Sunday, May 15, 2016


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 herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today 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

PENTECOST witnesses the reversal of Babel when peoples divided became united.  The story of Babel concerned how God divided and scattered humankind so we could not become like God.  Yet our dis-union and separation was never God’s final purpose which Christ summed up in those words: ‘May they all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us’ (John 17:21)

With the Referendum in just over five weeks’ time I am struck by this thought.  There seems a constant tussle between two extremes, individualism and collectivism.  Are we primarily called to be individuals who can exist without the other?  Or do we belong together?  In upport of Individualism the 19th cent. American social reformer and statesman, Frederick Douglass, wrote:  ‘We are distinct persons, and are each equally provided with faculties necessary to our individual existence. In leaving you, I took nothing but what belonged to me, and in no way lessened your means for obtaining an honest living. Your faculties remained yours, and mine became useful to their rightful owner.’  Whilst David Callahan of the think tank Demos recently stated that: “America works best when its citizens put aside individual self-interest to do great things together—when we elevate the common good,” 

This notion of the ‘common good’ having the greater moral claim is what has inspired society down the ages.  It has been the motivation of the Commonwealth and is a central pillar of Catholic social teaching.   John XXIII describes it as ‘the sum total of conditions of social living, whereby persons are enabled more fully and readily to achieve their own perfection.’ Mater et Magistra (1961).  It differs from pursuing the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ in Christian terms because ‘the pursuit of the common good entrusts, both to the government and the Church, care for the greatest good of all persons, not just the greatest possible number. No individual is excluded from the common good. It is also therefore linked to the ideas of human dignity and authentic and integral human development, making them central aims of all societies.’ (Catholic Social    The common good also provides a balance against too strong an individualism by emphasising the social aspect of the human person.  Pentecost witnesses to God’s affirmation that we are created to be alone (Gen. 2:18) but, as difficult as it is, to discover ourselves in relation to the other. 

A reflection on the way in which we are ‘Better Together’ a certain Michael Gove said in March 2014: “Think globally.  Think what would happen if Scotland and England broke up. Do we think that Vladimir Putin would think, ‘Oh that's a pity’?  Or would he think, ‘Ah look, the second principal beacon of liberty in the world is a little more unstable. That plinth has been broken. I'm in a stronger position to do what I want’?” And, just 18 months ago, Boris Johnson wrote: “… we are on the verge of an utter catastrophe for this country. In just 10 days’ time … a fundamental part of our identity will have been killed. We will all have lost a way of … explaining ourselves to the world. We are on the verge of trashing our global name and brand in an act of self-mutilation …” And so on, and so forth, until this heartrending conclusion: “I am praying that we will wake from this sleepwalk to tragedy; and that the Scots vote no to divorce, and yes to Britain, the greatest political union ever.” (Daily Telegraph, September 10th, 2014)  Whatever the difficulties and problems, choosing the path of separation whilst recognising that this signals disunion seems, to me (and, not long ago, Messers Gove and Johnson), an act of wilful vandalism. 

As a race we seem to have a propensity to heed the call to self-centrism.  Today’s Feast of Pentecost s is not only the birth of the Church but, through Christ, completes humanity’s wholeness.  It is ‘a fulfilment of the prophecies that God would gather his scattered people together.  It is a decisive recasting in anthropological terms of human foundational order.’  (James Alison)  And whilst this recasting is a Godly act and can never be fully achieved in social terms, nonetheless it would seem that to seek to do otherwise, to seek to fragment society, is not what God intends for Creation but is, rather, to heed the Accuser who delights in preventing that unity which is in the mind of God.  As Pope Benedict affirmed on the Solemnity of Pentecost 2012: “Pentecost is the feast of union, comprehension and human communion. We can all see that in our world, although we are increasingly close to one another with the development of the means of communication and geographical distances seem to be disappearing, understanding and communion between people is both superficial and problematic.”

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