Pentecost people: Earth, wind and fire

When you hear the words “earth, wind and fire” you might think of a certain musical group from the 1970s that has sold over 90 million records worldwide. But “earth, wind and fire” should also call to mind Pentecost and a celebration of the 1.313 billion Catholics in the world.

The origin of the word Pentecost comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth” for it is the 50th day after Easter Sunday. In the Old Testament, it was also called the “Feast of Harvest” (Ex 23:16) or the “Day of First-Fruits” (Nm 28:26) in celebration for the labor of those who completed the spring grain harvests, the fruit of the earth of ancient Israel.

Pentecost is a time to be filled with joy, energy and the new life of the Holy Spirit. So, one has to ask, are we as Catholics filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit or has this fire died down to the bare embers? Let me share a story about a bishop from India, which is a lesson for all of us in being a people of Pentecost.

As Bishop George was traveling through the United States, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the most effective missionaries in the world, effectively growing his diocese from one Christian (himself) to over 90,000 in 10 years in one of the most remote regions in the world. One afternoon, as he and I were talking about faith, he made the following observation, “I hear many people talk about God and Jesus but very few talk about the Holy Spirit. I often call the Holy Spirit, the forgotten God,” he said, “for many Christians live as if they have not been transformed by the Holy Spirit.”

It is a wise and astute observation at a time when participation in the sacramental life of the church is continuing to decline and those who do not identify with any religious affiliation are increasing. “What’s it like to live in a place where people hunger for Jesus?” I asked him. “It is like living in the Acts of the Apostles,” he said, “full of signs, wonders and miracles.”

In the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that the disciples experienced the Holy Spirit in power for “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house” (Acts 2:2). Tongues of fire rested on each of the disciples and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). After this, they went out and performed miracles, healings and signs and wonders. The account in the Acts of the Apostles reveals two notable signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit: wind and fire.

Wind is one of the oldest symbols of the Holy Spirit for the Greek word for Spirit is pneuma, which also means breath or wind. A beautiful prayer attributed to St. Columba of Ireland acknowledges this life-giving breath as follows:

“O breathe on me, O breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love the things you love,
And do what you would do.”

We often use idioms about being filled with “hot air” in a derogatory sense in our culture today. But the Scriptures are full of references to the fire and light of the Holy Spirit. During Pentecost, reflect on how you can be filled with the breath of the Holy Spirit who we profess in the Nicene Creed as “the Lord, the giver of life.” Here are some simple ideas:

n Speak of “who” not “it.” The Holy Spirit is a person, not an “it.” Every friendship takes an investment of time and energy. Do you invite the presence of the Holy Spirit or is he the “forgotten God” in your life?

n Pray. Ask yourself the question, “Which member of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, do I pray most often to in my life?” This should reveal where you might need to direct some time and attention.

n Attune yourself to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Ask for his guidance, light and life when you are afraid or need help. The Holy Spirit is often called the “Paraclete,” meaning “he who is called to one’s side,” often translated as “consoler.” Where do you need consolation in your life?

Pentecost is much more than a singular event in history. It is a moment that we are called to embrace as Christians who live in the Holy Spirit so that we can be God our Father’s witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Earth, wind, fire. That’s Pentecost!

Stanz is director of Parish Life and Evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay.