Dear Friends in Christ,
One of the ravages of our Australian summer is the ever present danger of bushfires. We know how devastating these can be, especially when we see pictures of scorched landscapes, burnt out frames of what used to be family homes and the charred remains of animals spread over the countryside. And yet as devastating and terrible as these bushfires are, without them there would not be new life in our forests and wilder lands. The very nature of the eucalypt tree, which dominates so much of the Australian bushland, as the temperatures soar during summer, these trees breathe out their oils into the atmosphere, creating an almost permanent haze over the bushland. The conditions then are apt for just one spark to set the bush on a terrible and destructive path as fires take hold of the land with all their intensity and energy.
As terrible and as destructive as these fires can be, without them, the Australian bush would not have the possibility of regeneration and growth, since the eucalypt seed pods require the intense heat generated from bushfires for them to burst open and generate new trees. One has only to visit a once scarred bush a year or two after a devastating fire to see a completely new and regenerated forest.
Fire is one of the symbols that is used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe the actions of the Holy Spirit. It states that: “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 prophet Elijah… 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 [Luke 1:17.3:16]. Jesus will say of the Spirit: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! [Luke 12:49]. 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 [Acts 2:3-4]. The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit’s actions [see the works of St John of the Cross]. [#696]
This image of the Australian bushfire, then, can become an image of the Solemnity we celebrate today. At the time of the first Pentecost, described in the first reading [Acts 2:1-11], the disciples were overcome with doubts, uncertainty and fear as they tried to come to terms not only with the tragic death of Jesus, but also with the more astounding rumours concerning the empty tomb and talk of his appearance among his followers.
Amid all this clamour, the Spirit descends upon them, and Luke describes this in beautiful and powerful images: ‘they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house…and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit’ [Acts 2:2-4]. Luke’s progression in speaking about the event is interesting: they hear at first a powerful wind; its noise fills the house; they see something like tongues of fire; they become filled with the Holy Spirit. The effect on the disciples of this event is indeed transformational. They immediately leave the safety of the upper room and begin with zeal and energy their mission to preach the Gospel, which continues to this day.
Like a bushfire, Pentecost – and the presence of the Holy Spirit – clears the ‘undergrowth’ of fear, doubt and anxiety in our lives. The Spirit’s presence in us and in our Church is a unifying force for good. As we celebrate this great event, we can ask ourselves: what is the condition of my spiritual ‘undergrowth’? Is there a need for the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn away this needless mass in my life, leaving me in a better positon to grow in the gifts of the Spirit? Pentecost, even though it signifies the end of the Easter season, allows us to keep alive and deepen the very mysteries that we have celebrated over the last six weeks. May we be always open to the presence of the Spirit and to his promptings:
‘Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they will be created and you will renew the face of the earth.’
Fr Robert Bossini
Dean and Parish Priest