Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Holy Spirit and Fire

There's a quote resonating in my spirit this evening from the Venerable Bede. Reflecting on Acts 2:4 he says:

"Now the Holy Spirit appeared in fire and in tongues because all those whom he fills he makes simultaneously to burn and to speak- to burn because of him and to speak about him."

I grew up Pentecostal. I am becoming Catholic. The two have different views on the reception and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Those views seem to be getting closer to reconciliation with one another, but there are still differences.

Pentecostals tend to put the emphasis on experience. They want to feel something. They want something to happen.

Catholics, on the other hand, tend to put the emphasis on the sacrament. They don't expect anything to happen. As long as their is form and phraseology, they are content to have received the Holy Spirit.

Both are right, and both are wrong.

The sacramental nature of the rite (be it baptism, or confirmation) is intended to tie us into a deeper mystery and a broader communion than we can understand. It is intentionally beyond us for it causes us to depend by faith on God, and subsequently, on His Church, in spite of her many glaring weaknesses. But to think that the sacramental rite in and of itself is sufficient is to miss what God intends. For God intends this to be a starting point, not a stopping point. This is the commencement, not the culmination.

There is much to be experienced of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit cannot be contained in rituals, or even in individuals. He most certainly cannot be contained in one's understanding, or even in the collective understanding of the ages. He is beyond us. For the very essence of God to invade humanity in any sense logically implies profound experience. To receive the fullness of God in finite human vessels belies explanation. It can only be experienced. However, this experience is certainly intended to be more than merely emotional. It is intended that it will mature as any relationship does beyond the emotional to the wondrous state of simply "knowing".

The emphasis of the Fathers on this subject encompasses both ideas, but goes further. There is this idea seen here in Bede of fire. Fire that burns. Fire that consumes. Fire that purifies. Fire that energizes. All of these ideas are implicit in the sign of fire. To receive the Holy Spirit is to receive this fire.

St. Paul exhorts us to be careful not to douse the fire of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). We are also told to stir up the gift that is in us (2 Tim. 1:6). This speaks of effort. Such effort like that of the priests of old whose responsibility it was to keep the flame perpetually burning in the tabernacle. So we are instructed to keep the fire of the Holy Spirit burning within. Failure to do so results in lukewarmness at best and apostasy at worst. The Holy Spirit can be easily grieved. The pillar of fire will easily remove from our soul if we are lazy about its upkeep.

On this eve of All Saints I am minded that the saints were such people. They were "holy ones", in other words, they were on fire with the Holy Spirit. To each one was the manifestation of the Spirit given for the good of all. But together they were ignited by one and the same Spirit. As I ponder this night the lives of the saints and petition them for their intercessions that I might run this race victoriously, I see the key to victory here: It is in this sacred fire of the Holy Spirit. In this hallowed evening I pray that I will receive this fire afresh and not be so foolish as to let it dim in the least, but fan it brighter and hotter day by day. Amen!


Blogger Joni said...

Oh, that our lives would be as full of the Holy Spirit as those of the saints were.

Thank you again for another great post.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Hidden One said...

I echo those thanks, and that wish.

8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This also is a very good teaching. Thank you.


1:01 PM  

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