Fire! Fire! Fire!

Reflection on the Solemnity of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-11 | May 28, 2023

Fire! Fire! Fire!
Robert B. Badrina
Parish Biblical Apostolate
Ministry of Lectors and Commentators

Less than a week ago, we were shocked by the news of how a fire engulfed and destroyed the iconic building of the Manila Central Post Office. The highest fire alarm was raised for the incident and it took six hours before it was finally declared under control. Within the same week, another fire destroyed at least fifteen houses in a residential area in Quezon City. That fire reached the third alarm before being finally controlled by firefighters. There is a saying in Filipino, “Mabuti na ang manakawan ng sampung beses kaysa ang masunugan.” This illustrates how fire can be destructive to both people’s lives and properties.

In today’s readings, for our celebration of the Solemnity of Pentecost, we are shown the image of the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles as “tongues of fire.” Last Sunday, we commemorated the Ascension of the Lord when Jesus left the apostles but with the promise that he will not leave them, or us, alone. In John 14:26, it is mentioned, “…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” The descent of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise.

As is common in many reflections on Pentecost, I will focus on “fire” as the image of the Holy Spirit. What is it with fire that it became the symbol of the Holy Spirit?

Andrew Scott, author of the book, Burning Planet, mentions that most probably, humans began to control and use fire on a regular and widespread basis around 7,000 years ago. I think our capacity to utilize fire became a significant tool for human development. This leads me to highlight three main purposes of fire which can also be a reminder for us of how the Holy Spirit is working in and through us.

Fire as a source of light. In the olden days, when electricity was not yet invented, lamp posts were lighted with fire to serve as guides for human activities at night. Fire became a symbol of hope against the darkness of the night. This is also true with the Holy Spirit, how it can bring light to us by guiding our decisions in life. These are decisions and actions which hopefully can bring us closer to the Lord.

Fire as a means for protection. In Exodus 14:24, “During the last watch of the night, the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.” This pillar of fire became the source of protection for the Israelites who were being pursued by the Egyptians. It served as God’s divine intervention that shielded His people from the pursuit of their former masters. We can also seek the same protection from the Holy Spirit. It can be a source of protection against evil spirits waiting to devour us through temptations. I am reminded of people of the ancient times who used fire to protect themselves especially from the attacks of wild beasts.

Fire as source of transformation. When I was a young student, we had to perform laboratory experiments which involved the process of chemical change. During these experiments, fire was an important element and catalyst. Fire can transform materials to produce new forms, new structures, and new compositions. Fire is so powerful a tool that it can produce new materials through the burning process. This is the final invitation of the Holy Spirit for us—to live a life of continued transformation. Every day is a gift given by the Lord that must lead to transformation—becoming a more loving person especially to the least, the lost, and the last in our society. We can beg for the help and grace of the Holy Spirit to bring us to a life of transformation.

Indeed, fire can be destructive as what it did to the Manila Central Post Office and the residential houses in Quezon City this past week. However, as with any other creation which can be good or bad, fire can also be a source of light, protection, and transformation. As we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, may we use the burning heart gifted to us by the Holy Spirit to guide others, to protect those in need, and to transform our lives and the lives of the people around us. Pentecost Sunday invites us to set the world on fire, for as Jesus himself put it, “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!” (Luke 12:49). Now, our fire is no longer a cause for destruction but a fire that gives and creates life.

Artwork: Pentecostés by Juan Bautista Maíno

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