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Fire: Sparks From the Divine View Comments
By Barbara Beckwith

WHEN THE DAY OF PENTECOST had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them. And a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit...” (Acts 2:1-4a; all biblical quotes in this article come from the New Revised Standard Version).

Using the image of fire, the Acts of the Apostles describes the descent of the Holy Spirit 50 days (Pentecost) after Jesus rose from the dead. The Spirit came to console, fortify and empower them for what lay ahead—the work of telling everyone the wondrous story of Jesus.

But why would the Spirit come as fire? Fire is probably the most powerful of the four traditional elements (the others being water, air and earth). It’s also the most mysterious. The symbol for the Third Person of the Godhead naturally evokes reverence and awe.

The Easter Vigil begins with the lighting of a fire. The result is light, heat and warmth. Then the big paschal candle is lit, followed by all the little individual candles. Fire is contagious. If unchecked, it is all-consuming. It spreads outward and upward. Soon the whole church building exudes light, heat and warmth.

Like the other elements, fire has positive and negative aspects. And because it is connected to the release of energy, fire is of urgent concern today.

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Barbara Beckwith is the managing editor of St. Anthony Messenger. This article completes her series on the elements: “Thank God for Water” (July 2008), “The Breath of God” (September 2009) and “Earth’s Wonder and Magic” (September 2010).

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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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