Consumed by fire of Spirit

By: By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB

Pentecost Sunday, May 31

(At the Vigil) Genesis 11:1-9 or Exodus 19:3-8a,16-20b or Ezekiel 37:1-14 or Joel 3:1-5; Psalm 104:1-2,24,35,27-28,29,30; Romans 8:22-27; John 7:37-39. (Mass during the day) Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1,24,29-30,31,34; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7,12-13 or Galatians 5:16-25; John 20:19-23 or John 15:26-27; 16:12-15.

I once heard a Sufi saying that goes, “There are three ways one becomes acquainted with fire: by knowing about it; by seeing it; and by being burned by it.”

Pentecost is the feast of fire. “There appeared to (the disciples) tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” (Acts 2:3). We know the immediate result was that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” (Acts. 2:4).

Followers of Jesus have heard about the Spirit of God. One of the basic tenets of our faith is the belief in the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity. As Catholics, we have been taught that we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit at confirmation. These and other beliefs are facts that we know about the Holy Spirit. They can, very easily, remain intellectual knowledge.

We have witnessed the power of God’s Spirit in the lives of those who bear witness to the Holy Spirit. Some of us have seen a miraculous healing or a conversion. The experience of witnessing the Spirit’s power can move us to a level of faith beyond merely knowing about the power of God’s Spirit. It moves us; it involves an emotional response of belief.

The third way of knowing the Spirit, the fire of God as it were, is by being burned by it. Words and beliefs bring us to some understanding of the power of the Spirit, but only openness to the transforming power of the Spirit moving within will cause us to be burned by its fire.

We know what it is like to be burned: the scars of a burn never leave us. They leave a mark. We are different. We are somehow consumed by its power.

The disciples had been locked in a room “for fear of the Jews.” They were frightened at what the Jews might do to them.

When the Holy Spirit “appeared to them as tongues of fire,” what a transformation! They were “filled with the Holy Spirit.” They were burned by the Spirit. Their lives were changed to such a degree that they could speak that which they had formerly not known. They could cross the boundaries of their own fear and comfort, and risk connecting with peoples they never before had encountered. They were allowing the Spirit of God to speak the Good News through them.

We yearn for the presence of the Spirit in the human longing we have. When we open ourselves to the fire of God’s Spirit with its heat that burns off our fear and complacency, God can move over us and within us to take us beyond ourselves to regions not known or works we would never dream of doing.

A member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB, has been pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights since 1983.

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