Saturday, May 26, 2012
The Holy Spirit and Fire
For the past fifty days we have celebrated and reflected on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We have told the stories of his appearances to the apostles and how he finally ascended to heaven to assume his glorious throne. Today, the feast of Pentecost, we bring our Easter celebration to a close by remembering the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and Mary. On this day the Spirit of God rushed down like a mighty wind upon the room in which they had gathered in prayerful expectation. Then tongues of fire alighted on them signifying that each of them had been touched by God and were now empowered to preach the good news. We learn what a radical transformation came over them as they spill into the streets proclaiming the wonders of God. They are no longer huddled in fear, hiding from the world. Once touched by God, they are free to proclaim to all those who would hear about the death and resurrection of Jesus.
And so the Church is born by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
This Holy Spirit continues to dwell within us forming us into the People of God and equipping us to bring God's love to the suffering and the needy.
We use many symbols to help us understand who the Holy Spirit is. One of the most powerful of those images is that of fire. It is the reason why we wear red on this feast of the birth of the Church. By depicting the Holy Spirit as fire, the Scriptures are instructing us about the effects that he has on the lives of believers. Like fire, the Holy Spirit transforms us, purifies us and sets us aflame with love of God.
First of all, the Holy Spirit transforms us. Fire changes whatever it touches. Once something is burned, it cannot return to what it was. Just so, once we are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism and confirmation, we are forever changed. We cannot undo baptism or confirmation. No matter how hard we may try to reject that gift of faith and grace, it is forever with us. The way we write our names on the cover of a book we love, just so each of us has been marked by God as his special possession. Both the angels and the demons recognize it. Because of it, we can go before God with confidence and bring him our needs knowing that he will recognize us and answer us. And if we look into our hearts and find that we need to change, all we need to do is ask the Holy Spirit to refresh us and there is no doubt we will be forever transformed by his fire.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit purifies us. The way we boil water to kill the bacteria in it, the Holy Spirit's presence in our hearts burns away all that is not of God. As we are consumed by the fire of God's Spirit, our sinful self melts away. The Holy Spirit does this by putting into our hearts a love for God which makes anything that offends him loathsome to us. This image of purifying fire also reminds us that there is some pain involved in the transformation that God wants to accomplish in us. We resist change and are often fond of our sinful habits. But as we surrender to the Holy Spirit's purifying power, we discover the peace, joy and love that emerge once our sin is burned away. Once we taste that freedom, we never want to go back to our former slavery to sin.
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit sets us aflame with love for God. When we have an intense love for someone, we sometimes say we are "on fire" for that person. Or if we want something badly enough, we will say we have a "burning desire" for it. Just so, the Holy Spirit sets us on fire with love for God. Like a fire, that love is intense and all consuming. It is the love that compelled the apostles to put their fears aside and witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the love which even today inspires people to leave their comfortable lives to serve the poor and needy. It is the love which drove Jesus to hand his life over so that we might be saved. If we are feeling dead inside. If we feel that life has become a drudgery and that there is no purpose in what we are doing, we need to give our lives over to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. We will find that our hearts are so engulfed with God and his love that there will not be enough hours in the day to proclaim his wonders and sing his praises.
And so with the feast of Pentecost we wrap up our celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It reminds us that God's saving work is not finished with the cross and resurrection. Rather God invites each of us to enter into the mystery of Jesus' death and resurrection by making our lives an offering to him. Furthermore, he desires that each of us also share in the joy of bringing his saving word to others. The gift of the Holy Spirit which has forever marked us as God's sons and daughters empowers us to do just that. He is continually at work within us to transform us, purify us and set us on fire with love. It is ours for the asking. But watch out - there is no telling what wonders the Lord will work in our lives.