By Mark Smith | Published 13 Dec 2014 in The Madera Tribune | Used with Permission | All rights reserved |
Flurries of rain hours before sunrise didn’t keep the Guadalupanos Society of Madera and others from traditional Mexican songs and prayer Friday, Dec. 12, during the annual celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
More than a thousand Maderans waited inside St. Joachim’s Catholic Church as the Guadalupanos carried a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe across 4th Street before 5 a.m. as heavy rain continued to fall.
Carlos Rodriguez, the group’s president, said the traditional ceremony served to honor the “Virgen de Guadalupe,” — a title for the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ — and her “birth” into Mexican culture in 1531 A.D. via an unusual image, one well known across the world as a miracle.
Across four days in December of 1531, Rodriguez said Mary appeared from Heaven to 57-year-old Juan Diego, a widower, farmer and weaver belonging to the native Chichimeca people and the first Roman Catholic saint of the Americas. She allegedly asked him to have a new church quickly built on the outskirts of Mexico City.
As she spoke in his native Nahuatl — aka Aztec — language, Diego became convinced she was truly the mother of Jesus. He spoke to Mexico City’s archbishop Juan de Zumarraga, who asked Diego — a convert to Christianity — for proof of her identity.
On the final day she appeared to Diego, Dec. 12, Mary told him to gather flowers atop the city’s Tepeyac Hill. There he found a swath of Castilian roses in bloom out of season and out of place — the plants are native to Spain, not Mexico.
Mary arranged the roses in Diego’s tilma, a sort of cloak or poncho, before he went to the bishop. When Diego opened his cloak before him, the roses fell to the floor and on his tilma was the image of a pregnant Mary standing on the moon and in front of the sun. Some interpreted this as a sign that her child Jesus was superior to the Aztec moon and sun deities.
After the building of the requested chapel, Diego lived as a hermit in a small hut nearby and shared his story to those who came to see the tilma until his death in 1548.
Rodriguez said recalling that powerful image, as well as the love provided by the Virgin of Guadalupe to her people, was a worldwide tradition and one celebrated in Madera, California, since the Guadalupanos chapter was formed in 1927.
“Friendship, love, and unity is what she gives us,” Rodriguez said. “The whole continent celebrates this date. It’s like being a family. We feel like a family with this. She has a lot to give all of us.”
Once the group entered St. Joachim’s with the statue of Mary upheld, the audience rose to sing many songs such as “Las Mananitas,” a traditional Mexican birthday song, before they prayed for the “blessed mother” and participated in a Catholic mass service.
After that, free breakfast was served to hundreds in Holy Spouse’s Hall across the street from St. Joachim’s, as they celebrated past sunrise with more music and dancing.
Normally, without the heavy rain that spent most of Thursday and Friday drenching the state, the Guadalupanos would walk from Clinton and Tozer streets to St. Joachim’s with the statue of Mary and sang to Madera as its citizens woke.
Because of Friday morning’s stormy weather, however, the group instead carried Mary across 4th street from Holy Spouse’s Hall to St. Joachim’s in a shorter, but powerful procession.
That joined eight previous days of rosary prayer by Guadalupanos members in front of the Catholic church to honor one of their most holy figures, members said, as strongly as the group could each year.
“Every year, whether it’s rain or shine, we celebrate her birthday every single time,” said Adrian Medina, a 20-year-old Guadalupanos member who helped set up the event. “Even with the rain, everything is for our blessed mother, Juan Diego, and for our community to represent who we are.”
For information on the Guadalupanos Society of Madera and the events they hold all year, call 559-647-5200.
Like all families, the Fresno, California, family of Higinio Lozano, seated, would go through many trials in the 1940s and beyond. The mother of the columnist stands second from the left.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 11 May 2013 in The Madera Tribune
"Peace be with you," the smiling stranger in blue said.
Part of my brain suppressed an urge to respond, "And with your spirit." Instead I smiled and I hope managed a suitable reply. As she spoke further I realized I'd encountered another reader of this column, which is always a delight for me.
Another such meeting this week introduced me to Rita, who not only relished my writings but also knew my grandfather Higinio Lozano. She did not escape me easily as I sought out what details she could offer.
Rita knew him when he owned a grocery store in the Chinatown section of Fresno, California, during the 1940s. He always dressed nicely and wore a bow tie, she said. He employed his own children and other young people, such as her older brother.
I knew of this venture, which I'm told flourished during World War II. It later failed because he didn't have the heart to deny people credit, even when they weren't timely with repayments. Most of his customers were farm laborers, and he understood their struggles.
During the war, Fresno had a shortage of housing, so the Lozano family lived in a small shed while a friend converted her garage for their use. The nuns of the Company of Mary offered to care for Higinio's teenaged daughter Josefina "Josie" until the family could settle in, and her younger sister Maria Concepcion "Connie", 13, eagerly tagged along.
Josie left after only a week or so, but Connie never wanted to leave and so stayed. She felt God had called her to such a life. She officially joined four years later on May 2, 1951, and professed her vows at 19, after obtaining a dispensation to do so at such a young age. She would spend 22 years as a missionary and educator in Japan.
My mother, too, sought to join the sisters, but a priest would not let her. He felt God had a different plan for her.
In 1970, Higinio's youngest daughter, 29-year-old Carmen, was diagnosed with leukemia, a virulent disease that progressively affects blood-forming organs. Her parents were told she had 30 to 90 days to live, yet she lived for a year and a half. Her final months were at the City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, Calif., and Higinio and his wife were provided an apartment at special rates so they could remain nearby.
Carmen's condition left her vulnerable to tragedy. An infestation of insects, unnoticed until it was too late, ate at her throat from the inside. With her vocal cords no longer intact, her family struggled to even hear her whispers. In her last week, she could no longer sit up or even lift her head.
Once when her mother visited she found Carmen transfigured by joy. She told her daughter, "Mi hija, you look so beautiful! So radiant!" Carmen just looked at her mother and smiled. Within a week the end would come.
On March 23, 1972, she lay dying in the company of her mother and her two brothers, Francisco ("Frank") and Enrique ("Rico"). Rico sat at the foot of the bed while Frank held his sister's hand. She suddenly sat up with a smile and spoke clearly as she gazed intently at the ceiling.
"There she is. There she is," she said.
"Who? Who is it?" her mother asked. "Is it the Blessed Virgin Maria?"
"It's my home," she replied, and then added, "She's so beautiful."
Her mother asked again, "Who is it? Who do you see?" But her daughter lay down and peacefully surrendered her soul. She left behind a husband and an adopted 5-year-old daughter, Christina.
At her funeral, Higinio led the singing as he celebrated his daughter's birth into Heaven and praised God. Only a few year's later, he too struggled for life as his kidneys faltered. After receiving the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, he died on March 31, 1976, in Saint Agnes Hospital in Fresno.
Not many years beforehand, he wrote a poem in Spanish for a lodge brother: "Neither tears nor flowers are of much use in one's tomb, / the final mansion for a mortal's remains, / Nor a marble pedestal, which time consumes. / No one is born into this world who in the end does not succumb; / A humble prayer, the only consolation to gain…
"Stoke the flames of our faith and strengthen our hope beyond limit / That we may go to sing your glories with the Heavenly Hosts / praising the Father, Son and Holy Ghost! / So -- until later, brother -- in God's peace rest your spirit."
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 13 April 2013 in The Madera Tribune
After visiting the empty tomb, Simon "Kepha" (Aramaic for "rock" or Peter) Bar-Jonah and fellow disciple Johanan (John) returned to the upper room. Mirriam (Mary) of Magdala did not immediately follow, but when she did so she claimed to have seen Yeshua (Jesus) alive.
Hearing such news, Kepha went again to the burial place. He came back to the upper room similarly overwhelmed with joy and reported that he too had seen the rabbi among the living (Cf. Luke 24:34).
At this, the other 11 disciples made visits of their own to the garden of the tomb but saw nothing of their teacher. This especially upset Tomas (Thomas), who retreated from the others to sort matters out for himself. He would find lodgings of his own that night.
In the evening, Cleophas (Cleopas) and his companion unexpectedly returned and claimed to have met Yeshua walking along the road, though they did not recognize him.
The rabbi had joined them as they journeyed slowly toward the village of Emmaus. He set their hearts aflame with his explanation of how the suffering and death of the messiah fulfilled the promises of scripture. Late in the afternoon, they stopped to eat, and when the rabbi blessed and broke the bread they finally knew his identity. At this, he vanished. So they rushed to Jerusalem to tell the others.
Competing voices filled the room with stories, questions and opinions on all that had been shared. Yet a familiar voice cut softly through the clamor with a traditional Jewish greeting: "Shalom aleikhem" ("peace be with you," cf. Luke 24:36; John 20:19; Bereishit/Genesis 43:23).
All were startled to hear the voice of the man who only days before had been crucified. Though grown men, many became pale and trembled with fear. The door had been locked after all, and tales of ghosts were not unknown.
Displaying the nail wounds in his hands and feet, Yeshua said, "Why are you troubled? And why do such thoughts arise in your hearts? See by my hands and my feet that it is I myself; touch me, and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me to have." (Cf. Luke 24:38-39)
Dazed smiles spread across the room like uncertain flames. So the rabbi asked, "Have you anything to eat?" One of the disciples offered him a bit of baked fish, leftovers from their recent meal, which he ate with appreciation as they stared. Fish was a pricey treat this far inland.
Truly he had risen from the dead, they realized.
"Peace be with you," he said again. "As my Father has sent me, I also send you." (John 20:21) He breathed on each of the 10 men present, a symbolic gesture that played upon the words that followed: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." (John 20:22-23)
The Hebrew word used for "spirit" ("ruach") can also mean "breath" or "wind." That same "ruach" swept over the waters on the first day of creation (Bereishit/Genesis 1:2), according to scripture, and it came upon King David (1 Sefer Shmuel/Samuel 16:13) and others. Now, Yeshua claimed, it came upon those who would eventually be called "apostolos" (Greek for one sent out "from the fleet").
The rabbi scolded them for their skepticism about his resurrection and helped them to understand the scriptures that had been fulfilled.
"Thus it is written," Yeshua continued, "and thus it was the responsibility of the messiah to suffer, and to rise again from the dead on the third day, and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, should be preached in his name, unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things." (Cf. Luke 24:46-48)
So he spoke, as he consoled and prepared them for their mission, and it would not be their last hours together. He would appear repeatedly to them and others within the next 40 days.
During a later visit, Yeshua asked Kepha three times if he loved him, which distressed Kepha. Yet Kepha affirmed his love again and again, a love he had thrice denied on Good Friday. Each time, the rabbi told him to care for and feed his flock. (John 21:15-19)
This Kepha did, until -- after a time ministering to the Christians of Rome -- he too died by crucifixion.
May we Christians today be filled with such love. Peace be with you.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 6 April 2013 in The Madera Tribune
In the dream, Simon "Kepha" (Aramaic for "rock" or Peter) Bar-Jonah reclined on cushions around a low table with his rabbi, Yeshua (Jesus), and the other disciples during the Passover Seder meal. Yeshua promised he and the other disciples would be enthroned as judges of the 12 tribes of Israel.
But confusion replaced Kepha's pride as the teacher continued. "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and when you are converted, strengthen your brethren." (cf. Luke 22:31-32)
He protested his loyalty, and Yeshua replied that Kepha would deny him three times before the rooster crowed. Then Kepha remembered it had been so.
A tremor of the earth shook him in his dream and it faded. He would have rather it continued, regardless of the pain it evoked. For in it the rabbi lived.
He shifted his position on the straw-filled mattress he shared with the rest of the disciples on the floor of the upper room, the same place where the Seder had taken place. While entire families would sleep on the same mattress under blankets of goat hair, few consisted of 11 grown men. Yet they made do. They had known worse conditions during their three years of wandering and ministry across the Roman province of Judea.
Gathering all of them before the sabbath was both hindered and helped by the turmoil of Friday's events. Some had returned here on their own. The rest had to be found and brought. Kepha tried to live up to the name Yeshua had given him despite his weakness and guilt.
Other followers visited of course, such as Yohannah (Joanna), Mirriam (Mary) of Magdala, and Mirriam, the mother of the disciple Ya'aqov (James) the younger. They fed them news and refreshment while the men remained hidden from the authorities.
His mind recalled a time when Yeshua spoke to them, away from the crowds, of going to Jerusalem to suffer, die and be raised. Clearly by "raised" he must have meant the way he would be executed -- high upon a cross. But at the time it made no sense to him. Only now he understood.
Kepha took Yeshua aside and sharply said, "Be it far from you, rabbi! This shall not happen to you!" (Matthew 16:22)
Yeshua turned and said, "Get you behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me: for you savor not the things that are of God, but those that are of men." (Matthew 16:23)
Kepha thought: Is this what God wanted then? The death of the one who was to liberate us from our bondage? How could such an utter defeat bring about victory? If this is how God defines success, what is failure in his eyes? Tears rolled down his cheeks.
Insistent knocking at the locked door interrupted his thoughts. Perhaps it was Cleophas (Cleopas) and his companion returning for something forgotten when they left earlier. With the passing of the Sabbath, they wished to return to the village of Emmaus. Indeed, Kepha himself longed for his nets, boat, and the fickle Sea of Galilee, which he considered less treacherous than Jerusalem.
Kepha rose, as did Johanan, but it was Mirriam of Magdala they met at the door, breathless and pale. After a moment, she gasped, "They have taken away the rabbi out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him." (John 20:2)
She, Shelomit (Salome), and the mother of Ya'aqov had gone before sunrise to anoint the body of Yeshua with oil and spices. But when they arrived at the tomb, the large stone over its entrance had been rolled back, the Roman guards lay stricken with fear, the burial shelf stood empty, and a young man spoke nonsense that affirmed the absence of the rabbi.
At this news, Kepha and Johanan abandoned any concern for secrecy and ran. Mirriam followed. Through the busy streets of Jerusalem and beyond it, they raced to the garden near the house of the honorable Yosef (Joseph) of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin and a secret disciple of Yeshua.
Johanan, a young man, arrived first but waited for the others outside the garden's new tomb, which was as Mirriam said. When Kepha came he did not hesitate. Entering the tomb, he saw the burial linens there -- empty. The cloth that had bound Yeshua's head sat rolled up by itself. Anger gripped Kepha's heart, for the rabbi's body had obviously been stolen.
Having waited patiently, Johanan stepped into the tomb as well, and when he saw how the shroud had been neatly arranged, he believed. He did not understand, but this was no robbery. It was a miracle. Yeshua lived.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 23 March 2013 in The Madera Tribune
Simon "Kepha" (Aramaic for "rock") Bar-Jonah joined with the others in singing the second part of the Hallel (Psalm 114:1 - 118:26). The fourth cup of wine had been poured and blessed at the end of the Passover Seder, a ritual feast he -- like many Jews -- knew well.
But questions about the future most likely held his thoughts even as he sang: "I will praise you: for you have heard me, and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders refused has become the head cornerstone" (Psalm 118:21-22). After three years of gathering support across Palestine, the battle for kingship surely approached. The crowds in Jerusalem for the Feast of Unleavened Bread so rejoiced in their coming only days ago.
The others clearly felt the same. After the hymn concluded the Seder, conversation about the coming kingdom turned anew into a heated argument about what office each deserved. Their rabbi, Yeshua (Jesus), calmed them all by assuring them they would each dine at his table in his kingdom and sit as judges over the people.
As he often did, the rabbi wished to pray on the Mount of Olives, one of three peaks east of Jerusalem. It offered the best view of Solomon's Temple where, in the Holy of Holies within the Tabernacle, lay the Ark of the Covenant. There the God of Israel dwelled.
But when they left the house's upper room, Yeshua warned vaguely of a coming test of their faith in him. This surprised no one. No kingdom is established without risk and bloodshed. Speaking what all felt, Kepha promised, "Rabbi, I am ready to follow you, both into prison and to death… Though all turn against you, I never will!" (cf. Luke:22:33; Matthew 26:33)
Yeshua replied Kepha would indeed deny him before a rooster crowed that night. Though gentle, his words struck Kepha like a blow, and it only hurt worse as the others added their own reassurances that they, at least, would be faithful.
The rabbi then shocked them all by asking that they carry money, sacks, and swords as they went out. He had always sent them out without any of these, trusting God and kind hearts would provide whatever they needed. He said tonight they must fulfill scripture prophecy. What did he intend to do?
Two swords were found, and Kepha made sure he kept one of them. Whatever happened, he assured himself he would be ready to act regardless of the cost. He would prove himself.
A full moon guided their way as the 12 men exited the city after midnight and crossed the dry wadi bed of Kidron in the Valley of Josaphat before walking towards the mount, with its burial caves cut into the white chalk and gray flint of the ridge. Like usual, they stopped at the quiet Garden of the "Oil Press" ("Gethsemane") at the foot of the mount.
Leaving behind the other disciples, Yeshua took his most devoted with him further in: Kepha and the two sons of Zavdai (Zebedee), Ya'aqov (James) and Johanan (John). This preferential treatment soothed Kepha's wounded heart a little, but only at first. For the rabbi loosened his self-control and his moonlit eyes shone with wrenching grief, which he himself admitted.
"Stay here, and watch with me," Yeshua asked, and so they did (cf. Matthew 26:38). They saw their teacher, the long-awaited scion of King David, gradually melt fully in sorrow under the olive trees. Kneeling became prostration as he prayed face down in the earth. The hearts of Kepha and the others followed into his gloom, though unintended moments of sleep left them briefly bewildered upon awaking.
After one such nap, Yeshua softly scolded them and urged them to pray to be spared the coming test of faith. As he spoke, a crowd of religious leaders and temple guards came, and Yeshua greeted them. Kepha's fellow disciple Yehuda (Judas), who had left the Seder long before its end, stepped forth from the crowd to kiss the rabbi's cheek to identify him for the guards. Yeshua asked Yehuda why he would betray him with a kiss.
Betrayal. The idea pierced Kepha's groggy mind. While others wasted precious time asking Yeshua what to do, Kepha raised his sword and sliced off the right ear of a nearby man named Melek (Malchus), a servant of the high priest.
But the rabbi told him not to fight and tended to Melek -- healing him! It all made no sense. Courage fled Kepha and the "rock" ran away.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published October 20, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
At least 2,000 Mohawk tribe members have gathered in Rome today (Oct. 20) in anticipation of the canonization of one of their own, a 17th-century Mohawk maiden named Kateri Tekakwitha. On Sunday (Oct. 21), she will be the first Native American ever canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.
Her path to world renown wasn't an easy one. Two scientifically inexplicable miracles had to be investigated and approved before the Vatican would officially recognize her as a saint. According to the Associated Press, the second miracle happened when a dying boy of Lummi tribe descent, Jake Finkbonner of Ferndale, Washington, recovered from a flesh-eating strep bacterium infection in 2011 after children across the U.S. prayed for Kateri to intercede with God for his life to be saved.
But long before then Kateri suffered greatly for her love of God as did the tribe of her mother, a band of Algonquins who had converted to Christianity. The following story comes from the research of her distant cousin Norm Léveillée, genealogy websites, and accounts of her life.
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Chief Sachem Carolus Pachiniri had led his Weskarini band of Algonquins, consisting entirely of Christians, for most of a decade. The French called his people the Little Nation, and a French fort and Jesuit mission offered protection. When marauding Iroquois attacked, Algonquin braves and French soldiers would fight back while families sheltered in the fort. But a surprise attack around 1652-1653 left many defenders dead, and women and children enslaved.
Among them would be the mother of the future saint, a woman who may have been called Pittaraskiwassi (Algonquin for “flower of the earth”) among the Weskarini. But the Iroquois renamed her Kahontake (meadow). She became the wife of the Iroquois chief of the Turtle Clan, and bore him first a daughter, in 1656, and then a son.
In 1660, the deadly virus smallpox ravaged the Iroquois village of Ossernenon (now Auriesville, New York) and Kahontake, her husband, and her son died. Her daughter survived but pockmarks scarred her face and her eyes became oversensitive to sunlight, which earned her the name Tekakwitha ― “she who gropes for her way slowly.”
Tekakwitha’s uncle became both clan chief and her guardian, and he detested Christianity because of the way French settlers treated natives, the rise of European diseases, and other bad omens. Yet Jesuit missionaries, who natives called Black Robes, would nonetheless visit the Iroquois after the clan moved across the Mohawk River to form a new village, Caughnawaga. The Turtle Clan had relocated only after French soldiers and hostile braves crushed several fortified Mohawk villages, including Ossernenon, in 1666.
Tekakwitha’s uncle never permitted her to listen to the Black Robes until 1667 when circumstances forced him to show them hospitality for three days. During that time 11-year-old Tekakwitha, an excellent cook, prepared their meals as hostess of the longhouse. The visit surely stirred thoughts of her mother’s faith, which she knew about through her mother’s friend Anastasie.
In 1674, Rev. Jacques de Lamberville, SJ, accidentally came to the chief’s longhouse for information, and 18-year-old Tekakwitha seized the opportunity to ask about the Black Robe’s God. She explained that her mother had been a Christian, and she wanted to learn more.
The encounter gave first voice to the desire that would become her lifelong quest and catchphrase: “Who will teach me what’s most pleasing to God so I may do it?”
The priest agreed to teach her, but did so in secret for fear of the chief. In time, Tekakwitha revealed her growing devotion to the Christian God to her uncle, and pressured him to allow her to become a Catholic. He eventually consented so long as she never tried to leave the village.
His dark-haired niece would be baptized on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1676, at St. Peter’s Mission near her village. She adopted a new name, Kateri, after Saint Catherine.
Her public commitment to a foreign god would not be welcomed in her village. Children mocked her with words and stones if she left the chief’s longhouse, and adults referred to her as “the Christian” or “the Algonquin.” Some beat her. Because she refused to work on Sundays, her uncle would not allow her to eat all day as punishment for her “laziness.”
Once a young brave raised his tomahawk to kill her, but when she quietly knelt, ready to die for her God, her behavior so confounded him that he left her.
In July of 1677, Kateri slipped away from Caughnawaga. For the next two months and more, she walked more than 200 miles across woods and swamps to the mission of St. Francis Xavier, near Montreal. She received her first Eucharist on Christmas that year.
For years she would spend hours daily in prayer and ministry in her new village of native Christians, Kahnawake. Though illiterate, she remembered everything she’d been told about the life of Jesus and his disciples, and frequently held others spellbound as she shared those stories.
Kateri Tekakwitha died of poor health in 1680 at age 24, and her last words were “Jesus, I love you.”
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 5/25/12 in The Madera Tribune
Many Christians will celebrate the birthday of their religion this Sunday, better known as Pentecost. Appropriately, this holy day has a Jewish origin and a Greek name.
Before taking a new meaning for followers of Jesus, it was a harvest festival that recalled when God dictated laws for the 12 tribes of Israel at Mount Sinai (aka Horeb). Foremost of these laws are the 10 Commandments, basic moral laws long revered by Jews and Christians alike. The festival received its ancient Greek name from the timing of that historic occasion, which scripture recorded as on “the 50th” day after the Jews escaped slavery in Egypt. In Hebrew it is known as the Festival of Weeks (Hag ha Shavuot).
Christians tend to forget all of that, however. For us, Pentecost evokes images of supernatural fire, wind, and preaching, which are key elements of the day’s description in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
On Shavuot in Jerusalem less than two millennia ago, a clamor like that of a tornado filled a place where perhaps as many as 120 devotees of Jesus were seated. Next, flames appeared to fall on each, resting gently without causing harm. Then, scripture says, they were filled with the spirit of God and began to speak of divine matters in a variety of languages they had never learned.
Such a spectacle drew a diverse crowd in the metropolis, which had many expatriates from across the ancient world for the Festival of Weeks. What these visitors heard initially and the preaching that followed — all expressed in their own native tongues — caused the idle spectators to embrace this new religion, a sect of Judaism that quickly expanded beyond it to reach peoples of every nation, ethnicity, and — fittingly enough — tongue.
The memoirs of the physician Luke only share a relatively small excerpt of the words voiced that day (Acts 2:14-40), but unsurprisingly they center on the “good news” (aka gospel) revealed by God.
This gospel is summed up perfectly and fully in Jesus.
In my lifetime, many have tried to express it in easily memorized phrases or citations (such as the ever-popular scripture reference at sporting events, “John 3:16”). But I hesitate to attempt the same, because the task of abridging the gospel daunts me. There is so much to divine revelation, both truth and mystery.
I also wonder if sometimes such pithy attempts can lose sight of one of the lessons of Christian Pentecost: what first impressed the onlookers in Jerusalem so long ago was that the Christians talked of God in a language each individual listener could understand.
Rather than catchphrases, the hearers needed a personal explanation, and more than that: an introduction to the person of Jesus. This was accomplished by following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, not a script.
That said, imagine a world without shared terms, definitions, formulas, songs, and so on. Life would become a never-ending labor of re-invention and potential errors. Perhaps the ideal is as Augustine — an ancient bishop of Hippo, Africa — once advised: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things ‘charity’ (supernatural love).”
His last point is a vital one, because without love for others how could Christians ever reveal God to anyone? Surely the Christians at Pentecost were not only filled with the Spirit of God but supernatural love as well. As John, the cherished disciple of Jesus, wrote in a letter, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
With or without words, God surely touches our head and heart. Like us, our minds and hearts are unique, even when the same truth fills them.
English poet, novelist, and decorated soldier Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) romanced both sexes after World War I. Yet despite many relationships he spent his last two decades alone, and converted to Catholicism before his death.
In his poem “A Prayer at Pentecost,” Sassoon depicted his relationship with God as a two-part performance to be completed not by words but by quiet transformation:
“Master musician, I have overheard you, / Labouring in litanies of heart to word you. / Be noteless now. Our duologue is done. / Spirit, who speak'st by silences, remake me: / To light of unresistant faith awake me, / That with resolved requiem I be one.”