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Love’s Burning Flame: A Pentecost Reflection

May 8, 2008
[This blog entry comes from Michael L. Knox, a Jesuit Scholastic in Toronto. He has helped Salt + Light with our short interstitials "Moments in Church History," and offers this reflection on Sunday's solemnity.]
pentecost-dove.jpgIn recent weeks, Christian communities around the world gathered during the Easter Triduum to celebrate the passion, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In our own Catholic tradition, this prayerful celebration finds its greatest ritual expression in a moment of total darkness, when the Pascal candle is lit, its bright flame flickering as it mingles with the air in the sanctuary, and we proclaim that Jesus Christ has risen, bringing salvation to all of creation. In that context, after the seventh Sunday of Eastertide, we gather to celebrate the feast of Pentecost, a moment in the early history of our Church, where these primordial elements of fire and air are signs of God’s presence.
Described in the Acts of the Apostles, the author tells of a powerful and violent wind that rushes down from the heavens and fills the tiny room where the Apostles had gathered. Enveloped within this wind, “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” The scripture goes on to say that at that moment, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:3-4). For us today, this event has enormous meaning.
Often, one can find themselves in conversation with those who question how Christians might, with such confidence, claim to love Jesus Christ. How can they invest their love in God, whom they can not rationally prove to be real? To these questions, the Feast of Pentecost offers some insight. As St. Paul writes, “No one can say that, ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit.” Can we explain our love for our mothers, can we explain the moments in our history of extraordinary human action that find their potency in love? Can we then explain our love of Jesus as our Lord? The Apostle is telling us here that, we ‘know of Christ’ in that we ‘Love Christ’. It is a gift to us, that is real, and true, and a part of us that gives us hope and joy. Though this love for God is difficult to rationally explain, I am sure that for many of us, it is an essential and unifying part of our lives, a reality that was made manifest to the world through those tongues of fire, present over the heads of the Apostles at Pentecost.
As the world continues towards globalization, how we understand this union, or interconnectedness, with God and with each other is crucial. Will our coming together as a world be driven by economic and technological development? Or in the spirit of Pentecost, will we recognise what St. Paul wrote, “In the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12). It is through the Holy Spirit then, that we are one body, one world, and that we listen to the one voice of God, just as all the people listened and understood the apostles, no matter what language they spoke (Acts 2:6-7). The story of Pentecost reveals that it is not money or land that unites us all but, rather, the Spirit of God.
pentecost-apostles.jpgFinally, though Pentecost reveals to us something of the glory in the world to come, it also hints to a world that is with us already, yet only recognised with the help of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians12:13). Clearly, after the Apostles had received the Holy Spirit, they too saw this world. A world where human “gifts, services and activities” might always be recognised as gifts from God, and where all are moved to share them in the loving service of one another (1Corinthians 12; 4-6; John 20:21). We think that humanity has trekked the whole world, yet the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, if truly understood, shows us that in God’s mind, our journey through the land of the soul has barely begun. Our heaven on earth, revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles at Pentecost, and to us through the Sacraments, is largely left unexplored.
The thunderous winds of God, the breath of Christ, the descent of the Holy Spirit -- like tongues of fire -- and the flickering flames of our Pascal candles, are all powerful images present to us at Pentecost. They speak of a God who is very much present, actively labouring in our world, and forever showing the light of His love through the gifts He brings. As we celebrate this feast, and place our needs and desires upon God’s altar this Pentecost Sunday, let us pray for a deeper awareness of that Holy Spirit who enlightens our minds, who unites us all, and who opens our eyes to see the Kingdom that was given to us through Jesus Christ.