The Uniting Spirit

Being an interpreter is potentially a rather influential position. When foreign leaders converse, they may need an interpreter to translate what each other is saying, and how exactly that person puts over what is said is very important. Acting as an interpreter can also be rather tiring. When Fr Paul and I were on pilgrimage with the diocese to Avila in Spain, I acted as interpreter. Enclosed nuns who spend most of their life in silence relish the chance to talk and take some keeping up with! In our local bar, I had to translate twice, as every question to Julio and Milagros the owners had two responses, she would give one answer and he the opposite. It is also a great delight to break down linguistic boundaries and  enable people to understand each other. I have had Spanish friends come to Mass in Norwich, who did not know what the priest had said in the sermon but felt they understood what he meant.

When conversing with people of other nationalities, it is the desire to communicate and to understand which is most important. The Holy Spirit transcends boundaries of language. At Pentecost, the languages which had divided the peoples of the world since the fall of the Tower of Babel were no longer a barrier. ‘How is it’ asked those gathered in Jerusalem ‘that we understand these Galileans talking in our own languages?’

It was the Holy Spirit that enabled missionaries to take the gospel to people in foreign lands whose languages they did not speak. People like St Boniface, the apostle of Germany whose feast day we celebrated this week. He was English, and left the comforts of his monastery in Exeter to take the gospel to the savage tribes of Germany.

Pentecost is the birthday of the church. The church has multiplied, and diversified into a myriad of different forms all over the world. In The Church of England, services used to be pretty well the same all over the country. The use of the Book of Common Prayer was uniform. But now you never know what you will get when you walk through the door from the extreme high to extreme low. A visitor here and to St John’s in The Walks might wonder if we are part of the same church. One virtue of the variety of forms in the Church of England, is that it shows the wider church that unity without uniformity is possible. It is the Holy Spirit that binds us together, but we have to desire to be united to make it real.

In the Roman Catholic Church there is unity with uniformity. Wherever you go in the world the Mass is pretty much the same, it is The Roman Rite.  So, even if the language is different you know where you are, you know what is happening, you know when Christ becomes present through the Holy Spirit.  

In Rome, the most important Masses are still celebrated in Latin. St Peter’s Square at any time is a great assembly of the nations with all sorts of languages being spoken. All those thousands of pilgrims are absorbed into the great basilica, and once inside, the eye is drawn to the golden window behind the altar, which depicts not St Peter, not even Christ, but the white dove of the Holy Spirit, a reminder to Christians that all our prayers to the Father are through the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday, the organization KLARS organized the international fiesta at Whitefriars School. What a splendid affirmation of the cultural diversity in this town it was. Music and food are two good ways to bring people together, and both were there in abundance. Delicious dishes from around the world were given away and Samba dancers brought a hint of Rio in advance of the world cup.  How they wiggled their posteriors so vigorously in  high heeled shoes, without falling over, I do not know!

KLARS does good work to help people who have come to this country to work, to integrate, and to help with their problems. Organisations like KLARS that work for the good of others, are another sign of the activity of the Holy Spirit which inspires so many people in so many ways to work for the good of others. The Holy Spirit works in the church, but does not restrict itself to us. He will use any willing agent.

There is not one spirit that works with one nationality and one with another. The same Holy Spirit works on all of us. When we work with the Spirit we bring harmony. The Spirit brings us together. The Holy Spirit enables us to understand each other, if we are prepared to try.