Today we celebrate not only the beginning of the Church but a new beginning for the world. The story of the Tower of Babel (Gn 11) reminds us that God created us to be one human family and that divisions of language which lead to division into nations, tribes, etc. were the result of hubris, the punishment for sin. The story of Pentecost is the great reversal. The same God who confused language in Genesis is the same God who sends the Holy Spirit and makes it possible for "devout men from every nation (ethnos) under the heavens" (Acts 2:5) to all hear and understand. Acts 2 is precisely the undoing of Genesis 11.
But if that is true why do we not see it? Why does our world seem as torn apart as ever, if not more?
With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the instrument of our unity was made available. The unity of the human family was once more a possibility, but for that possibility to become a reality we must choose. God will at the end of time impose the Kingdom, but until that time, we have the freedom to choose.
It is not coincidence that God chose Jerusalem as the city from which he would sent out the Spirit. It remains a spiritual center for the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). For those who do not know it is believed to be the site of the furthest mosque (al-aqsa) and place from which the prophet was take up to heaven.
The great battle of our time is not however with ISIL or Islam. It is the battle within the human heart. If there is to be peace in the world, we Christians, the bearers of the Spirit must first allow that Spirit to create peace within us. Yes, we received the Holy Spirit at baptism, but day to day, moment to moment we must make a choice. As St. Paul tells us, there are two options. We can live according to the flesh or according to the Spirit.
Look at our own nation. We are so divided that our government has affectively lost the ability to function. 92% of the 114th Congress self-identified as Christian (31% of those are Catholic), and yet what in their behavior would demonstrate that. When the congress reconvenes which will be more important to the 92% percent, their common faith, or their political party? Sadly, I think we know the answer. And we wonder why our young people are cynical about religion.
As Christians gather in churches around the world to celebrate the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, let us pray not only for the continued outpouring the Spirit but that every one who has received the Spirit will choose to live according to the Spirit.