As we celebrate this feast of Pentecost, I want to focus on some of the natural elements in the way that the Holy Spirit works and how we can encounter the Holy Spirit through nature. First, we hear about the wind that comes like a strong wind in the Acts of the Apostles and surrounds them when they’re all gathered together. The second is the fire, the tongues of fire that they experience when the Holy Spirit comes to them. The third is a more gentle experience of breath, how God breathed the Holy Spirit unto his disciples. With each of these, I just want you to open your mind to how you may ask and invite the Holy Spirit to come to you so that we can all experience that this Pentecost, this being filled with the Holy Spirit right now in our day and age.
When I was discerning about going into the seminary, I had made a retreat at the seminary. My brother, my older brother, and I made this retreat. When I was there during the weekend, I had this sense that I think God is calling me to seminary. I just want to let you know that I had felt the call my whole life from the time I was in the second grade after my first communion, but I put it off. I didn’t want to be a priest because I wanted to be married, and I wanted to have fun, and I didn’t think priests were fun. But if you know me, I’m kind of fun. So, I remember there was one moment when I walked out into the courtyard, and I had felt like God was calling me to go to the Seminary.
So, I said to God, I said alright, I’ll do this, but you gotta give me a sign. You’ve got to let me know that this is what you really want me to do. If you do that, I promise I will follow through with it. I was in the Saint Mary courtyard, and there was a statue of Mary there as I was praying and asking God just to really confirm and let me know that he wanted me to go there; the wind started kicking up in the courtyard. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, there was this breeze that came over me. It came over my whole body. I felt like that was God saying something to me. But me being as I am, I said if you want me to be a priest, that’s not enough. You’re going to have to give me a little bit more than a breeze. Then the wind kicked up, and it got stronger and stronger. Then it was so intense it felt like it could have been like a little mini tornado in there. I felt the breeze come across my body, and I’ll never forget all the hairs on my arm and my back stood up. I felt like tingling, and I remember taking in this deep breath of this wind. Not only was the wind extremely powerful, but it brought me this sense of rightness and of peace and confirmation of what I’d really been asking. So, I look back at that moment, and I didn’t really know much about all of this trinitarian formula of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I didn’t really know that that was the Holy Spirit, but it was the Holy Spirit.
We hear in the first book of the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit came like a strong driving wind. That’s what I felt, this strong driving wind come across. Not only did it come across me, but I took a deep breath. I remember breathing in this air, breathing in the Holy Spirit. And as I breathed in, I felt completely filled with God’s love, with God’s strength, with God’s fortitude, and kind of that realization that OK, he’s confirming me in this. He’s calling me in this, and he’s also giving me everything that I need to follow through with this call. We hear in the gospel that when Jesus came to the disciples and wanted to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit, he breathed on them. So that’s another softer, gentler way that we can experience the Holy Spirit is Jesus breathing upon us, giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Just as God the Father breathed over all of creation and brought creation into the world. So I want you just to notice that, too, the gentleness of your breath. When the Holy Spirit breathes into you, sometimes it does feel like that like we’re not the ones breathing, but God is breathing into us. So that’s the second way little bit more of a gentle way, the breath of the Holy Spirit of God coming into us. Then the third way that we hear in nature is this fire. He comes in tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit.
One of the things I love about summer is that usually there are a lot more bonfires. There’s a lot more time sitting around a campfire or sitting around a fire outside. For me, there’s just nothing more beautiful than being outdoors in nature in front of a fire. The stars in the sky are such a beautiful experience for me. When we look at fire, and when we get close to fire, we feel some of that intense, uncontrollable heat. Especially when the wind is moving through the fire, and sometimes it blows even towards us, and you feel the heat of the fire. It’s a wonderful image of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit comes intensely upon us like a burning fire. The other thing about fire is that once it’s lit and once the wind is coming, it’s kind of unpredictable and uncontrollable. And when we receive the Holy Spirit, our lives become a little bit unpredictable and uncontrollable because we’re no longer living in ourselves, but God is living in us. So, life becomes, we become open to the Spirit, we become open to what God may want to do in our lives.
Sometimes we realize that when our lives are just changing drastically, and they seem like they’re out of control, God is doing something in the midst of that out of control. But fire can also be this power and this wonder and this mystery that illuminates us. So when you stare at a campfire, you’re outside, you’re just looking at it, it’s quiet, you can hear the crackling, and you watch as the fire moves; there’s something that is so beautiful about it. And at the same time, it’s so mysterious, this flame, this light coming into the darkness. It’s a wonderful way to pray if you’ve never done that before. Just sit before a fire. You don’t have to say anything or do anything; just gaze at the fire. You’ll be drawn into God’s goodness and beauty and wonder. But the fire is also unpredictable. I was just out in California, and they are still recovering from the fires that they had last year. There were over a million square acres of fire that they had forest fire. I looked at all these burnt down trees, and yet new trees, new life coming up in there. When our lives seem out of control, as long as we’re being faithful, receiving the sacraments praying daily, we can trust that the Holy Spirit is actually at work doing something wonderful in our lives.
So, on this great day of Pentecost in this feast day of Pentecost, and as we go into summer, I just invite you to be open to the wonder of the Holy Spirit. When you need to make a decision, or you want to be inspired, ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then pay attention to the nature of wind, pay attention to your breath of God breathing into you. Pay attention to the wonder of fire and let all these images and mysteries of the Holy Spirit help us to be set aflame. So that we can truly give ourselves over to the Holy Spirit. So that we can lack control of our own lives and what we think our life should be and really allow God to set us on fire.
So, I just invite you to do that now. Right now, after the homily, close your eyes for a few moments and ask for that gift of the Holy Spirit.