May 23: Language of the Heart (Pentecost B)

“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” John 20: 19-23.

On Pentecost Sunday, we pray for the “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” seeking wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and awe before God, the source of all truth.

That’s quite a robust list of gifts of the Spirit. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is sending us in Peace. If we have listened carefully these past few weeks in Easter, it’s “Christ in you.”

We speak his words, and, coming to my mind are the words of the innocent child Catherine Violet Hubbard, “Tell all your friends, I am kind.” The voice of tenderness, after all, is most convincing.

Words and culture contain a particular fascination for me. More than the translation of a specific language, when we converse in a so-called “foreign language,” we appreciate and value the culture and the people of that language group.

Twice a day, the language app Rosetta Stone sends me an advertisement to buy their online courses and “binge more with unlimited languages.” For 179 dollars, you can purchase a lifetime subscription to all seven of their language courses for a discounted price. They promise ease when coming to language study. Frankly, I would not use the word “binge” when attempting to master a language.

When asking Siri how many world languages are there? The reply comes, “3 world languages (Chinese, Spanish, and English), 20 most spoken languages, and a staggering 6,500 languages worldwide.

That’s a lot more than Rosetta Stone could promise. However, this is not outside the realm of the Holy Spirit. Our challenge is to speak in the language of the heart that knows each soul, in whatever tongue, person to person, heart to heart.

How many of you took the challenge of learning English and then deal with the many adjustments in learning here in the United States? While we who struggle in Spanish know how vital your language is to us.

Because of the United States Defense Language Institute in Monterey, I’ve been told that more languages are taught here. If my neighbors studying Arabic and Chinese are an example, it’s a tough challenge to achieve true fluency in these or any other tongue.

To be clear, today’s selection from the Act of the Apostles is a lesson in global languages where the disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Their task was to preach and reach: to speak to people where they lived and in the languages they represented. For the scripture writer, this was a subtle way of correcting the effects of the Tower of Babel, where languages divided people early on — in the Book of Genesis.

So, we pray for the ability of women and men of faith to breathe new life (and here the Holy Spirit means “breath”) into social institutions like high schools, colleges, and universities, and healthcare organizations worldwide. The collective efforts of the past year and work that remains to be done regarding the health emergency will be seen as something like a miracle, but miracles don’t come easy.

Most of all, we must speak across those political and economic barriers that divide us. We must bring hope to the desperate who live on the fragile sector of society, the homeless on the streets, and families in war-ravaged communities of Israel and Gaza that they might take comfort in the healing mission of Christ.

Spring is a time of vitality and renewal. Yes, these past twelve months were a collective effort to breathe life into a vacuum.

Now it’s time for the final examinations. So, there is a bit of stress this week, only to be followed by graduation and a well-deserved summer break.

A word of encouragement comes from Pope Francis, who writes:

“Let us ask the Lord for the grace not to hesitate when the Spirit call us to take a step forward. Let us ask for the apostolic courage to share the Gospel with others and to stop trying to make our Christian life a museum of memories.”

In every situation, may the Holy Spirit cause us to contemplate history in light of the risen Jesus. In this way, the Church will not stand still but constantly welcome the Lord’s surprises.” 

As Saint Paul says, “Don’t stifle the spirit!” You have placed your trust in God, so don’t put a lid on your imagination when celebrating the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

For the sake of the Gospel, on this Pentecost — be ambitious, passionate, and courageous — and your life will make a difference!

And above all else, “Don’t stifle that spirit!”

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

Brother Mel Anderson, FSC, 1918-2021 — A Remembrance 

A friend of mine once observed:

“If you happen to come across a turtle on a table, one thing is certain. Someone had to place the turtle on the table. Since left to itself, a turtle is incapable of such a feat.”

So it is with most of us, we are placed in a particular geography, on a lush terrain, a big city, or even an arid desert. So whatever the location, if the conditions are right, we can survive, and even thrive. Such is my case.

Thirty years ago, I sat at my desk and read an advertisement for a position at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California. It had all the essential ingredients to attract my interests, namely a Catholic, liberal arts undergraduate College, and Christian Brothers, who taught in the Great Books tradition.

Before I made the application, however, I checked an atlas to discover that Moraga was not in Death Valley, rather the Moraga Valley in the East Bay of San Francisco, and close by Oakland and Berkeley.

Brother Mel Anderson was the person who placed me on the table, front and center — in a welcoming fashion. As a college president, he selected me for the Chair of the Communication Department. After sealing the deal with my archbishop, I moved to Moraga and began teaching communications, journalism, and politics.

In those early days, Brother Mel was more than a college president — his apartment in the dorm was where his charge of undergraduates feasted nightly on his gourmet cooking.

How rare for a college president, Mel taught in the Great Books program and knew his students. They were his friends.

In so many ways, Brother Mel was a headmaster, as the curmudgeonly Algy Harris in R.F. Delderfeld’s “To Serve Them All Our Days.” The novel depicts the interplay of faculty and students at a British boarding school just before World War I. In the classrooms, on the playing fields, and those blood-soaked fields of foreign wars that would profoundly affect their lives, forging a lifetime bond.

Brother Mel was a role model for me. As an administrator, he surrounded himself with talented and engaged associates who advanced the mission of the College. His administration was lean, unlike the bloated and costly managers of today. He was a great companion — often we ate at the great restaurants of San Francisco and together we traveled to Hawaii, London, and Moscow.

Mel was a man who could speak publicly and with great passion about the direction and the goals of a Catholic, liberal arts education. Our students remained paramount and more important to him than a particular subject, pending faculty conflicts or winning and losing a season of NCAA basketball.

Once a student, so frustrated with the arcane scheduling process, and not finding his faculty advisor for approval of his courses, asked Brother Mel to sign the required course selection form. When a disbelieving staff member at the Registrar’s Office told the student they would not accept a “forged signature,” Brother Mel appeared at the office window to assure the staff member that the signature was his.

When Brother Mel’s term as president ended, after a long time in office, none of his successors filled the post with quite as much insight into the formal undergraduate curriculum and the everyday life of the campus. Most of all, it was his devotion to students, faculty, and staff that I will remember fondly.

May Brother Mel’s soul and the souls of all the faithfully departed rest in the Lord’s peace. Amen





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