Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Solemnity of Pentecost: We Talk, the Spirit Speaks
I want to begin with a quick summary of That Hideous Strength, the third book in
C.S. Lewis' science fiction trilogy.
The National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments, or N.I.C.E., had pretty well
taken over Edgestow, a college town in England. N.I.C.E. was determined to expand its
influence to dominate not only the country, but eventually the world. N.I.C.E. offered untold
wealth all through the advancement of science and technology. People were willing to
make numerous sacrifices to be part of N.I.C.E., including their dignity, their faith, and their
God. You see, although outwardly polite and scientifically efficient, deep in the bowels of
the N.I.C.E. headquarters was the evil one, seen as a disembodied head who was the
head of all their operations. And so C. S. Lewis presents the villains of That Hideous
Strength, the third book of his science fiction trilogy.
The hero and heroine, Mark and Jane Studdock slowly come to realize the evil that
has domineered their world, Jane through her dreams and Mark by being forced to take
a position writing propaganda for the company. They, Edgestow, England and the world
appeared to be powerless before the evil. Everyone was either under its spell or was
suddenly missing. N.I.C.E. continued to grow, continued to win over the opinions of
mankind. Jane and Mark sought help beyond that which man can provide. All seemed
lost until the Banquet at Belbury provided by N.I.C.E. to celebrate its victories. A prophet
appeared and cursed N.I.C.E. with the curse of the Tower of Babel. When Jules, the
public head of N.I.C.E. got up to speak, he spoke gibberish. No one could make out what
he was saying. Others arose to speak, but no one could understand them either. Then
they turned on each other. A riot ensued, during which wild animals that had been caged
for later experiments were released. The leaders of N.I.C.E. were killed, most killing each
other. Evil died off and order was restored.
I find it brilliant that C.S. Lewis called on the biblical account of the Tower of Babel
to conclude this book. He nailed it. In Genesis the people of the world wanted to show
that they were more powerful than God. God responded by confusing their language.
They then made war on each other.
The story of the Tower of Babel is the first reading for the vigil Masses of
Pentecost. It is meant to set up a radical contrast to the events of Pentecost. In the first
reading for the Masses of Pentecost day, the disciples of Jesus received the Holy Spirit
and then proclaimed the Gospel of Christ to the people who were in Jerusalem. People
from all over the known world heard the disciples in their own language. The apostles
were really just talking, but the Spirit they had received was speaking. According to the
Acts of the Apostles, three thousand people became Christian that day. They were united
by their determination to spread the Gospel. They were united by the Holy Spirit.
This was not a matter of the translators at the United Nations. The people who
heard the Apostles' words heard the Holy Spirit. They themselves became empowered
by that Spirit to spread the Gospel. They brought Christ to their families. Many brought
Christ beyond their families to the world.
Let's look at those first apostles. How could it ever be possible that commoners
from Palestine would have the power to lead the world to Jesus Christ? These men
seldom left Galilee. And yet by the time they died, people in Greece, Macedonia, Asia
Minor, Italy, Egypt, Ethiopia and other sections of Africa, and India and other parts of Asia,
perhaps even as far west as Spain, were all calling Christ their Lord. These men and
women didn't do this. The Holy Spirit did this. They talked. The Spirit spoke. And the
world listened. Many followed.
The Holy Spirit is also powerful in our time. We have received this Power at our
own personal Pentecosts, our confirmations. We are now capable of transforming lives,
even capable of transforming the world.
But we have to be willing to talk for the world to hear the Holy Spirit speak. The
disciples who were locked up in that Upper Room on Pentecost Sunday received the Spirit
and then left their hiding place and publically proclaimed Jesus Christ. Before Pentecost
they feared being caught and killed. After Pentecost they only feared not being true to the
We also have to leave the security of our hiding places and publically proclaim
Jesus Christ. We can't keep silent in our homes when the gifts of God are being thrown
into the garbage. For example, many have reduced marriage to an egotistical celebration
of temporary romance. We have to stand for the sacrament as given to us by the Lord
and proclaim marriage as a vocation from God. In the case of late term abortions, partial
birth abortions, many have devalued life to the point that a matter of inches determines
for them the difference between a woman's rights and murder. We have to take a stand
for life as a gift from God from womb to tomb. Yes, we may be destroyed by the popular
crowd. But we have to be true to ourselves and true to the Spirit who has formed us into
who we are.
In the second reading for Pentecost, St, Paul writes to the Corinthians:
"No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. There are different
kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but
the God who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit. (1 Cor 12:3-7)
We need to use the spiritual gifts we have received so others can find Christ. We
each have powerful ways of bringing others to Christ. We each have a share in the Holy
We need to talk so the Spirit can speak. We need to talk so others can hear the
Spirit. We need to talk. St. Francis of Assisi said: "Preach the Gospel at all times, and if
necessary, use words." We need to talk with our lives. We need to be so deeply devoted
to our Lord that Christian is who we are, not merely what we say, or even what we do.
When our speech and our actions flow from our union with Christ, then others are drawn
by the Spirit to enter this union. A number of years ago a terrible tragedy hit a family in
our parish. People rallied around the surviving widow. She wasn't Catholic.... at the time.
But she became Catholic. She told me that she chose Catholicism because she wanted
what those others had. They talked with their lives. She heard the spirit and sought unity
with them in Christ.
The elements of the world that have rejected God have condemned themselves to
babel. Their lives are as meaningless as their words. They do not have to continue
suffering. There is hope available. There is harmony available. There is peace available.
In the Upper Room Jesus said to them, His disciples, "Peace be with you. As the
Father has sent me, so I send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them and
said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
We have been empowered to bring peace to a world that longs to be rescued from
chaos. May we have the courage to talk with our lives so the Spirit can speak to their