And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Acts 2, 6
One of the manifestations of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles was not only the appearance of “tongues as of fire” but the gift of tongues: the ability for Peter and the Apostles to be understood as though they were speaking the language of each one listening.
Ever since I was a child I used to marvel at this tower of Babel gathering made one. Perhaps this was because I grew up in a bilingual house yet never gained the ability to understand the French my mother, grandmother and aunt chatted all day long. I especially longed for this gift when I knew they were speaking in French so that my sister and I would not understand, although my sister understood more than she’d let on!
This gift of the Holy Spirit has caught my awareness once again because of the series of taped lectures we have been listening to in the refectory during our main meal at noon. Mostly, we listen to lectures of a philosophical, theological or spiritual nature but occasionally we also listen to lectures of cultural interest. Lately, we’ve been listening to a series of lectures on the History of Human Language by Professor John McWhorter of the Manhattan Institute. These excellent (and humorous) tapes have come to us from the Teaching Company. When some of us saw the title up on the bulletin board we thought, “How could this possibly be interesting?” and resigned ourselves to something to offer for the souls in purgatory. Just the opposite has been the case; these lectures have opened up to us the world of language and been the springboard for some interesting recreation discussions on what we say and why we say it!
The Spirit’s gift of tongues is an entry way to the greater gift of unity of mind and heart. How often have we all experienced discussions and even disagreements at home or at work and some one has retorted, “But that’s what I said!” The communication might have been in the same language but the communication of the heart was not.
The opening verse of our Constitutions says that, “The first reason for which we are gathered together in community is to live in harmony, having one mind and heart in God.” It is because of this striving for unity that the primary place the Holy Spirit acts in a Dominican community is in the Chapter—the governing body of the Professed Nuns. Sometimes it seems He has to work rather hard! Without this gift of the Holy Spirit making us one in Christ this unanimity would be impossible. We can’t do it on our own and when we try it’s usually a disaster! Only with the Holy Spirit vivifying our very ordinary life to make it fruitful can this “unity transcend the limits of the monastery and attain its fullness in communion with the Order and with the whole Church of Christ.” Dominican life is about communio not simply "living together."
The language of the Holy Spirit is the language of Love. His coming down on us in our baptism draws us into the perfect “Chapter meeting” of eternity: the communio of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each giving and receiving Love. This is the ultimate goal for each of us and because we are adopted children of God, sons in the Son, we don't have to wait: we are invited to share in this communio of Love NOW!