Where Every Language is Spoken

Pentecost | May 31, 2020

See today’s readings here. This homily was preached online due to Covid-19. Video recordings of the Sunday evening Mass, where Fr. Brian regularly preaches, are available on Facebook at Delaware Koinonia. The archive of all of Fr. Brian’s homilies can be found hereSalesian Sermons

I still remember the first time I began to learn another language.

It was freshman year at Bishop McDevitt High School with Sra. Fraticelli.  

And like many students, I viewed Spanish as simply an academic exercise.  A class like Calculus or Biology that you just had to survive to graduate.

For at that point in my life, I had no need of Spanish.  My world was small enough that I only needed my one language.  My one world view.

But Sra. Fraticelli wouldn’t let me off the hook.

She saw something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself.

Not just the capacity to speak another language, but the ability to step into another’s perspective.  To enter another’s world.

I am forever grateful for Sra. for I don’t think either one of us could ever have imagined how important Spanish would become for me.

Translating for parents at Parent-Teacher Night

Translating for students on immersion trips in Ecuador and El Paso

Celebrating mass with Latinx communities throughout Wilmington.

But more importantly, I am grateful for how she helped me to see that language was so much bigger than just a spoken word.

It was a window into the way someone experiences the world.

She taught me that being an immigrant.  Being a woman of color.  Being a refugee.  Each of these identities spoke a different word that I was unaccustomed to hearing.  But she taught me how to listen to these words, how to learn from them.  

Maybe that is why I find the 1st reading so incredibly profound on this feast of Pentecost.

For it does not say that the disciples were speaking different languages.

It said that each person HEARD the disciples speaking in their own language.

It was not the word that was spoken that changed, it was the capacity to hear that word.  The ability to understand the language of another.

My friends, I am convinced that this is the essence of what it means to be Church.

To listen to the diverse array of languages and learn to hear what each is saying.

To find in that cacophony of sound, a beautiful, unifying melody.  A melody found in the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ.  A melody that is sung in every tongue by people of every hue, of every gender, of every nation.

If these last few weeks have taught our nation anything, it is that this shift in perspective is needed more than ever.

For as I read my social media feeds, I see people talking past one another, unable to hear what the other is saying.  Unable to comprehend that there may be a language that the other is speaking that is real, but simply not my own

I am not black, my friends.  I will never truly be able to speak the language of those who are judged for the color of their skins.

I will never experience a world where I fear an interaction with law enforcement

I will never experience a world in which security follows me through a store.

I will never experience a world in which somebody calls the cops because I appear threatening.

But I can learn to listen to the cries of lament from my sisters and brothers who are black.  I can learn to listen to my students.  I can learn to listen to my colleagues.  I can learn to listen to the voice of the stranger.  And I can believe what I hear.

Instead of denying their truth, I can humbly sit with and listen to their truth and learn from it.

Instead of becoming defensive.  Instead of attempting to prove to the world that I am not a racist.  Instead of becoming insulted at the idea that I might benefit from any number of my privileges.  I can humbly sit in my discomfort and learn to listen to how race shapes my own worldview as much as my black sister and brother.  How I continue to reap the fruit of our nation’s original sin . . . racism.

Instead of being frightened or outraged by the depths of the rage and pain and fear pouring out in cities across the country, I can humbly sit and listen to these desperate words flung at a system and at a nation that refuses to listen.  That stays silent as black and brown men and women die at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them.

And in listening, I can learn how to join my own voice to theirs.

I can use my own language to speak words of healing and justice.  To speak words of empowerment and compassion.  To speak words of unconditional love for all God’s people.

For this is the true work of the Spirit

The work of building a kingdom of true justice and peace for all.

Where every language is spoken.  Every story treasured.  Every word believed.  

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of us your faithful.  Kindle in us the fire of your love.  

May God be Praised

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