“They were filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak in diverse tongues.”
In reading today's Epistle and the Gospel that we read last Thursday for the feast of the Ascension, we are reminded of the various gifts the early Christians were given through the reception of the Holy Ghost. They were able to speak and be understood even by those from far away; able to heal the sick; to speak in unknown languages; to prophesy and boldly teach the Faith; and even to be protected from the harm of poison and poisonous snakes.
Quite understandably, we are prompted to ask why these charismatic gifts have, by and large, vanished from the Church. Saint Paul answers this question in his (First) Epistle to the Corinthians. These very impressive gifts were given to the early Christians to facilitate the growth of the Church; to demonstrate tangibly that the Church worked with the power of God. We modern people might use the phrase that God gave the early Christians such gifts to “jump-start” the Church. But Saint Paul tells us also that these gifts are but temporary; that “prophecies will disappear, and tongues will cease, and knowledge will be destroyed.”
And, lest we be too disturbed with the loss of these gifts, he assures us that there is a better way to build up the body of Christ. After talking about tongues and prophesies and miracles and what-have-you, he says “I point out to you a yet more excellent way. If I speak with the tongues of men and angels—If I have prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge … and all faith … and even if I distribute all my goods to the poor, yet I do not have charity, it profits me nothing.” All of these flashy demonstrations are worthless without the love of God, and the love of fellow man for the sake of God.
It is interesting to note that even in Paul's time, when certain people actually enjoyed the use of these charismatic gifts—Paul noticed, even then, that these powers became a source of pride or envy. Those gifted with the most outwardly spectacular gift—of speaking aloud in unknown tongues seemed to hold themselves in higher esteem than those with less flamboyant gifts. Paul had to turn them around and tell them that the gifts were important only if they were useful to strengthen the Church.
If you were going to ask God for His favor, Paul urged you to ask first of all for charity, that you might love God and your fellow man. Only then might you ask for one of the charismatic gifts. And Paul disparaged most of these gifts, with but one exception; that exception was the gift that he called “prophecy.” But the way he uses this word (“prophecy”) tells us that he is, again, not talking about some one who is able to predict the future or anything like that. The “prophet” for Paul, is someone who “speaks to men for edification, and encouragement, and consolation.”
Again, he is talking about strengthening the Church. Paul's “prophet” was someone who would give testimony about the love of our Lord for His people, and inspire them by recounting the holiness of God’s saints, perhaps including a personal experience or two. The “prophet” would put forth the greatness of God and the importance of following His Commandments through charity. He would encourage those wavering in their faith to get back on the road to salvation. And finally, he would put things in perspective; consoling his fellow Christians with the knowledge that in the long run God alone matters—and in the short run, the “constant mutual charity” shared with ones fellow Christians.
Saint Paul would be nothing short of horrified to see how his advice is ignored in modern times. Instead of seeking charity; instead of edifying and encouraging and consoling, modern Catholics are again seeking to impress their friends by speaking in tongues or by boasting of “special knowledge” allegedly obtained through divine grace—a sort of “parodied prophecy.”
Some of this, of course, comes from a lack of clear spiritual guidance from on high within the modern Church. Such pentecostalism was confined to the more oddball Protestant sects until the modern Church adopted a sort of Protestantism 40 years or so ago. The much touted “freedom” of the conciliar church turned out to be nothing but “uncertainty,” and prompted people to seek guidance from less reliable sources.
But perhaps even more importantly, Paul would, no doubt, denounce this desire for miracles as a terrible lack of humility—and as a possible way to become involved with the spirit of evil instead of the Holy Spirit—for every voice that whispers in one's ear is not necessarily of God.
Today is Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Ghost. And rather than asking why we rarely see spectacular miracles worked, like those of the Bible, it is the day to ask God not for great power or fame, but for great humility; the day to ask not for signs and wonders, but to ask for the grace of charity—the love of God, and the love of fellow man for the sake of God.
 Epistle: Acts ii:1-11 http://www.drbo.org/cgi-bin/d?b=drl&bk=51&ch=2&l=1-#x
 1 Corinthians xiii:18 http://www.drbo.org/cgi-bin/d?b=drl&bk=53&ch=13&l=8#x
 1 Corinthians xii: 31-xiii:3 http://www.drbo.org/cgi-bin/d?b=drl&bk=53&ch=12&l=31-#x
 1 Corinthians xiv:1-14 http://www.drbo.org/cgi-bin/d?b=drl&bk=53&ch=14&l=1-#x
 1 Corinthians xiv:3 http://www.drbo.org/cgi-bin/d?b=drl&bk=53&ch=14&l=3#x