Since this last Sunday we celebrated the solemnity of Pentecost I want to share a reflection that I presented at St Benedict’s College on the Holy Spirit this last week. These ideas are blatantly stolen from presentations I have heard from Scott Hahn and Fr Robert Baron but since I thought they are definitely worth repeating… I am not ashamed. We read in the bible that on Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles as, “tongues of fire” that came and rested on each of them.
I think for many reasons we often think of hell as a hot, fire-y place full of flame, brimstone and desolation. This is not an incorrect image, but the reality is that more often the image of fire is used to describe God and heaven. We are told that in heaven the angels and saints are caught up in the eternal fire of God’s love. The Seraphim, who are the angels closest to God’s throne, literally translated from Hebrew, mean “the burning ones”. In Exodus we read that Moses was called by God from within a burning bush that was not being burned up.
While those in hell really hate it there, they would hate being in heaven even more because of this fiery, purifying love. CS Lewis said that the doors of hell are locked, but he believes that they are locked from the inside. In a talk I bought on an app Called Bible (Catholic Lighthouse media), I heard Scott Hahn say that the saints would freeze in the fires of hell. In light of this we might even begin to think of hell as Dante did – as a cold place. He describes Satan as being stuck in the ice, unable to move, so consumed with himself that he is oblivious to true reality, so removed from the fiery love of God.
Continuing this imagery we remember what St Catherine of Sienna said: “If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze”. That is what we are called to do when we are commanded to love one another: to spread the love of God, the Holy Spirit, to the world. And St Catherine says that we do this by being who we are, authentically who were created to be.
Spreading this fire (that is the Holy Spirit) is not about just being what we think it means to be good or holy or right… It starts with finding a way to really be who we are and letting God love through us. You have something in you: some way of serving God, reaching another person, explaining something, singing, joking, being serious, loving… that God has given you that no one else has or can do. If we can let God show us who are and be authentic each day in the way we love and interact with others we could see a world on fire with the burning Love of God.
And if we do that, sure that love may hurt sometimes, just as earthly fire would, but if we can trust in God through it all, we can be just like that burning bush that Moses encountered in the book of Exodus: God will speak through us and we will not be burned up.
p.s. If you are ever driving a long distance or have time to listen to talks I really recommend downloading the Lighthouse Catholic media bible app to your phone, there are some excellent talks and many of them from Scott Hahn are free. I use it all the time in my 45 minute drive to work in the morning!