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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Babel-ing On...

Tonight, the Church gives us four options for readings for the Vigil Mass for Pentecost.  The choices are from Genesis, Exodus, Joel and Exekiel.   Of the four, my two favorites are the account of the Tower of Babel from Genesis and the "dry bones" prophecy from Ezekiel.

My parish chose the Tower of Babel as this evening's first reading.  When I was younger, I often wondered why the Church presented us with this particular reading.  I asked myself what the Tower of Babel had to do with Pentecost.  It was not until my first formal Scripture studies class that, with the help of my instructor, a ver learned prelate, I was able to get it.  In Genesis, we begin with the creation of the world.  By the time we get to the sixth day, the Lord sees all that He has created and finds it "very good."  Sadly, sin enters the picture and creation begins to unravel.  Pride takes the place of love.

The same pride that had inficted and afflicted Adam and Eve comes to the fore in the story of the Tower of Babel.  Like Adam and Eve, the inhabitants of Babel want to snatch and grab at divinity.  They think that they can reach God through their own devices.  However, God has other plans.  He sees what the inhabitants of Babel are doing.  "Let us go down there and confuse their languages," God says.  The "us" is rather curious.  It is the same "us" that we see in the creation account, "Let US make man in our own image."  This "us" seems to me to be the second allusion to the Holy Trinity, even though Genesis does not explicitly says this. 

Thus, the Lord visits Babel, confuses the languages of the people and thus, the dispersion begins.  This, I believe, is a foreshadow of what will happen centuries later, in tomorrow's account of the Acts of the Apostles.  The Jewish faithful from all over the known world gather in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost.  They come from Crete, Athens, Rome, Alexandria, and all points in between.  The Holy Spirit literally swoops down as a strong burst of wind and descends in the form of tongues of fire over the heads of the Apostles (and the Blessed Virgin Mary).  All of a sudden, an infusion of courage, wisdom and zeal bursts forth from the Apostles and they immediately begin to proclaim the Good News of Christ.  Yet, the amazing thing is that each of the visitors to Jerusalem manages to understand the Apostles in his native tongue.  The damage done by the inhabitants of Babel is undone by the Apostles.  The dispersion of languages in Genesis is replaced by a new, common language:  the language of the Holy Spirit, which is the language of love.

The Gospel account for tonight's Mass, taken from St. John, is rather a curious one, at least insofar as the translation that the United States uses: 

He said this in reference to the Spirit
that those who came to believe in him were to receive.
There was, of course, no Spirit yet,
because Jesus had not yet been glorified.

This particular translation has bothered me since it does not seem to read well and it makes it sound as though the Holy Spirit had not yet existed.  Compare this to the Douay-Rheims translation:

 [39] Now this he said of the Spirit which they should receive, who believed in him: for as yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

This translation is quite clear.  There is no ambiguity here.  The Spanish-language translation that we used today (from Mexico) also has this clear language.   The late Fr. Richard John Neuhas certainly made a very strong case as to why we needed a better tranlsation of the Lectionary.  Tonight's reading proves his point.  Ironically enough, the titel given to the article that Neuhas wrote was "Bibel Babel".  Maybe he can intercede for a new translation of the Lectionary that will compliment the noble language of the coming English version of the Roman Missal that we will soon use in Advent.

NB:  This weekend, the Australians will begin using the revised English translation of the Roman Missal.  May the faithful and clergy receive this great gift to English-speaking Catholics with joy and reverence!   If any of our Australian readers are reading this post, please feel free to share your experiences.

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