Today’s celebration of Pentecost marks the culmination of the entire Paschal season. The journey we began so many weeks ago in ashes is now concluded in flame. The fire of the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church that we might go forth to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to the world. Today is fulfilled what John the Baptist prophesied about Jesus: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11.)
What does it mean to speak of the Holy Spirit as “fire”? The preacher to the papal household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamesa uses a good analogy. “The Spirit goes to work like fire when it attacks damp wood: First, it causes all the dampness, all the impurities, to come hissing noisily out, and all the while it continues to heat up the wood until, eventually, the wood is transformed into fire itself, glowing and aflame.” There is a two-fold movement of purifying and enflaming that helps us understand how the Holy Spirit acts like fire.
First, the Spirit purifies. Fr. Cantalamesa uses the example of damp wood. But we can also point to how precious metals like gold and silver are purified of impurities by being heated in fire. The implication is a deep purification of the individual’s soul. As Fr. Cantalemesa says, water cleanses the surface, but fire purifies from within. The Holy Spirit purges us of sin, annihilating it completely. Our sin isn’t just covered up or ignored by God but actually removed. This is the wonderful thing about God’s forgiveness, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. As the priest prays the absolution in confession, he says that God has “sent us the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins.”
The response to the gift of forgiveness is an increase in our love of God, and this too is the Spirit’s work. An ancient prayer to the Holy Spirit asks, “Fill the hearts of your faithful; and kindle in them the fire of your love.” Just as in nature the barren cold of winter gives way to the warmth of spring; to new life and fruitfulness. So the Holy Spirit “warms the chill” (Pentecost Sequence) and fills our souls with new life and the fruit of good works. The Spirit sets our lukewarm hearts on fire for the Lord, making us enthusiastic disciples eager to share our faith with others.
Considering how powerful and important the Holy Spirit is, every recent Pope, beginning with St. John XXIII, has spoken about the need for a “new Pentecost” in the Church – a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit to purify and enflame the hearts of God’s people. May today’s celebration bring us a little closer to that Pentecost experience. May we each feel the warmth of the Spirit’s love!
PS. Today marks the end of the Easter season. If anyone would like some Easter lilies or other flowering plants they are available alongside the St. Charles rectory – help yourself!