Sunday, May 31, 2009

5-11-2008: Pentecost (A)

Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11/Psalm 104/1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13/John 20:19-23
We’ve just concluded a ten-week Latin course here at Sacred Heart School. It was offered to any student from fifth to eighth grade for one hour per week -- after school. Some 37 students signed up and persevered to the end! All were enthusiastic to learn about this dead language that can seem so mysterious to English speakers. Latin had survived the fall of the Roman Empire because the Church adopted it as an official means of communication. Latin was seen as an antidote to the confusion of which the story of Babel reminds us on this feast of Pentecost when, in mythic fashion, Genesis explains that the heart of discord is rooted in an inability to make yourself understood – having here a failure to communicate, so to speak.

Learning Latin, like learning any second language, requires the student to accommodate to new rules of grammar and then tolerate exceptions to those rules – a frustrating lesson to master. We don’t like exceptions when we’ve put our time and effort into learning the rules that, for some inexplicable reason, don’t apply in this or that particular circumstance. Verbs are notorious violators of rules. Once committed to memory, conjugating regular verbs can be a pleasure: verb after verb after verb, agreeing in person and number, following the same plan, very orderly and consistent – we like that. But then that irregular verb pops up and throws everything off, casting confusion along the neural pathway you just spent so much time digging out and paving over so things would run so smoothly. Damn.

This year Pentecost falls on Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day, for me, brings a kind of frustration that isn’t far removed from the confusion engendered by the Tower of Babel and the conjugating of irregular verbs. Being born to one mother and raised by another is not always easy to reconcile along my neural pathways. Having another mother, an alma mater alongside your prima mater, isn’t so difficult; ascribing who’s prima and who’s alma – that’s never quite so clear. Like tolerating exceptions to rules, realizing that you can have more than one mother affords a certain freedom. It teaches you to be more tolerant of difference, to appreciate that in the vast wisdom of the Divine Providence, irregular verbs – and illegitimate conjugations – can have their place. Not the same place, perhaps; but neither a better nor a worse place – just a different place in the course of events.

I always thought it a nice touch on God’s part -- having Mary present in the upper room with the apostles when the Holy Spirit made his descent in tongues of flame. Perhaps she was there for familiarity sake, having become pregnant with Jesus by that very same Spirit. It was, after all, that most irregular of conjugations which set in motion the dynamic force which has still to play itself out; realigning our neural pathways and helping us overcome that failure to communicate -- with God, each other and with our very selves.

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