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Our God is a Consuming Fire

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Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe;for our God is a consuming fire. —Hebrews 12:28-29

The Holy Spirit has many attributes in Sacred Scripture, both “ad intra” (as relates to the Trinity, or inter-trinitarian) and “ad extra” (as relates to his mission to us). The ad intra would take loads of ink and, say, a few Ecumenical Councils to treat—although they are mostly based on texts from St. John’s Gospel. The ad extra aspect is what we usually consider in a special way on Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Easter, for that is when the Holy Spirit descended as tongues of fire upon the heads of the Apostles, who filled with the same Spirit, then preached to the multitude.

Holy Ghost Fire

Among the many things we learn from this first Pentecost, perhaps the most significant—especially at a time when our priests cannot be out and about as they usually would be—is that the “Holy Ghost Fire” (as I used to say when I was a Protestant) cannot be contained. Put another way, the eleven faithful Apostles received the plentitude of the Holy Spirit as they had remained in prayer for ten days after Jesus’ Ascension, but they didn’t just remain there once that fulfillment came: “They began to speak as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). As the “Come Holy Spirit” has it: Send forth thy Spirit and they shall be created; and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

That same Spirit that hovered over the waters in Genesis 1:2 now, in Acts 2, creates (or re-creates) clean hearts (see Psalm 51:10) in those who believe. And, to keep the connection between water and the life of the Spirit going, of course those 3,000 were baptized for the remission of their sins after that outpouring of the Spirit.

A Gift and a Mission

What is unique about Pentecost—or at least up until the time of Pentecost—is how God now chooses to work through others to create and re-create. Yes, God has His servants in the Old Testament and they even brought people back to life by obeying what God commanded them. Yet, these were always singular, unrepeated events and not an abiding grace, as we would say now.

On the contrary, the grace that the Apostles received on Pentecost (to speak as the Holy Spirit gave utterance), would then be transmitted through the ages—to every Catholic Christian who remains in the Mystical Body of Christ. Although the Apostles also received a unique mission which is not common to all believers (what we call the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the hierarchical priesthood), that common gift, to speak as the Spirit moves us, is what effectively brings life to dead souls.

By the way, a reminder: to speak as the Spirit moves does not necessarily mean something preternatural or beyond our normal physical capacities. It is a supernatural act, and that is predicated on one thing: the presence of sanctifying grace in the soul (see CCC 683 and the quote from St. Irenaeus of Lyons there, as well as our Lord’s words in chapter 3 of St. John’s Gospel). You move as the Spirit moves when you obey the commandments of God and His Holy Church! When you are reading Scripture or reading about the Church’s teaching in the Catechism—even if in total stillness—you are moving as the Spirit wills! When you go to Confession, you are doing likewise.

Building Project

One last image: St. Paul calls us temples of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 6:19. But have you ever heard of a temple that could then build up another temple? Well, by participation in that life of the Spirit, that “edification” or building up is precisely what we do in our homes, parishes, communities, and elsewhere (given the ubiquity of the internet!). As we build upon the foundation, which is Christ, in our own lives, to that extent, we build up the kingdom—individual temples here and there that will make up the Kingdom of Heaven. This often takes the following form: we tell others about God’s great work in our souls, through the reading of the Scriptures, through obedience to the Church’s prudent and loving laws, and especially through participation in the life-giving Sacred Mysteries, or Sacraments.

A consuming fire usually destroyed in antiquity, but this Holy Ghost Fire “renew[s] the face of the earth.”

Jonathan Arrington

Jonathan was born and raised in South Carolina and never left the Southeast until he was 18. But he has mostly lived abroad since graduation. At Furman University he majored in philosophy and Ancient Greek. He converted after his freshman year and entered Catholic seminary the year after graduation. He spent six years pursuing the priesthood in Bavaria, Italy, France, and Nebraska, but eventually left the seminary and moved to Rome, Italy to finish doctoral studies in theology (patristics) at the Augustinianum. He has taught for Christendom College, Thomas More College, Newman College Ireland, The Pontifical University of St. Thomas (the “Angelicum”), and has translated for the Vatican’s newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. He has taught for the Biblical School since 2018. He is married to Carey and they have six young children, the oldest of whom was the last child blessed and kissed by then-reigning Pope Benedict XVI at his final public audience.

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