Pentecost always reminds me of the transformative power of words and names. The disciples in Acts were imbued with the charism to speak in words that even foreigners could understand. To push this further, I want to say that the Spirit helps us to encounter people where they are, by the names by which they know themselves and in the ways they hope to know themselves–the Spirit gives us the vision to see the potential in others. The disciples knew the importance of naming rightly: that the names and words we have for others and the ineffable Other reflect the extent to which one is in solidarity with oneself, others, and the divine. Any theologian worth their salt will tell you that the names and symbols of God function to the salvation or peril of those who use and receive them. What might it mean to name and discern the Spirit as solidarity?
The Power of Names:
As many a high school freshman, I first seriously encountered the grave power of names through that famous Shakespearean balcony scene in which Juliet and Romeo lament the names that require their certain enmity:
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
[Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo. (Romeo & Juliet II.ii.37-56)
The young lovers are able to name their love and the obstacles to it. Despite their willingness to fight against all odds and surmount what divides in order to unite, their fatal flaw was haste. The star-crossed lovers had not heeded Friar Lawrence’s warning, “Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast” (II.iii.101). Even if a love can be rightly named as pure and true, absent discernment, it can miss the mark.
Naming that Diminishes:
For my purposes, I’ve highlighted the tragic elements in Romeo & Juliet as resulting from two things: division caused in part by naming others as enemies, and a lack of discernment. The Pentecost story in Acts provides an element that responds to one of these concerns: the language and ability to bridge division. Discernment can only come with attention, and today’s Gospel highlights where we can first direct our attention: to our own feelings and how we name others under the sway of those emotions.
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (Mt. 5:21,22)
For all their haste, Juliet and Romeo knew the dangers of being labeled as enemies. Jesus calls his followers to attend to their hearts for even the slightest inclination to label someone as lesser or condemnable. While good advice for any ara, modern communication technologies and the current cultural and political climates are fraught with rapid-fire exchanges that inhibit measured reflection and encourage easy dismissal. There is no built-in time or space for discernment. Social media provide a lavish banquet for the ego by exponentially increasing one’s opportunities to be right all the time in proportion to one’s proclivity to log in. Tweets, status updates, selfies, and news ledes flood our insatiable feeds and, if let go unchecked, propel what Buddhism likes to call our monkey minds. Soon, we begin to think of, judge, and name anyone or any group however we like: New Yorkers are rude, these friends are insecure, those coworkers are inept, political others are idiots, and millenials can’t handle the real world. We have condemned them as not worth our efforts and concern. The insidiousness of sin keeps us invested in the illusion of our separateness and superiority. The world can be a neverending carousel of Babel if we let it. But with hope we can ask, where and how do we change course?
Naming a Praxis that Builds Solidarity:
In the two millennia of discernment after the first pentecost, the followers of Christ are still working out how to be Church. Today, sustained attentive reflection on the human condition in light of the Christian tradition has raised ever new concerns, not the least of which are constant warfare, pervasive and (in some places) irreversible environmental degradation, and global health crises, the disproportionate effects of which are felt by impoverished women and children. These are some of the repercussions of our judgment of others, drawn out over time into violent social structures that deny people their inherent dignity. Meghan Clark of St. John’s University is one theologian naming a new way forward in Catholic social teaching by engaging the virtue of solidarity. Her new book, The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: The Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights, attends to solidarity and human rights in the disciplines of anthropology, Christian theology, and global development. So close to Pentecost, her elucidation of solidarity is timely:
The virtue of solidarity is not a naïve vision of utopia. Instead, it is the recognition that through practicing human rights, as the right kind of actions and emotional reactions, individuals and communities can develop solidarity as a firm and persevering disposition. It is based upon a theological commitment that we are able to become more fully human, more fully who we are. As it becomes a firm and persevering character among individuals and communities—that is, as it becomes an acquired moral social virtue—more substantive human rights will exist. The challenge is to actively aim at the virtue in our various communities while resisting the very seductive and powerful vices of individualism and collectivism in all their incarnations.
Solidarity is both a personal and social virtue that can only develop if we have named the other as having an inviolable dignity equal to and, in fact, indelibly connected to our own. “My humanity is bound up in yours–this idea is fundamental to the vision of Catholic social thought. I cannot build up a relationship of equal human dignity until I begin from that starting point.” This dignity comes from being created in the image of God, imago dei as imago trinitate, a living communion of love, unity across difference. In recognition of this shared dignity, Clark outlines new ways in which the praxis of human rights can be enhanced by the contributions of Catholic social thought including broadening responsibility beyond nation-states and multinational actors to individuals who begin from places of equality, mutuality, and reciprocity. “The virtue of solidarity and the praxis of human rights require your pain to change me. Participation in the humanity of another is necessary.”
The Spirit indeed helps us to discern the way of solidarity. This year’s Pentecost allows us to name the praxis of human rights by encountering the humanity of others not only in the suffering of genocide and structural violence but also in the joys of life, liberty, and security of person. Today, as the world awaits the beginning of the World Cup in Brazil, it’s worth mentioning that solidarity calls us to protect the human rights of leisure, free association, and cultural participation. Pope Francis has delivered a video message to the organizers, players and fans of the World Cup, expressing the hope that the games will be “transformed into a festival of solidarity between peoples.” To that end, he’s promised the organizers that he won’t be taking sides. Some words are best unspoken.
 Meghan J. Clark, The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: The Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2014), 124.
 Ibid., 129.
 Ibid., 130.