Monday, June 2, 2014

Toward a Poly-Lingual Pentecost

My oldest daughter and some courageous classmates are finishing a semester abroad in Latin America--living with host families, immersing themselves in the culture, and mastering Spanish through their studies and travels.  It's both amazing and edifying how much effort it takes to learn a new language.  As someone who has dabbled in learning a second language (or faked his way along through an unknown one!), I am struck by how important it is to ask over and over again, "How do you say this in your language?"

"Spirit-filled evangelizers," as Pope Francis' describes intentional disciples of Jesus, are much like second-language learners: We have to figure out how to speak of the Supernatural in a natural, everyday way; we need to learn how to talk about Mercy in an all-too-merciless world; we have to transpose our experience of Christ into language that makes sense to those who are wandering about without a Good Shepherd guiding them. 

In other words, we need to constantly ask ourselves, "How can I describe my lived-experience of God's grace in words that will make sense to people of this time and place?"  Ultimately, the answer is that we need to learn the language of the heart.  We have to communicate "heart-to-heart," in a way that testifies to the Truth and Goodness and Beauty we have encountered in Christ. 

If you're like me, however, this means that we need to reflect a bit more deeply on our own experience in order to translate the terms and categories we use to think about our lives.  Was I raised by a merely wonderful family, or by a wonderful Christian family?  Did my experiences of the Sacraments of initiation merely mark transitional moments in my life, or were they new beginnings?  Are my favorite hymns or Scripture verses merely passing inspirations, or are they the living Word of God reverberating in my heart?  Do the mercy and absolution I experience in Confession merely meet my emotional and psychological needs, or are they an encounter with Christ risen and present in the ministry of his Church? 

And what about all the words of wisdom passed on to me by great friends, or the experience of profound peace in prayer, or the authentic joy found in loving my wife and children: are these mere passing moments, soon-to-be swallowed up in time, or are they an experience of the Eternal One present here and now through the power of his Spirit? 

We need to find the words to explain how our experience of following Jesus within the Church has saved us from the pit of ourselves.  Toward the end of The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis bluntly reminds us that, "Our infinite sadness can only be cured by infinite love" (n. 265).  He goes on to explain:

But this conviction has to be sustained by our own constantly renewed experience
of savoring Christ’s friendship and his message.
It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization
unless we are convinced from personal experience that
it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him,
not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly,
not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it,
and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him,
to find our peace in him, as not to.
It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel
as to try to do so by our own lights.

We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer
and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything.
This is why we evangelize.
A true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple,
knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him.
(Evangelii Gaudium, n. 266)

This is the language of the Sacred Heart which beats for each of us.  This is the poly-lingual approach which will enable us to speak and listen to the deepest needs of those we meet.  This is the work of the new Pentecost which continues to unfold in and among us.

So, how can you let the Holy Spirit help you say this in your language?!