At Pentecost, why do we ask the Holy Spirit to “kindle in us the fire” of God’s love? Because the alternative is to die of cancer—spiritual death from spiritual cancer.
God is likened to fire in the Bible and the Liturgy countless times (Hebrews 12:29, for example). Additionally, whenever He and His Word are called “light” (John 8:12 and Psalm 119:105, for example), we can recall that all light emanates from burning. Stars, forest fires, and light bulbs burn until they run out of fuel. Our own bodies are kept alive by a kind of burning: cellular metabolism produces water, carbon dioxide, and energy, just like a campfire. All creatures will one day burn out and grow cold, but the image of God as fire and light signifies life inextinguishable, burning with fuel inexhaustible—ipsum esse, being itself. What is this burning in God’s nature? It is love.
From all eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit pour themselves out one to the other in love, like a great, cosmic dance of flame. This eternal, invisible dance became visible and tangible when Jesus Christ poured out His life-blood on the Cross out of passionate, burning love for us and for His Father. This burning, self-giving love is the highest order of reality, and if we are ever going to survive—and even thrive—in that love when we die and go to meet it, we must open ourselves up to it now. Then we can be like the bush that is burning yet not consumed, alive and growing in the fire (Exodus 3:1-6). How do we open ourselves up to this love? By embracing sacrifice and surrendering our sins and self-will to God’s cleansing fire. The fire of God’s love is kindled with the wood of the Cross.
We must also help to spread this spiritual fire by loving others the way that Jesus has loved us (John 13:34). In the sharing of the fire-light at the Easter Vigil Mass, we witness the “law of the gift” articulated by Pope St. John Paul II: “your being increases in the measure that you give it away” (Bishop Robert Barron’s paraphrase). The fire-light of Jesus, lit in the world in the Incarnation, appears to be extinguished when it is given over to the forces of evil, only to burst forth anew in the Resurrection. (The evidence of the Shroud of Turin indicates a blindingly bright light at the moment of the Resurrection—a new Big Bang for the new creation that is Redemption, driven by the inexhaustible fuel of Christ’s love.) Then, as the Paschal candle illustrates, Christ gives that new life away to every believer. We in turn give away the fire to our neighbors, yet the fire only grows, never diminishing. Through the generosity of God, and our generosity in turn, the many are gathered into the one blaze of His love: “As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1127).
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