The fire of God's love
A reflection for Pentecost, Year C
by Steve Lawrence
I love fire! Sitting around a campfire under the stars is simply bliss. My family often gathers around the fireplace in our loungeroom on cold nights. The logs of the fire crackle and spit, warmth permeates the room, children sit on the couches reading or playing games, casual conversation takes place, and time seems to disappear. Problems recede to the background. It is indeed a taste of Eternity on those nights, and the fire plays an important role: warming, mysteriously attracting and drawing everything and everyone into unity.
We ought not be surprised, therefore, that Jesus said, “I have come to set fire upon the Earth, and how I wish it were blazing already!” (Luke 10:49). In these words, Jesus gives a clear indication of his purpose for coming into the world – which is, to give us the Holy Spirit! The coming of the Holy Spirit, what we are celebrating on this Feast of Pentecost, is the realization of that desire expressed by Jesus. In our first reading, we see the fire of the Holy Spirit poured out upon the first Christian believers. A fire which is the power of God! This was our theme at the Australian World Youth Day in Sydney 2008 – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). An appliance, such as a bedside lamp, if not plugged into the power source, cannot fulfill its purpose to cast light, irrespective of how well it is made. Similarly, a human being cannot become a saint without the Spirit of Holiness. Saint Seraphim of Sarov (d. 1833) put it simply: “The goal of the Christian life is to acquire the Holy Spirit.”
How does one acquire the Holy Spirit? What can a baptized person, already given the Holy Spirit, do to burn fiercely with God’s fire? On this Pentecost I propose two primary ways of being set on fire with the Holy Spirit: 1) Scripture and 2) Eucharist.
The disciples of Emmaus attested, having met the risen Lord Jesus, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he explained the Scriptures to us on the way?” (Luke 24:32). We must listen to the Word, therefore, and let it set us on fire. Each morning after arising I spend time in silent prayer, and inside that time I open my Bible and read something. Even if I feel grumpy or tired or frustrated when I start, that time changes me. Being the Word on fire, my heart and mind are touched, and the fire ignites and pushes me out to others – even with my many limitations – to love them and to bring Jesus’ presence and light to them.
Seraphim of Sarov also said, “The one who eats the Eucharist with faith eats the fire of the Holy Spirit.” Like Mary at the Annunciation, who welcomed Christ’s body into her body, let us faithfully participate in the Eucharist and so be filled with the Holy Spirit. With the Eucharist in us we are “on fire” and empowered to go out and bring charity and hope to others, such as Mary did to Elizabeth, the encounter enabling Elizabeth to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41). We don’t need to do anything extraordinary; even a greeting of “hello” and a smile can be a source of grace for others. God does the work; we need not worry about the outcome.
Eucharistic adoration is similarly a source of grace, where the fire from the Heart of Jesus smolders. Pierre Goursat (d. 1990), founder of the Emmanuel Community – of which I have been a member since 1993 – and whose cause for canonization is proceeding, stated: “In adoration, if we ask the Lord to put fire in our souls, He will do it. The Lord, the Holy Spirit, cannot refuse this. He has only one idea: that is to fill us with His love, and this fire. Then if we have this fire, we can truly be missionaries.”
Tonight, I will place small strips of kindling into our loungeroom fireplace, light paper beneath it, and gradually add other pieces of wood, strategically positioned across each other so the fire can breathe its essential oxygen and so grow and consume. I will be thinking of the fire that Jesus desires for our world. As my fire blazes, I will ponder the fire that exists in the heart of God, the fire of His love, the fire we call the Holy Spirit. And I will open my heart so that His fire will consume me and lead me out to others so that wounded hearts in our world, one by one, will be drawn into the mystery, mercy, and majesty of the Divine fire, our Ultimate and Eternal Home.
The readings for Pentecost, Year C, are
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
Steve Lawrence works with leaders of faith in contexts of Catholic education and ministry who are looking for support, inspiration, and ideas so they can have confidence they are guiding and equipping their communities to effectively live out the Catholic mission. He is married with six children, lives in Melbourne, Australia, and is the author of three books. Steve can be contacted via Altum Leadership Group