The Fire Next Time – A Homily for Pentecost

052315What 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 said to the 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. It is about a necessary fire, for as the Lord first judged the world by fire, the present heavens and the earth are reserved for the fire. Since it is going to be the fire next time, we need the tongues of Pentecost fire to fall on us to set us on fire and bring us up to the temperature of glory.

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 First Reading today (Acts 2:1-11) 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 preserved this meaning 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 for 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.

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 CPR 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 onto 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 lightning lights up 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 judgment, 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 us and prepares us to meet Him, who is a Holy Fire.

II. The Proclamation of the Spirit – You will notice that the Spirit came upon them like “tongues” of fire. 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 within 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 in secrecy, behind locked doors. They were huddled together in fear. But now they go forth to the crowds and proclaim Christ boldly. 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 yet each heard Peter and the others in his own language. The Spirit, therefore, assists not only us but also those who hear us. My testimony is not dependent only on my own 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, 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.)

The walls of my parish Church answer the question. The clerestory walls are painted Spanish Red and upon this great canvas are also painted depictions of the lives of 20 saints, surrounding us like a great cloud of witnesses (cf Heb 12:1). (See also the video below.) And above 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 number one.” No matter what else we do, 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?

Beginning two years ago, my own parish, after a year of training, stepped out into our neighborhood and went from door to door as well as into the local park. We announced Jesus Christ and invited people to discover Him in our parish and in the Sacraments. We were in the local park and the market just last week doing “sidewalk evangelization.”

Before we count even a single convert, this is already a success, because we are obeying Jesus Christ, who said, simply, “Go! Go make disciples.” And, truth be told, we ARE seeing the results in my parish. Our Sunday attendance has grown from about 450 to 520, roughly 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 a 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 they can expect to close one day no matter how big they may be 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 even near closure. It happens to the best if they do not evangelize, if they do not accomplish “job one.” The Lord wants to light a fire. Why not become totally fire? Let the Spirit propagate the Church through you. (I am not talking to 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 D.C. 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 saints (this means you, too). It is not magic; it is by grace working in your life, through your gifts and your relationships, that the Lord will reach each soul. The witnesses on the walls of my Church say, “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 that has scenes from the Pentecost Mass in the Extraordinary Form celebrated here last year. This year we will celebrate a Mass of the Octave Mass next  Saturday at 10:00 am. The video is set to the music of Palestrina’s Dum Complerentur which was sung at the Mass. 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.

13 Replies to “The Fire Next Time – A Homily for Pentecost”

  1. Happy Birthday in the Divine Will! Holy Church and to all Baptized souls!!!

  2. Thank you Monsignor for this reminder, for re-igniting our faith and love for the Lord! Let’s set the world on fire!!

  3. Irish voters approve referendum allowing same-sex “marriage” :
    “Concerns have been expressed that the measure may affect religious freedom: the prime minister, Enda Kenny, has already said that Catholic schools will be required to teach same-sex marriage as part of the curriculum.” – Vatican Radio

    So the secularists dare to enter OUR house and corrupt OUR children, it is time to step up the game!
    And there is a strategy: New way of speaking, teaching and thinking…coming real soon.

  4. It is Blessed that God won’t step on a broken reed, or quench a dying flame…

  5. My parish in Los Angeles is a large one with many services and quite a few people attending them. It appears that the Spanish speaking parishioners drive the Church. Our pastor is quite competent in the administrative duties which are enormous considering the numbers who attend the church and it’s school. At times I wonder how he does it. Yes, there is a “but” coming and it is his homilies. They leave a lot to be desired.

    I have found over the years that to adequately learn church teachings, apologetics, and the like, intensive study is required. Consequently, I no longer lambast in private my parish priest if I don’t care for his homilies. Granted, I would like them to be better, but it is not a deal breaker by any means; whereas, before it was. I used to put the homily above everything else that occurred in the mass which shows how little I knew about it.

    Anyhow, I appreciate you take on the Pentecost Sunday.

    1. My Dear Brother JOHN:

      I do appreiciate your note and the way you seem to understand your Parish Priest’s burden of handling things in a bilingual parish.

      While he is doing so much good in every other area, how wonderful it would be if he could equally concentrate on preparing his sermons…

      Why not do 2 things:
      a. pray for him, his ministry, your parish and all the bi-lingual people who attend the worship [in certain parts of Europe, there is hardly anyone attending the church]; and
      b. why not ask for an appointment with him and share your concerns. A man as you say who is “competent” in other areas could also equally take time to study the Word of God, pray adequately, be familiar with other sciences and study the pastoral needs of the your people.
      May your prayers and encounter with him…and the LOS ANGELES in heaven guide him..

  6. “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.”
    “Before we count even a single convert, this is already a success, because we are obeying Jesus Christ, who said, simply, “Go! Go make disciples.” And, truth be told, we ARE seeing the results in my parish.”
    Recalls a thought which I had recently. We know why we are to evangelize, because God told us to. I haven’t heard much about other religions evangelizing but, the followers of Mohammed did (and maybe still do if ongoing force is counted), at the command of their prophet who claims that it’s the will of whomever he believes as a god.
    But, what about atheists? They’ve been progressively evangelizing their belief since the 1960s. If they’re atheists then, who told them to evangelize when atheist loosely translates as “no god” or no belief in any god?
    Some may be disguised members, of other religions, or satanists who are similarly disguised. I word it that way because satan isn’t a god but, he is a being of greater spiritual power than any human power.
    Maybe virtually all these, so called, atheistic evangelizers are representives of some (real or fantasy) spiritually powerful opponent. I mean why would an avid hockey fan try to convince all football fans that football didn’t exist. Many Canadians like hockey best and Americans tend to like baseball best but; who in either group tries to convince that other that their sport doesn’t exist? Convert these other fans, sure – I’ve observed it tried. But that acknowledges both sports.

  7. So unhappy today that St. Patrick’s Ireland, a supposedly Catholic nation is the first one as a nation to accept by referendum same sex marriage. Is this the gift we offer The HOLY SPIRIT? This is the one, I am afraid when the Church will be prosecuted to allow ssm (the modern abomination of desolation) be done inside our House of Worship, our sanctuary. Come, oh HOLY SPIRIT, fill the hearts of THY faithful and enkindle in us the fires of Divine Love. THOU shalt renew the face of the earth.

    1. Indeed. Corruptio Optime Pessima. There was a time when Ireland could be counted on to hold the faith. No longer and whatever troubles come will be an additional cross for the few faithful who are left, at the hands of fellow Catholics who have practically speaking left as heretics and apostates.

  8. Msgr. Pope,
    You’re absolutely right! Evangelization is the key and not lamenting over the recently published statistics. As I visit Detroit Michigan, where my wife and I met and were married, I see many empty (beautiful) churches in the city and (lately) in the suburbs. These parishes I’m sure thrived and prospered at one time. It is sad to see a handful of people at Sunday mass. Yet, when I walk around the neighborhood, specially in the city, I see people in need of God. Many of these people, including some of our relatives, are catholic by name only. The sad thing is that they don’t seem to see the relevance of their human condition to their Faith. They don’t miss going to mass because they really don’t know what takes place at each mass. They don’t receive the sacraments because they don’t seem to know what grace is.

    I am truly convinced that we all need some form of evangelization and, as you so aptly put it, it has to be the Number One mission of every parish. I agree that it is also our number one mission as parishioners for “We are the Church”. Sometimes I wish the Church of the U.S. would stop building new parishes and instead work harder at reviving the existing ones. So what if we have to travel a few miles to church. It is beautiful to see a full church on Sunday as we do on Christmas & Easter! Thank you for exhorting us to live our faith. God Bless!

  9. Excellent post, Msgr. Pope. I visit your blog at least twice a week, and love the way you are able to explain (so clearly, Scripture to us. I also regularly email my friends (Catholic and non-Catholic) with links to your articles which I find so helpful.

    But I wonder: should we not be ‘evangelizing’ our very own baptized Catholics as well as unbelievers? There are many, many Catholics I know who, whether by ignorance or plain stubbornness – are living very ‘un-Catholic’ lives. Somehow they have come to believe that they are already saved by virtue (?) of their baptism. And what about Catholics who have left the church/stopped practising the faith? Shouldn’t we be redoubling our efforts to win them back? After all, ” there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine just men.” I believe that this is an important part of our efforts to evangelize as well. God bless you, Msgr. Pope.

  10. Another great article Monsignor. I would like to add the obvious that you did not mention: That is that the first responsibility of husbands and fathers is to wash their wives with “water with the word” (Eph. 5:23) and to demonstrate an “acceptance of the love of truth so that they may be saved” (2 Thes. 2:10). I know all to well that it is sometimes the ploy of the devil to encourage us to go “out there” and evangelize, or witness, on days when we need to meet our first task at home, first. On that topic, do you have any suggestions on various ways husbands can wash their wives with a bath of ” water with the word” or on how all good wives should encourage their husbands to do such? Also, do you have any thoughts on how we can evaluate whether or not we have truly accepted the love of (all) truth, or we are implicitely telling God that we already believe all we think we need to know and we are too busy to study more, even if He thinks we should? Thank you

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