By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2 “And when the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of the disciples.”
The desire of Jesus to set the world on fire was unleashed. We recall his passionate words in the gospel of Luke, 12:49. “I’ve come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already ablaze!” These words of the Lord should not threaten us as some form or divine punishment similar to the sulfurous fire that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah as recorded in the biblical account in the book of Genesis. It is more akin to the Mount Sinai experience, the solidifying moment in the relationship between God and the Israelites where Moses received the Ten Commandments. “Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord came down upon it in fire.”
The revelation of God on Mount Sinai made known the passionate love that God had for the Israelites, the chosen people of the covenant. God assures Moses that his mercy will flow down to the 1000th thousand generation, or as we can rightly understand, forever. God’s mercy was to become Israel’s lifeline through the mouth of the prophets. Recall the consoling message of Isaiah during the time of the exile. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me. ”Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
The fire of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is the fulfillment of the fire that forged the covenant of love with the Israelites. The people of the New Covenant born on the bloody cross and reconciled in the resurrection from the dead, poured out of the Upper Room to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s mercy. The fire that Jesus so ardently desired was now ablaze. The revolution had begun, and continues in our day.
The second installment of the movie version of the trilogy, “The Hunger Games,” was released this past December. It is entitled, Catching Fire, and it clearly has a Pentecost feel to it. This engaging novel tells the story of a people barely surviving under the yoke of a totalitarian system.
Each year two tributes are chosen from the twelve districts of the society and they must go to the capitol where they fight each other to the death, with a sole survivor. It is a postmodern version of the Roman Coliseum with the dual purpose of controlling the masses and entertaining the frivolous people of the capitol. But the unquenchable hunger for freedom broke through in the first segment of the Trilogy when the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, offered a spark of humanity through tears and a gesture of respect that became the symbol of the revolution. The fire began, and it could not be quenched. A ruthless regime could no longer sustain itself. A Pentecost moment, we might ask?
The revolution begun on that first Pentecost was the Good News of Jesus Christ who came to overcome the tyranny and oppression of sin that is a heartless taskmaster. It is the mercy and grace of God that can bring us to our knees, but in an instant raise us up and restore us to the dignity of the sons and daughters of God. Without a doubt turning away from sin, and embarking on the path of life, is no easy task.
On the first Pentecost the people asked, what are we to do brothers? Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
In moments of grace the strong driving wind and purifying fire of the Spirit seek to sweep away the idols of our lives. This is not a once and be done encounter with God. It is a life-long task of house cleaning because those idols love to take up residence.
The golden calf, built by the Israelites in their impatience and hardness of heart lives on, and we can only destroy them in the fire of God’s passionate love.
The strong driving wind and eternal fire of Pentecost, paired with the blood of the martyrs, eventually did sweep the tyrannical Roman Empire off the stage of history. The power of Pentecost cannot be contained. Or as Saint Paul wrote, “there is no imprisoning the Word of God.”
We have all received the gift of the Holy Spirit through faith and Baptism marking us forever as God’s children, brothers and sisters of the Lord, and temples of the Holy Spirit. The enduring call in our lives is not only to sweep away the idols that separate us from God and one another, but also to stir into flame the gift we received when we were baptized.
We can’t cook over a pilot light, and nor can we live the Gospel without a burning desire to do so, a gift of God. May our daily encounter with the Lord inspire in us the joy of the Gospel, and a manner of living that carries the Good News to the ends of the earth, beginning with the space that we occupy in God’s world.