8 June 2014

Speaking with tongues for the New Evangelisation: Pentecost homily

'They spoke with tongues'. You and I can speak with tongues: can go out of church and speak in an unusual language: if we let the Spirit empower us; if we let the Spirit take over the way we speak. And the language we can go out and talk is a dialect the World does not know; a dialect I would like to call 'Talking Christian'.

Talking Christian is what we do in church. The Scriptures and the Liturgy are written in Christian. Inside church, we all talk Christian, even sing it, without the least hesitation. But we're most dreadfully shy of Talking Christian once we step outside.

What do I mean by Talking Christian? Well, for starters, there's the word 'God'. Inside this building' we can hardly open our mouths without using it. But out there, in the world God made, among men and women he created and loves and redeems, do we ever use the word? If our faith means anything, it means that God pokes his nose into everything, is concerned about everything, has, so to speak, a line on everything. But God is a word the World hates. It doesn't mind us doing our God-talking in church, but, the message is, just let them catch us doing it outside and we'll have all Dr Dawkins' spaniels snapping round our ankles.

Then there's 'Sin' and 'Repentance' and ... well, you know how I could go on. But you might ask what the point is in speaking to the World in Christian, if Christian is a dialect the World doesn't understand. It would be a fair question. After all, the Apostles did indeed talk at that first Pentecost to all the nations in the language which each did understand. There is a serious point here to which this is my serious answer: 1600 years ago Christianity converted the Greek and Roman worlds and did so very largely by converting their languages. It invaded, it walked ruthlessly into, the languages of Greece and Rome, creating Christian dialects of, and ways of speaking, both Latin and Greek. In effect, it was a Christian cultural takeover. For us, I am convinced, the task is to reChristianise the English language so as to reclaim our culture for Christ.

Rome gave a good lead a few years ago when it told its committee responsible for translating liturgical texts to use the full and rich panoply of terms handed down by Tradition: words like Grace and Redemption and Mercy and Almighty and Majesty and Humility; rather than dumbing down the language of prayer. There had been a fashionable assumption that avoiding such language and opening to the World a window of linguistic banality - Daily Mirror English - would get the masses pouring in. But firstly: that was tried and it didn't work; and, secondly, Rome rightly judged that if you throw out both babies and bathwater, the World can hardly be blamed for concluding that you have nothing. So that is why we are now using a new translation of the Mass ... a translation which, unlike the old one, really does 'speak Christian'. Sadly, there are those who still fiercely resist this; immensely sincere people but profoundly misguided ones who have failed to learn the lesson of the last forty years.

The New Evangelisation, in which the repatriated Anglican Patrimony will play a part, means taking the battle culturally to the World instead of hoping that if we just retreat far enough and cringe submissively enough, the World will somehow rediscover Christ. That is why I suggest that Talking Christian may be our duty; and that the Holy Spirit of Pentecost is able to give us the power to speak in that strange dialect, if only we let him. He can touch our tongues as he touched the tongues of the Apostles.


Joshua said...

Thank you, Father, for your always-excellent homilies. I was delighted and enlightened by this latest sermon.

TLMWx said...

So very true. Flipping over an atheist blog I found the contributors were complaining about this very matter. They were protesting the Irish "over use" of the term "God Bless". They considered it a "passive aggressive" attack on their dearly held non-belief system.