can divide or unite, they can be delicate or harmful.
The Christian community is born as one that overcomes all forms of division. A Christian does not exist by him or herself but rather finds meaning to the extent that he or she belongs to a community. Pentecost invites us to abandon our pride and the presumption of always having the last word, and to try to listen to the Word of Another.
Questions for personal reflection:
- Do you tend to isolate yourself or do you tend to build communion around you?
- What can help you overcome the divisions that exist in your life and among those around you?
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John (20:19-23)
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them,
“Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again,
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”