Every Catholic should be reading the Bible. We talk about doing it all of the time. Read a few passages every day. It will speak to you. But do we actually pick it up and read a few verses, when there are so many other things demanding our attention? Sometimes it takes a spiritual director pushing you, before we reluctantly do the things we should have done all along.
As an Easter discipline, my husband and I began reading the Acts of the Apostles together each day. We have both read the Bible many times over the course of our lives, but never before have I been so enthralled with the stories of the early church. The stories are human, they are messy, and they are real. These men and women face so many challenges to their faith and their new way of life. Entire towns have been turned upside down by these un-educated fishermen filled with the Holy Spirit. Remember what these guys were like just a few weeks ago? They were running, hiding, lost.
We see as Stephen steps forth in their ranks. Brilliantly defending the Christ to the Jewish church leaders. Unafraid he stands tall, gives a brilliant discourse and loses his life.
We read the story of Paul and Silas in prison, singing and praying at midnight after they had been beaten. Crazy, these men are crazy. When is the last time you faced a hospital visit or crushing sickness by singing and praising the Lord? So why are these guys so different from you and me? It can only be a higher power. It can only be the Holy Spirit.
This is the same Holy Spirit that I received at my Confirmation many years ago, so why am I so afraid to be like these apostles? Could it be that the majority of my life floats by without me even acknowledging the power that is there at my disposal?
Why fire? Why is the Holy Spirit compared to fire? We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
While water signifies birth and the fruitfulness of life given in the Holy Spirit, fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions. The prayer of the prophet Elijah, who “arose like fire” and whose “word burned like a torch,” brought down fire from heaven on the sacrifice on Mount Carmel. This event was a “figure” of the fire of the Holy Spirit, who transforms what he touches. John the Baptist, who goes “before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah,” proclaims Christ as the one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Jesus will say of the Spirit: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” In the form of tongues “as of fire,” the Holy Spirit rests on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost and fills them with himself. The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit’s actions.
The fiery church we see in the Acts of the Apostles is the one Pope Francis spoke of at WYD Rio when he said, “What do I expect as a consequence of the Youth Day? I expect a mess. There will be one. There will be a mess here in Rio? There will be! But I want a mess in the dioceses! I want people to go out! I want the Church to go out to the street! I want us to defend ourselves against everything that is worldliness, that is installation, that is comfortableness, that is clericalism, that is being shut-in on ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions, exist to go out!
The feast of Pentecost, the birthday of Our Church, falls on Sunday, June 8th this year. Let us beg the Holy Spirit for that same fire that came down upon the apostles and transformed their lives. May it rain down on us and give us the courage to go out and preach to the nations, that we may change our lives and the lives of everyone around us.