The Messy Power of the Holy Spirit

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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.

Rachel Zamarron

Rachel Zamarron

Rachel is a wife, Catholic, and cowgirl. Married to her sweetheart Sam, the two of them are enjoying the adventures of life hand-in-hand.

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4 thoughts on “The Messy Power of the Holy Spirit”

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    One of the reasons for the Holy Spirit to be depicted as fire is that fire signifies mystical illumination. Christ told the apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit as One Who would teach them all things, giving them true enlightenment.

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    While we’re invariably discussing the canonical instances of the interactions with the Holy Spirit described in the Early Church in the New Testament, I can’t help but think about some of the Old Testament discussion of the Ruacḥ ha-Ḳodesh (the “Spirit of the Lord” that blows upon the water in Genesis and makes a few other appearances ) and look at one or two moments NOT connected traditionally to that emanation in the Talmud and Midrash.

    In your discussion of the symbolism of fire, I immediately thought of the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-22), both because of a reference to that tale in the homily at yesterday’s daily mass and a reference in the reading from Irenaeus in this today’s LIturgy of the Hours describing how Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit (via the intercession of Christ’s sacrifice) went from a cosmic power to being personally connected to individual men.

    Looking over the Burning Bush passage (…blazing, yet it was not consumed”), I see the same description of light and fire that the New Testament uses for the Holy Spirit’s manifestation that one doesn’t normally see in the Old Testament (where the Ruacḥ ha-Ḳodesh is rather a strong wind, like that loud wind that alerts the Apostles just before the dove and tongues of fire appear). Likewise, the conversation of “the Angel of the Lord” with Moses, where it annuls his doubts on his capacity for evangelization of the Lord and sends him forth to lead the People with the knowledge of the Divine Name and promises of miracles is surprising similar to a New Testament Paraclete relationship (the homily yesterday even discussed it in relationship to Gabriel’s conversation with Mary, with both Moses and Mary asking questions before accepting their missions from God) — although Moses’s Old Testament relationship is external and tied to channeled authority via relics and having to repeatedly revisit sites to converse with the Lord for Advocacy; after all, prior to Christ’s sacrifice, the Spirit is not yet internalized, even if it is in discourse with him (one can compare his mission as comparable, if inverse of the apostles, in bringing the Israelites together to their new home, from where the global evangelization after Pentecost will spread).

    But, that’s just my thought of the morning. A quick Google search doesn’t find other discussion of the Burning Bush as a pre-Paracletic manifestation of the Holy Spirit in light and fire, being Advocate externally (in another Old Testament prelude of the New) before Christ’s sacrifice allows for that personal contact of Man and God in a sort of Pentecostal evangelical mission to gather his people together.

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      You bring up an excellent point about Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. It was Christ’s death on the Cross that paid the penalty of original sin. Our bodies are supposed to be the temples of the Holy Spirit. When Adam and Eve committed original sin they defiled themselves, and their bodies could no longer be the Holy of Holies where there could be the pure indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is my view that the loin cloths were the mystical representation of the loss of intimacy with God that was brought about by original sin. To me the loin cloths were the veil of the temple, and were the mystical representation of the stain of original sin on the souls of Adam and Eve. It is the same veil of the temple that was torn in two by Christ’s redemptive death on the Cross, when Christ opened the gates of heaven.

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      (I felt dumb during this morning’s homily when I was reminded that ‘Pentecost’ was of course the Jewish festival commemorating Fifty Days since Moses’s reception of the Law from God, hence the presence of Jews from all the Known World when the Holy Spirit arrives — given that the the “Angel of the Lord” in the Burning Bush’s mission to Moses is the bring the Jews to the same place that they’ve gathered for Pentecost (effectively in the name of Mose) where and when the Holy Spirit arrives in wind and fire makes me wonder all the more…)

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