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Listen to this Sunday's Gospel reading by visiting the website www.sundaygospel.co.uk.
There are multiple and varied references to fire in Scripture. In particular, the element of fire has long been associated with today’s celebration of Pentecost. The Acts of the Apostles (2:3) tells us that on this Day in the Upper Room, that had become the Apostles’ refuge: “They (the Apostles) saw tongues like flames of a fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”
Jesus had previously said: “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:15-20)
The coming of The Holy Spirit upon the Apostles lifted them out of their entrapment by fear. Fortified by God’s Spirit, they demonstrated a fearless commitment to speak and act in the name of Jesus, their Risen Lord, irrespective of the consequences. The Holy Spirit, when given our wholehearted collaboration, has the capacity to lift us from a world awash with the misuse of the sensual to a communion with our Risen Lord. The question is whether we, minute by minute, wish to continue in that mode? For no sooner have we been nourished by the Spirit than Satan retaliates by attacking us where we are most vulnerable namely, our weaknesses, of which we know there are many.
Many will be familiar with the prayer: ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love’. The fire of The Holy Spirit never consumes in the way that paper or coal is consumed by fire. The Spirit will never override our will. Rather, the Spirit’s presence within us is aligned with our ever-changing determination and free will. This makes it all the more important for us to have the practice of daily prayer and Sacramental life.
The Spirit’s presence illuminates a person from within, dependent upon a person’s willed collaboration, with the intrinsic luminosity of God. Peter, James and John, recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36 plus Peter in his 2nd Letter (1:16-18), recall for us their experience of The Transfiguration of Jesus. Like Peter, at the Transfiguration, when we are integrated with the Baptised community of faith we can say, “Lord, it is good for us to be here”.
Sadly, society has its pyromaniacs. Periodically we are tragically made aware of their hidden presence. Satan is the artificer in chief of the ‘fire’ that attempts to asphyxiate the soul by enticing people away from God’s grace of The Spirit. It is amazing how expressions like ‘The fires of Hell’ and ‘Hellfire’ are well used even by those who deny that both the Devil and Hell exist! Nowadays, the public is more fascinated by, than fearful of, the Devil. Satan successfully markets himself as a source of fun which, for Christians and maybe others, is deeply disturbing. For example, each year Halloween’s increased extravagances further obliterate the Christian feast of ‘All Saints’ on 1st November. The material extravagances of Christmas have overcome peoples’ awareness of the uniqueness of the Birth of Christ. Even some Christians hold back from sending true Christmas greetings that might be seen as religious. The Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday has been lost in a vacation Bank Holiday bonanza weekend coated in chocolate eggs. Satan revels in his public rehabilitation.
When we intercede for the gift of The Holy Spirit we are opening ourselves to the unique enhancement of our created God-likeness. In a world, in a society, where religious belief is in decline the Baptised’s application to prayer and the Sacraments becomes vital. People ascending high mountains rightly acknowledge they cannot achieve the summit on the little natural oxygen that is available at that height. So, the Baptised in a world where authentic spirituality is diminishing and Satan’s dominance grows, need a deeper spiritual communion with The Holy Spirit. Maybe Pentecost is an appropriate time to read again the parable of ‘Dives and Lazarus’ (Luke 16:19-31)
Without a vibrant and valued commitment to believe in God we are horrendously at risk from all forms of Satanic conflagrations. Please God, the human race will again heed God’s call to welcome his Holy Spirit despite the skilfully misleading barrage broadcast by Satan. St. Bernard of Clairvaux is thought to be the originator of the proverb: ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’. An alternative rendering of which is: ‘Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of ghttp://aood works’.
One interpretation of the sayings is that wrongdoings or evil actions are often masked by good intentions. Some good intentions, when acted upon, may have unintended consequences. Another interpretation of the phrase is that while individuals may have the intention to undertake good actions they nevertheless fail to implement their intention or perhaps to see it through. There are many reasons why we do not complete the journey to which we have committed our self - fear, procrastination, laziness or the subversive temptation of Satan that ‘we’ve made enough of an effort’. Hence, the saying that a good intention is meaningless unless followed through.
As we become conscious of our own limitations, weaknesses, plights and age-related decrepitude we have a choice. Either we resign ourselves to what appears to be ‘our lot’ or we look for ways of moving beyond these stumbling blocks. Those who care for their physical health carefully watch what they eat and how they exercise. Those who care for their spiritual health need a similar application to prayer, fasting and almsgiving (which is not restricted to the donation of money) to prevent the encroachment of Satan. This in addition to fulfilling their vocational covenants as spouse, parent, teacher etc. The Holy Spirit’s ‘Tongue of Fire’ fortifies souls in harmony with their Creator whatever their physical condition.
Pope St. Leo the Great wrote this:
“Dear friends, at every moment the earth is full of the mercy of God, and nature itself is a lesson for all the faithful in the worship of God … initially, we are made new by the rebirth of Baptism. Yet there is still required a daily renewal to repair the shortcomings of our mortal nature, and whatever degree of progress has been made there is no one who should not be more advanced.”
St. John Chrysostom Archbishop of Constantinople and an early Church Father of the 5th century had this to say:
“When light enters our bodily eyes, our eyesight is sharpened. When a soul is intent on God, God’s inextinguishable light shines into it making it radiant and clear.
Prayer is the light of the soul - that is spontaneous prayer from the heart and not from routine. Such prayer lifts the soul into the heavens where it hugs God in an indescribable embrace.
Such prayer - the go-between linking us to God - brings joy to the soul and calm to the emotions.
When God gives the gift of such prayer it causes the soul to catch fire with an eternal desire for the Lord. Our collaboration with such a gift of prayer allows us to receive his image in our soul.”