The Church Father, Origen, said that when we are near to Jesus we are “near to the fire.” This expression comes to my mind in these days before Pentecost.
At Pentecost, Jesus sent his Spirit down upon Mary and the apostles in tongues of fire that parted and came to rest on the head of each one of them.
The fire of the Holy Spirit reveals the nearness of Jesus. He has ascended into the highest heavens, but we don’t have to go there to find him. Pentecost reminds us that he is always near to us — dwelling in our hearts and in our Church — through the gift of his Spirit.
At Pentecost, the Church was born as the family of God.
That day in Jerusalem, there were men and women “from every nation under heaven.” The Spirit inflamed the apostles to boldly announce the mighty works of God. They were amazed to find they could speak in all the different tongues of the world.
When the people heard, “each in his own native language,” they wanted to share in the Father’s love. They came to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and his fire. They were made sons and daughters of God.
Pentecost is one day in history. But it shows our whole human destiny. Pentecost reveals that the Catholic Church was what God wanted all along, since the creation of the world.
That’s why our local Church here in Los Angeles has such an important vocation. Because there is nowhere on earth today where we can see better what God hopes to accomplish in our world.
Los Angeles, in all our glorious diversity, is the microcosm. We are truly one family of God — gathered from all races, nations peoples and tongues. Brothers and sisters in Jesus, united in thanksgiving to God our Father.
That’s not to say our family is perfect yet! St. Paul used to say we are vessels of clay made to carry great treasures. We all know the reality of our human “clay.” Cowardice, weakness, selfishness and sin: These things still divide our hearts. They still separate us from God and keep us from one another.
As a Church, and as disciples, we need to always be looking for new ways to speak the “languages” of the human heart. We need to let his Spirit enlighten the eyes of our own hearts.
But we can never let ourselves get stuck in a habit of mind that sees our Church — or our own lives — only in human terms. We need to remember that our Church has a divine origin and purpose. And we do, too.
What’s important is not our weakness. God will always give his graces to make us grow stronger in love — if we let him. What matters most is the work that God wants to accomplish in us and through us. What’s important is how we respond to his movements and actions in our lives.
Jesus said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth! And would that it were already kindled!” Each one of us is a part of that fire of love that Jesus wants to kindle in our world.
By our Baptism and Confirmation, we each receive a portion of this “fire,” the living flame of his Holy Spirit. Each of us now has a personal calling — a part to play in the Pentecost mission of his Church.
We are called, each in our own way, to burn away some of the jealousy and narrowness that keeps men and women from living as sisters and brothers. We are called to light up the darkness so they can find Jesus and follow his pathways to the Father.
The world has changed since that first Pentecost, but the human heart is still the same.
People still want to know what life is for. They want to love and to be loved. They want to know that their lives have meaning. They want to know that they are forgiven.
As a Church, and as disciples, we need to always be looking for new ways to speak the “languages” of the human heart. We need to let his Spirit enlighten the eyes of our own hearts. So that we can see people as Jesus sees them. With the warmth of friendship and love.
This is the work of a lifetime. But this is what our lifetimes are for! And it is a beautiful way to live. Near to the fire of Jesus. Sharing the living flame of his love with others.
This Pentecost, let’s pray for one another — that we might always be a sign of what God wants his Church to be.
Let’s pray with his mother Mary for a new Pentecost in our days. So that the fire in our hearts may set others on fire — until the whole world is on fire with the love of God!