A man approached a shop assistant and asked her about something in a foreign language. She replied that she hadn’t understood. So the man asked: “Do you speak German?” but her reply was very short: “No”. Then he asked once again: “Do you speak French?” Her reply was exactly the same. The man asked another question: “Do you speak Spanish?” The same answer. And another question: “Do you speak Spanish?” She replied as usual. Finally the man gave up and left the shop. Then another shop assistant told the girl: “You’re silly. You should learn foreign languages to communicate with other people!” “Really?” the girl replied. “He spoke four languages and could not communicate”.
I experienced something similar when I went to Spain for my retreat. Fully confident of my quite communicative English I walked to the centre of Salamanca and… I had to use my body, because my tongue was useless. Nobody spoke English (or Polish). How important is it to know and to speak a proper language…
When we hear about the apostles speaking foreign languages just like that we might be envious. They didn’t have to learn grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, expressions and all these boring things necessary for speaking a foreign language. The most important part of that miracle is not speaking different languages, but what was spoken: the marvels of God. The book of the Acts of the Apostles never again mentioned the language miracle; it never was repeated. But in the same book we can find a lot of examples of a new language used by the Apostles and believers: the language of the Spirit.
This language has been the driving force for many people throughout the ages. They overcame enormous obstacles, weakness of their own bodies and will; they learnt new skills and languages… All these for one reason: the Holy Spirit encourages them to love with greater love. Sadly in the last few days we found what happens when the language of love, the Holy Spirit, is deafened by selfishness, desire of power and earthly lust. In the alternative second reading for today St Paul warns what happens when the Spirit cannot work within us: “fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility, idolatry and sorcery, feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and similar”. Does it sound familiar? Is this not a good description of our world? We are called by the Spirit to bear other fruits: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control”. This is the most important language to learn and practise: the language of love.