The Fire That Burns and Saves: Weekly Message for 06-14-2022

Dear Friends in Christ,

And the God who answers by fire, he is God (1 Kings 18:24)

T.S. Eliot, in what is perhaps the 20th century’s greatest poem, describes it like this.

“The dove descending breaks the air
With flames of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.” 

The Holy Spirit descends in tongues as of flame at Pentecost; the Lord has answered by fire; and that fire, like all fire, burns. Scripture speaks at times of the fire of God’s wrath – but how should we understand the anger of God? God is love; he is the almighty Father who also loves us with the tenderness of a mother (Isaiah 49:15-17). Therefore he is never angry at us, in the sense that we understand anger. To imply this is to stray far from Christianity. 

God is not angry at us, then, but he is angry for us. The Lord’s fire is directed at whatever wounds our true identity, at whatever harms our relationship with him, at whatever maims our true joy and freedom as his beloved sons and daughters. He is angry for us, and he will consume whatever prevents us from being fully alive in his love.

Fire devours, and in that process, it purifies. What might the Holy Spirit, the consuming fire of God’s love, be purifying in order to give me true life? What cobwebs of selfishness in the corners of my heart need the Holy Spirit’s consuming flame? 

All this comes from the Lord’s love, and that allows Eliot to affirm

“Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove the intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.” 

And, of course, what T.S. Eliot can only hint at in Little Gidding, the Holy Spirit accomplishes in our own personal Pentecosts: “The Love of God has been poured into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). This love is fire; and, as we consent to its action, we too know that “the God who answers by fire, he is God.” 

May the Holy Spirit, the Sweet Guest of the Soul, bring you truth and peace,

Fr. John Pietropaoli, LC

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