One hundred days on 4 June, 50 days on 5 June. One hundred days of war in Ukraine, 50 days between Easter and Pentecost. Perhaps all of human history is held in the tension between these two numbers.
One hundred days of war. That’s the way it is, and it seems unavoidable, even though it hadn’t happened in Europe for quite some time. But the truth is that we never stop making war; it is the ‘constant note’ in history, because, as the Pope said on his return flight from Malta on 3 April, “as humanity, we are stubborn. We are in love with wars, with the spirit of Cain”. There are even wars named after their duration: the Thirty Years’ War, the Hundred Years’ War. After all, 100 days of war are not many (and in fact, the end still seems far away).
Fifty days, Pentecost. And then there’s the novelty of Jesus and his Gospel, an impetus to move, to get out. To set aside the patterns of reasoning of the world, among which, the patterns of war are the most privileged. In those 50 days between Easter and Pentecost the entire process was clear, visible: at first the disciples were hiding in the Upper Room, gripped by fear, holed up in disillusion, breeding resentment and a growing scepticism that became mistrust of the past and terror about the future. Then came the encounter with the risen Lord and the breath of the Spirit, and everything melted away. With courage they went out to meet individuals, peoples, everyone, no longer seeing them as foreigners or enemies but as brothers and friends. The world as “a caravan of brothers”, the Pope said on Friday, 3 June, quoting Saint Irenaeus in his discourse to young priests and monks of Oriental Orthodox Churches. A family on a journey, because unity “is not a plan to be devised or a project to be worked out around a table. Unity does not come about by standing still, but by moving forward with the new energy that the Spirit, from the day of Pentecost, impresses on the disciples”.
The point is that Pentecost is God’s response — always a creative one — to Babel. Pentecost is the logic, the “pattern” of God and the patterns of people, evident in the episode of the tower “with its top in the heavens”, which would allow man to “make a name for himself”. It is the name of God, it is the hubris of man to conquer the heavens, to take the Creator’s place. If Babel was the earth’s attack on the heavens, then Pentecost was the gift that came down from the heavens to the earth. If initially “the whole earth had one language and few words” (Genesis 11:1), according to a pattern of single-mindedness, now the disciples speak the languages of men, and everyone understands them. Because, the Pope said on Friday, “unity is not uniformity, much less the fruit of compromise or fragile diplomatic balances of power. Unity is harmony in the diversity of the charisms bestowed by the Spirit. For the Holy Spirit loves to awaken both multiplicity and unity, as at Pentecost, where different languages were not reduced to one alone, but were taken up in all their variety”.
Wars also arise from this, from the violence with which a single way of thinking, a single language, a single mens, is imposed. This is the logic of the bricks of Babel, accounted for and calculated (as are the days or years of wars), the logic of production and consumption, of efficiency and discarding, where human beings are reduced to interchangeable bricks, and thus truly anonymous, deprived of a face and name. Babel and Pentecost, the same direction — vertical — but in one case, movement goes, according to aggression, from bottom to top, whereas in the second case, according to condescension, from top to bottom, and only then is that unity that the tower builders’ strived for, achieved. As the builders said: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis, 11, 4). But unity, the Pope said on Friday to the Orthodox monks, “is a gift, a fire from on high. Certainly, we need constantly to pray, work, dialogue and prepare ourselves to receive this extraordinary grace. Yet the attainment of unity is not primarily a fruit of earth, but of heaven. It is not primarily the result of our commitment, our efforts and our agreements, but of the working of the Holy Spirit, to whom we need to open our hearts in trust, so that he can guide us along the path to full communion. Unity is a grace, a gift”.
When men and women break free from the delirium of the omnipotence of Babel, and allow themselves to be guided by the Spirit of Pentecost, they stop making war. They rediscover that they are in love with a more ancient and greater love: peace, which restores a name and face to oneself, to others and to an otherwise disfigured world.