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Celebrate hearts on fire on Pentecost

Readings for May 18-19, Pentecost Sunday 

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For On Mission

The reading from Acts this week describes the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles as “a strong driving wind” and as “tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

Three things happened — a strong wind, tongues as of fire and the ability to speak different languages.

The wind announces the arrival of the Spirit. Tongues of fire proclaim the gift of new life with the Spirit. With the ability to speak different languages, they have the capacity to proclaim the Gospel throughout the whole world.

Fire symbolizes new life for the Apostles. Scripture often uses the image of fire to indicate a special presence of God. Moses found the burning bush that was not consumed and learned of his special mission to the Israelite people. When Moses went to the top of the mountain, God’s presence was indicated by smoke and fire. In both instances, the presence of God brings with it a blessing.

Something similar happens to the Apostles on Pentecost. As Jesus’ chosen followers, they receive the special blessing of the Spirit under the appearance of fire. The blessing is not just for the group as a whole; rather, the tongues of flame come to rest on each one of them individually.

To understand what is going on, it is helpful to look at some of the characteristics of fire that can bring a blessing. 

Fire brings physical warmth; the warmth of the Spirit brings new zeal and ardor to the Apostles. As Scripture says, they now have hearts on fire for the Gospel that was taught by Jesus both before and after the Resurrection. The Apostles now have the same experience as the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32)

As anyone who has ever started a campfire knows, the initial flame starts as a small and insignificant thing. A mere whiff of air can destroy it, but it does not take much additional fuel for the fire to expand and throw off intense heat. 

Here’s what happened at Pentecost. Twelve small flames turned into a massive conflagration. As soon as the flames had moved the hearts of the Apostles, they started an intense preaching of the Gospel. They went from the upper room and began to teach the people in the street. Each person heard them in his own tongue and came to believe because of the fire within these men.

From small flames the Gospel became a way of life not only for the Jews, but also for all peoples of the world. 

At Pentecost, we celebrate the coming of the Spirit to the church. We celebrate the flame of passion as each person learns to love God with their whole heart and soul and one’s neighbor as oneself.

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator. 

The readings for Sunday, May 19, can be found at Pentecost Sunday | USCCB.

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