Pentecost Sunday: Be Set Afire by the Holy Spirit

This is a feast about that transformative, refining, purifying fire that the Lord wants to kindle in us.

A depiction of Pentecost, painted by Jean II Restout, 1732
A depiction of Pentecost, painted by Jean II Restout, 1732 (photo: Public domain)

Sunday, May 28, is Pentecost Sunday. Mass readings: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23.

What a wondrous and challenging feast we celebrate at Pentecost. A feast like this challenges us because it challenges a tepid Christian life. The Lord Jesus said to the apostles, “I have come to cast a fire on the earth” (Luke 12:49).

This is a feast about that transformative, refining, purifying fire that the Lord wants to kindle in us. Let’s consider two aspects.


Portraits of the Spirit

The reading from Acts 2 speaks of the Holy Spirit using two images: rushing wind and tongues of fire.

Notice how today’s text from Acts says “there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.” The root meaning of the word “spirit” refers to breath. This is preserved in the word “respiration,” which is the act of breathing. So the Spirit of God is the breath of God. Genesis 1:2 says that God had breathed his very breath (Spirit) into Adam. But Adam lost this gift by sinning and died spiritually. Thus, we see in this passage from Acts an amazing and wonderful resuscitation of the human person as these first Christians experience the rushing wind of God’s Spirit breathing spiritual life back into them. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us once again as in a temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).

The text from Acts then 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 Mount Sinai where God was. So it is that our God, who is a holy fire, comes to dwell in us through his Holy Spirit, and he refines us by burning away our sins and purifying us.

God is also preparing us for judgment; we must be set afire by God’s love and be brought up to the temperature of glory. He purifies us and prepares us.


Propagation by the Spirit

In the Psalm response today we sing: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” Practically, how does the Lord do this? Perhaps a picture will help to illustrate. My parish church is dedicated to the Holy Spirit under the title “Holy Comforter.” The clerestory walls are painted Spanish red; and upon this great canvas are also painted depictions of more than 20 saints, surrounding us like a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). Over the head of every saint’s depiction is a tongue of fire. This is how the Spirit of the Lord fills the earth: in the fiery transformation of every Christian going forth to bring warmth and light to a cold, dark world. This is how the Lord casts fire upon the earth. This is how the Spirit of the Lord fills the orb of the earth — in the lives of saints (and in your life). Let the Lord cast fire on the earth, through you.

A blessed Pentecost to all!

Pope Francis participates in Mass on the solemnity of Pentecost, May 19, 2024

Pope Francis on Pentecost: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Us Is Powerful

In his homily, Pope Francis explained how the Holy Spirit helps us to overcome sinful passions and then gently plants the seeds of virtue and helps them to grow. The Pope also recommended that people spend time praying in silence in Eucharistic adoration to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Archbishop Hubertus van Megen celebrates the episcopal consecration of Father John Kiplimo Lelei as auxiliary bishop of Kenya’s Diocese of Eldoret on May 25, 2024.

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