I recently learned from watching an episode in the History Channel something that baffled me: That right as we sit here today, there are coal fires burning underground in this country. Have you heard that before? It is said that some of the fires have burned for decades and there’s no way to put them out. I’m clearly unaware of the science behind that. Some of you who’re knowledgeable in the area of geology may know. All I heard was that the fires thrive on the oxygen provided by the mazes of mineshafts, and these special types of coal can burn and burn and burn, with steam rising from the ground with multifarious effects. The fires smolder relentlessly, without end. But you know what -- there’s such fire burning inside each of us.
As you’ve heard me say on a few occasions, Morning Prayer in the family in which I grew up started at 5am with the Sign of the Cross and the invocation: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful; and kindle in them the fire of your love.” How does the Holy Spirit do this? And what is this fire that He kindles? Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither sees nor knows Him; but you know Him, because He’s with you, He is IN you” (John 14:16). Yes, God’s Spirit dwells in each of us, alive and well; “...alive,” yes… but “well,” it depends.
Similar to the coal fire mentioned earlier, the Holy Spirit is inside us like the “fuel” but He needs the oxygen that we’ll provide to manifest Himself fully so the spark can fan into flame God’s love buried deep in our hearts. Unfortunately, many have cluttered their senses and hearts, their mind and spirit with the clouds of passion and rebellious desires, which dampen the fire of God’s Spirit.
In today’s second reading, St. Peter, the first pope encourages us to fan into flame the Spirit of God in us, so that we may have clear answers to those who ask or challenge us about the reason for the faith we hold. St. Peter didn’t suggest that when asked about our faith, we refer the enquirer to our priest. Many of us stopped learning about the faith in second grade when they ‘graduated’ from RE class. They live their adult religious experience with the guidelines of a child. Would you even permit a physician who learned only general medicine to fix a tumor in your brain? Across the board, many Catholics appear to be concerned only about the “how,” and not the “why” of their faith. For example, how to receive Holy Communion—in the tongue or hand, rather than why we receive it; how to process in for wedding—with rock or classical music, rather than why the sacrament is needed for a life-together in God; how to go to confession—facing the priest or kneeling behind a screen, rather than why sin is an injury against God, etc. Many opportunities are provided for us to learn our faith but many Catholics don’t want them or don’t seem to care...because they’re very busy. When their life becomes crushed by the dominance of the ego, they demur and seek solace in drug, alcohol and an infinity of trifles or they remember that sixty years ago a nun had smacked them with a ruler and they proceed to blame every ill of theirs on the Church and those ‘evil’ nuns. Some join the new woke therapy club called -- “Recovering Catholics,” because they feel a need to stay angry, and stay woke.
A little openness of mind and heart mixed will the flame of God’s Spirit will cause an explosion of light and warmth and goodness. Then the soul, according to Hugh of St. Victor, will grow strong, the flame of love will burn more hotly and brightly, and the smoke of passion will die down, letting God’s love to burst from us into the lives of those around us and into the world. Have you ever wondered why some people, like St. Teresa of Calcutta, are able to forget themselves to accomplish acts of love and kindness beyond measure? Is it because God gave them more than He gave us? No! People who do incredibly good and selfless things are not different from you and me. They have only had an openness and willingness to provide the oxygen for the Spirit to burn within them. God’s fire never goes out, but we can help it burn a little brighter by eschewing selfishness, greed and indifference. Open yourself to learn your faith by reading quality spiritual books, watching faith-inspired movies and shows. Practice prayer, faith-sharing, meditation and Bible reading, and you’ll become equipped to warm yourself and your neighbor with the Spirit’s fire.