Thursday, May 17, 2018

Babel has fallen

Pentecost Vigil 2018

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. But no one can truly rejoice in this feast without recalling an incident that took place long ago on the plain of Shinar, which we had just heard in the first reading. Back then, men attempted to build an ancient skyscraper, up to the heavens. “Come, they said, let us build ourselves a town and a tower reaching heaven. Let us make a name for ourselves, so that we may not be scattered about the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:4) This massive engineering feat was not motivated by the desire for development nor for the welfare of the people. Needless to say, they were not building a temple to God. The text clearly states that they were doing this to make a name for themselves. It was a monument to their ego. Pride, was the drive behind this project. They sought to establish a unified society. They thought that by means of technology they could continue to live in sin and impunity without having to suffer the divine punishment of another flood. If the waters start rising, just start climbing!

Here we see clearly what St. Augustine would describe later as the “city of man” as opposed to the “city of God.” According to Jewish tradition it was Nimrod who organised and oversaw the building of the tower of Babel. Nimrod is a prototype of the Antichrist, the ruler of the city of man, i.e. those who seek to live as if man is God. Every despot and dictator follows the same mould. Nimrod and those following him wanted to build a city and a tower, to make a name for themselves in order to preserve their man-made projects, to exalt themselves to heaven while living in opposition to God. God saw that, when so unified, the city of man would be capable of unrestrained evil. Just as He had mercifully driven man out of Eden to prevent him from eating of the Tree of Life and so living forever in his sinful condition; so also at Babel, God acted mercifully in confusing man’s language, to prevent the city of man from carrying out the great evils it would do if united together in opposition to God. God delayed judgment of the city of man to allow man to repent. It was an act of mercy, not a punitive one.

But God’s redemptive purpose was not merely to prevent man from falling into greater evil; He also set out to restore to man the true unity he enjoyed in Eden, a fellowship in the Divine Trinity. Only by this communion with the Divine Persons can men be truly united to each other; the true unity of men with men only comes about as a participation in the divine unity of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son with this ministry of reconciliation. After His death and resurrection, but before His ascension into Heaven, He commissioned His Apostles to “make disciples of all the nations.” Fifty days after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, and filled with the Holy Spirit they began speaking in other languages which they had not previously known. On that day, three thousand heard their testimony, believed and were baptised. On Pentecost Day, the Church was born.

One of the primary purposes for Christ founding a Church is to undo the division of the human family effected by sin. The Tower of Babel is the paradigmatic referent of Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain.” Pentecost is the supernatural redemptive reversal of Babel, and this is why the Church is the anti-Babel. The purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is to reverse that division by means of a divine ingathering. All the nations of the world are to stream into her doors, into one household, the household of faith. The Church is the house of the Lord, and because He builds this house, those who labour against it, labour in vain. Apart from Christ, man cannot form such a unity, though he thinks he can. A Utopian world without the need for heaven would eventually be a living hell. By his own power man attempts to recover each of the gifts lost or damaged by Adam’s sin. He attempts to gain immortality through genetic manipulation, pharmaceuticals and medical science; love through pornography, fornication, adultery and other forms of sexual aberrations, and wisdom through electronic technology, internet and news media. But he is only capable of “creating” a distorted parody of the original perfection.

Man continues to reach the heavens through his own devices in order to discover the answer to life’s problems. Little does he realise, that all such attempts will inevitably meet with failure. Ironically, there is no need for him to build a tower to find an answer. The answer chose to leap down from heaven, the Word of God descended and became flesh and after His ascension, the Spirit descended upon the Church at Pentecost. Unity is ultimately a gift from God. And this is why unity is the first of the four marks of the Church: “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” The Life of the Church is the supernatural Life of the Trinity, not from man, but from the God-man, and not ordered to natural earthly bliss, but to the supernatural end, heavenly beatitude, which is the very perfect and eternal communion of the Three Divine Persons. In this way the Church reverses Babel, not by man’s own efforts, but by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Body of Christ, to incorporate all men into that Body.

God wants all men to be united through being incorporated into the body of Christ, i.e. the Church: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one faith, one baptism into one God. The true unification of man takes place only through Christ and the Holy Spirit and the Church. But modern men, who have no place in their hearts for God, always seek a substitute for the divine. And the city of man continues to seek peace and unity through political, economic, technological and military means. Yet the city of man can never find true peace and unity through these means. It can only wrought destruction as evidenced by the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.

Into that mystical Body, men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation are to this day still being incorporated, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Church and her sacraments. And that is the reason why we must never cease to reach out to our relatives and friends and invite them into the Church. Often, Catholics fail miserably in this aspect due to misplaced notion of respect for the other. The Church is meant to be a sign to the world of man’s original social purpose, the harmonious union of all men. In the mystical Body of the Second Adam, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the first Adam’s sin (i.e. division and strife and dissension and schism) are done away, the damage of Babel is healed.

When human pride drives us to build monuments to ourselves instead of to God, we repeat the sin of Babel. When we seek to sow seeds of discord and injure the unity of the Church in order to build our own little niche of the kingdom, we participate once again in the discord of Babel. When instead of being spiritually fruitful, we try to build our own material security, we repeat the infidelity of   Babel. When we refuse to hear God’s word, He sends us strong delusion — or a confusion like He had sent to Babel. When men are full of human pride, confusion always results. We live today in a world of religious “babble.” Only the spelling has changed. What can reunite men and end the religious confusion?  By simply listening to God and obeying His commands!  When we are attuned to the language of God, the language of barrier of men can be dropped so that God’s message of salvation can be heard once again with utter clarity.

Babel, the city of man, forever represents the confusion and division of humankind; but the city of God, the resplendent Church whom we call Mother, draws men and women of every language, colour, culture, and nationality into a kingdom where there is neither Greek nor Jew, bond or free, but where all are one in Christ Jesus.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.