What a wondrous and challenging feast we celebrate at Pentecost. A feast like this challenges us, because it puts to the lie a lazy, sleepy, hidden, and tepid Christian life. The Lord Jesus had said to Apostles, and still says to us: I have come to cast a fire on the earth! (Luke 12:49). This is a feast about fire, about a transformative, refining, and purifying fire that the Lord wants to kindle in us and in this world.
The Readings today speak to us of the Holy Spirit in three ways: The Portraits of the Spirit, the Proclamation of the Spirit and the Propagation by the Spirit. Let’s look at all three.
I. The Portraits of the Spirit – The Reading today speaks of the Holy Spirit using two images: rushing wind, and tongues of fire. These two images recall Psalm 50 which says, Our God comes, he does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, round about him a mighty tempest. (Psalm 50:3).
Rushing Wind – Notice how the text from Acts opens: When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.
This text brings us to the very root meaning of the word “Spirit.” For “spirit” refers to “breath,” and we have this preserved in our word “respiration,” which means breathing. So, the Spirit of God is the breath of God, the Ruah Adonai (the Spirit, the breath of God).
Genesis 1:2 speaks of this saying the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And Genesis 2:7 speaks even more remarkably of something God did only for man, not the animals: then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Gen 2:7).
So the very Spirit of God was breathed into Adam! But, as we know, Adam lost this gift and died spiritually when he sinned.
Thus we see in this passage from Acts an amazing and wonderful resuscitation of the human person as these first Christians (120 in all) experience the rushing wind of God’s Spirit breathing spiritual life back into them. God does C.P.R. and brings humanity, dead in sin, back to life! The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us once again as in a temple (cf 1 Cor 3:16). It has been said that Christmas is the feast of God with us, Good Friday is the Feast of God for us, but Pentecost is the Feast of God in us.
Tongues of Fire – The text from Acts says, Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
The Bible often speaks of God as fire, or in fiery terms. Moses saw God as a burning bush. God led the people out of Egypt through the desert as a pillar of fire. Moses went up on to a fiery Mt. Sinai where God was. Psalm 97 says, The LORD reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are round about him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him, and burns up his adversaries round about. His lightnings lighten the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory. (Ps 97:1-6). Scriptures call God a Holy fire, a consuming fire (cf Heb 12:29) and a refining fire (cf Is. 48:10; Jer 9:7; Zec 13:9; & Mal 3:3).
And so it is that our God, who is a Holy Fire, comes to dwell in us through his Holy Spirit. And as a Holy Fire, He refines us by burning away our sins and purifying us. As Job once said, But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).
And he is also preparing us for judgement, for if God is a Holy Fire, then who may endure the day of his coming or of our going to Him? What can endure the presence of Fire Himself? Only that which is already fire. Thus we must be set afire by God’s love.
So, in the coming of the Holy Spirit God sets us on fire to make us a kind of fire. In so doing, he purifies and prepares us to meet him one, He who is a Holy Fire.
II. The Proclamation of the Spirit. – You will notice that the Spirit Came on them like “tongues” of Fire. And the reference to tongues is no mere accident. For notice how the Holy Spirit moves them to speak, and ultimately to witness. The text says: And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
So behold how the Holy Spirit moves them to proclaim, not just in the safety of the upper room, but also in holy boldness before the crowds who have gathered.
Notice the transformation! Moments ago these were frightened men who gathered only behind locked doors, in secrecy. They were huddled together in fear. But now they go forth to the crowds and boldly proclaim Christ. They have gone from fear to faith, from cowardice to courage, from terror to testimony!
And how about us? Too many Christians are silent, dominated by fear. Perhaps they fear being called names, or not being popular. Perhaps they are anxious about being laughed at, or resisted, or of being asked questions they don’t feel capable of answering. Some Christians are able to gather in the “upper room” of the parish and be active, even be leaders. But once outside the “upper room” they slip into undercover mode. They become secret agent Christians.
Well, the Holy Spirit wants to change that, and to the degree that we have really met Jesus Christ and experienced his Holy Spirit we are less “able” to keep silent. An old Gospel song says, I thought I wasn’t gonna testify, but I couldn’t keep it to myself, what the Lord has done for me. The Holy Spirit, if authentically received, wants to give us zeal and joy, and burn away our fear, so that testifying and witnessing are natural to us.
Note also how the Spirit “translates” for the apostles, for the crowd before them spoke different languages, but all heard Peter and the others in their own language. The Spirit therefore assists not only us, but also those who hear us. My testimony is not dependent only on my eloquence, but also on the grace of the Holy Spirit who casts out deafness and opens hearts. Every Christian should remember this. Some of our most doubtful encounters with others can still bear great fruit on account of the work of the Holy Spirit who “translates” for us and overcomes many obstacles that we might think insurmountable.
III. The Propagation by the Spirit – In the great commission the Lord said, Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Matt 28:19ff). He also said, as we have noted, I have come to cast a fire on the earth and How I wish the blaze were already ignited (Luke 12:49).
But how is the Lord going to do this?
Perhaps a picture will help. My parish church is dedicated to the Holy Spirit under the title: Holy Comforter. Above the high altar is the Latin inscription: Spiritus Domini, replevit orbem terrarum (The Spirit of the Lord, filled the orb of the earth). (See photo, above right, of our high altar).
And yet, we may wonder how He will do this.
But the walls of my parish Church answer the question. The clerestory walls are painted Spanish Red, and upon this great canvas are also painted the lives of 20 saints, surrounding us like a great cloud of witnesses (cf Heb 12:1). (See also, video below). And over the head of every saint is a tongue of fire.
THIS is how the Spirit of the Lord fills the earth. It is not “magic fairy dust,” it is in the fiery transformation of every Christian, going forth into the world to bring light and warmth to a dark and cold world. THIS is how the Lord casts fire on earth, THIS is how the Spirit of the Lord fills the orb of the earth: in the lives of saints, and, if you are prepared to accept it, in YOU.
In the end, the Great Commission (Matt 28) is “standing order No. 1.” No matter what else, we are supposed to do this. Parishes do not deserve to exist if they do not do this. We as individual Christians are a disgrace, and not worthy of the name, if we fail to win souls for Jesus Christ. The Spirit of the Lord is going to fill the orb of the earth, but only through us. The spread of the Gospel has been placed in your hands (scary isn’t it?).
In the Past two years, my own parish, after a year of training, stepped out into our neighborhood, and went door to door and into the local park. And we announced Jesus Christ, and invited people to discover him in our parish, and in the sacraments. And we were in the local park and the market last week doing sidewalk evangelization.
Before we count even a single convert, this is already success because we are obeying Jesus Christ who said, simply, “Go!” “Go make disciples.” And, truth be told, we ARE seeing an increase in my parish. Our Sunday attendance has grown from about 450 to 520, a 15% increase. We are growing, and our attendance, while average for a downtown city parish, is going in the right direction. God never fails. God is faithful.
Spread the news: it works if you work it, so work it because God is worth it. Go make disciples. Ignore what the pollsters tell you about a declining Church and let the Lord cast a fire on the earth through you! Fires have way of spreading! Why not start one today? The Spirit of God will not disappoint.
I know this, my parish has a future because we are obeying Jesus Christ, we are making disciples. How about you and yours? If parishes do not obey, they do not deserve to exist and can expect to close one day, no matter how big they are today. I, in my short 50 years on this planet, have seen it: parishes once big, booming, and, (frankly), arrogant, are now declining and some are near closure. It happens to the best, if they do not evangelize, if they do not accomplish “Job 1.” The Lord wants to light a fire. Why not become totally fire? Let the Spirit propagate the Church through you (I am not talking about the person next to you, I am talking to you).
Happy feast of Pentecost. But don’t forget that the basic image is very challenging, for it means getting out of the “upper room,” opening the doors, and proclaiming Christ to the world. Let the Holy Spirit light a fire in you, and then, you can’t help but spread light and heat to a cold and dark world.
Let the evangelization of the whole world begin with you.
This video features details from the clerestory (upper window level) of my parish of Holy Comforter here in DC. Notice the tongue of fire above each saint. The paintings show how the Spirit of the Lord fills the orb of the earth, (see photo above), through the lives of the lives of the saints (this means you). It is not magic, it is grace, working in your life, through your gifts, and your relationships, that the Lord will reach each soul. The cloud of witnesses on the walls of my Church say simply, You are the way he will fill the earth and set it on fire. Let the blaze be ignited in you!
The song says: We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, looking on, encouraging us to do the will of the Lord. Let us stand worthy, and be faithful to God’s call….We must not grow weary…!
Here is another video I put together which has scenes from the Pentecost event and is set to Palestrina’s Dum Complerentur. I like this musical version since it is sung in dance time. The Latin text to the motet is below the video along with its English Translation.
Dum complerentur dies Pentecostes,
erant omnes pariter dicentes, alleluia,
et subito factus est sonus de coelo, alleluia,
tamquam spiritus vehementis,
et replevit totam domum, alleluia.
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come,
they were all with one accord in one place, saying: alleluia.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, alleluia,
as of a rushing mighty wind,
and it filled the whole house
where they were sitting, alleluia.
6 Replies to “I have Come to Cast a Fire on the Earth – A Meditation on the Feast of Pentecost”
Your first video has been blocked.
Msgr. Pope.,Amen I say to you my brother.
We are of a Mission Diocese, we are rural populace with a University population of 1,500, and we have seen an increase in our RCIA program and an increase in the pews as the people are hungry for the truth of God’s word. We currently have ten young men away at the Seminary. Our stance against Same sex marriage and our Pro-Life Crusades have contributed to a conversion of sort, for the Holy Spirit is breathing life into those that seek the Glory of God through the Blood of his son Jesus Christ..
When I first started in this Parish over twenty years ago it’s evangelizing was in a lull, it has grown stronger over the years and is amazing to see once shy Catholics follow the word of Jesus and evangelize to the people. I have seen people that cannot speak to more than three people with out stuttering, give witness to the saving Grace of God in their lives to 400 people. I have seen people that cannot recite a single verse of the New Testament give testament to the words of Jesus as if they were speaking from the New Testament. I and others that have seen this world through bars have twelve members in our REC(residents Encounter Christ) and we welcomed one resident into our Parish this week through the sacrament of Baptism.
Our campus outreach program has seen an increase in young adults re-experiencing their faith in a fuller way, via Adoration, prayer groups, bible studies and courses in Faith formation geared towards young adults. We just finished a “Life in the Spirit Seminar” and were overjoyed with our attendance and an age range of twenty to eighty. Our Parish members and our Good Pastor and Parochial Vicar are ever so Eager for an occasion to have a procession and bring the Word into the streets. Last year we added a women’s house for discernment and it is filled at ten and two more have opened in the Diocese this year and are filled. Our new women’s pregnancy center is also filled with plans to expand.
When I first started in this Parish over twenty years ago it’s evangelizing was in a lull, it has grown stronger over the years and is amazing to see once shy Catholics follow the word of Jesus and evangelize to the people. I have seen people that cannot speak to more than three people with out stuttering, give witness to the saving Grace of God in their lives to 400 people. I have seen people that cannot recite a single verse of the New Testament give testament to the words of Jesus as if they were speaking from the New Testament. I will admit that it took sometime for me to be able to concentrate on prayer when being verbally accosted or being shoved in physical displays and the occasional food item. I do not even notice it any more or it has abated as many think, however I am excited to be alive as the persecution will become more intense as our Nation and World falls into the Secular, narcissistic abyss.
You hit the nail on the head when you call Catholics to be filled with the Holy Spirit after we leave the security of the Church building and bring our witness to the people, we must learn to rely on the Holy Spirit to give us the Fortitude to be at Peace in the security of the Church, that which is of his people and God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Amen, my brother, it is a day of Good news.
BEAUTIFULLY DONE FOR THE FEAST.THANK YOU.
)….I have a question that has been bothering me…a priest I know gives the sacrament of the sick to wives/husbands who are at the bed of their spouse who is dying and even gives ‘general absolution’ to any and all including the dying person who would be capable of a confession…..May I have your opinion?…And is there a formula that lay extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist are to use ? I have witnessed some very odd ‘ceremonies’ …even an EM who gives a blessing with Host before giving it to the communicant…Thank you so much
This is the first time I have ever responded to anything posted on the internet. For months I have been reading your articles . . . and the responses of readers. I read you from New Advent. I have come to recognize your articles by the tone they set before I see your name as the contributor. I smile when I see, indeed, it is you. Partially because of pride that I guessed it right but mostly because I know it will be good. True, honest, trustworthy and personally challenging. You are bold yet kind and gentle. I am no longer surprised that some people can somehow respond in a negative way to your articles, but I cherish your responses because they are exemplary for how it seems we ought to respond to people who are wrought with pain. I just thought you should know.
What training program did you use in your parish?
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