Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily for Pentecost: Many Voices One Spirit


Pentecost C – May 23, 2010
Acts 2:1-11, Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34, I Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13, John 20:19-23
Read today’s biblical texts.

Some Catholics used to carry a card that said, “I am a Catholic. In case of an emergency call a priest.” Wouldn’t it be interesting if today there were a card that said, “I am a Catholic Christian in love with humanity and I’ve got work to do. Hurry up. Dial 911”? Such a card, given at baptism, would remind us that we Christians, throughout our lives, are dedicated to the mission God entrusted to us.

Pentecost, the finale to our Easter season, is a day to look forward as the young church did at the end of the first century. In John’s gospel we find Jesus saying good bye to his youthful but insecure followers. He reminded them that their mission, which is ours, is to set a good example for others, to tell them good news, to baptize and nourish them, to heal and forgive, to unify them together on various issues that usually tear us apart. It was an overwhelming agenda. Good thing Jesus assured them that a powerful Spirit would come to help.

In the first passage today we hear Luke’s story about the post Resurrection followers of Jesus. Bursting at the seams with faith and new hope, they could no longer be contained and took to the streets. They were outsiders trespassing on the status quo. With hearts full of fire and fear they preached to Jewish pilgrims during the harvest festival called Shavuot. The native tongue of the disciples was Aramaic – a northern dialect of the Hebrew language. However, as the story goes, everyone who listened to the disciples heard them in their own tongue. This text points to the potential of the gospel to speak to all peoples in many languages.

It did not take long for the burgeoning church, discouraged by persecutions but energized by this new Spirit, to realize the members had to work together if they were to survive. In the second reading today Paul told his listeners there are different forms of service, no one is better than another, and the Spirit works in all of them not just a select few. That Spirit cannot be contained. What is going on today in our lives that could inhibit the Spirit from speaking to us in diverse voices?

One campaign that deserves our attention on this Pentecost Sunday is the English Only Movement. It maintains that English should be the only language used in the United States. Today English has been adopted as the official language in 30 states. New York is not one of them.

Some commentaries say that a common language is a good way to resolve conflicts amidst diverse racial, ethnic and religious groups; it is a tool for social mobility and economic advancement. Opponents, on the other hand, argue that English only is a threat to civil rights, educational opportunities and free speech; that it insults the heritage of cultural minorities. [1]

Language is one of the ways humans communicate to express what is held deeply in our consciousness. The beauty of any language is found in its dialects and nuances; the different ways it is employed by writers, composers, poets and children. Trying to get everyone to speak one language mars the beauty of the human family.

Today we are linked with different voices from all across the planet. The internet gives impetus to the notion of globalization where economies, ideas, politics and cultures converge. No religion can afford to be parochial in this climate. Our church is a “sign and instrument of union with God and of the unity of the whole human race.” [2] To survive in this age we have to find ways to reach out to all of God’s creatures, celebrating and elevating the unique gifts of a people called to holiness.

Many years after the first Pentecost our church continues to do good work in all sectors of life. There are times, however, when we struggle with our identity and our influence. Returning to the status quo of yesteryear, defending ourselves from outsiders and new ideas, may not be good investments. We need a good dose of the fire and wind power that rallied our Christian ancestors. They respected their traditions but boldly carved out new avenues for the future.

Speaking in and listening to native tongues helps us realize that diversity on this tiny planet is the norm. It is a healthy way to unite nations and religions. Our calling card is similar to those carried by the first Pentecost Christians who celebrated plurality. Maybe an answer to the English Only debate in this country will come from a mighty and holy Spirit. Come Holy Spirit … renew the face of this earth!


1. Crawford, James, (Ed.) Language Loyalties: A Source Book on the Official English Controversy (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1992)

2. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (no.1)


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

3 thoughts on “Homily for Pentecost: Many Voices One Spirit

  1. Dick,

    Thanks for your reflections. I love Pentecost and I loved the idea of the card that we might carry. Hurry up and get 911l, I’ve got lots of work to do.


  2. I love the way you have woven the forward movement that is demanded by the Spirit, plurality and the unity that comes only from diversity together here. Thank you for this. I am going to share it via my Facebook page.


  3. The only way the excellence of your message could have improved, is if I would have been there in person to experience it! God surely has gifted you as an outstanding communicator. I resonate deeply with your “style” of delivery. Your words convey both comfort and challenge. So I feel prompted to “DO” something after reading your sermon. (One of the next things I will DO, is check out more of your sermons on this blog!).
    Thanks so much for filling me and enriching me through the power of your preaching.


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