Each Symbol of the Holy Spirit Reveals Something of His Identity. The Dove.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, a time to honour the Holy Spirit. But who is this Holy Spirit? First, the Holy Spirit is divine, one of the three persons of the blessed Trinity, not an afterthought or something inferior. His titles are: Advocate, Paraclete, the Sanctifier, author of all good, and ray of heavenly light. Symbols are often used to describe the Holy Spirit, probably the first one that comes to mind is the biblical image of a dove. The dove is a sign of love and peace and certainly that is a good description of the Holy Spirit. Yet, no one symbol fully reveals the nature of the Holy Spirit, he is deeper than that. In fact, it would be dangerous to only look at one symbol. For example, if we only thought of the dove, we might begin to think that the Holy Spirit is weak and naive, after all, He’s only a dove. But there are other important symbols that help us to see that the Holy Spirit is also powerful and wise.
Pentecost Symbols: Fire and Wind
In the Pentecost story there are two symbols that were used to describe the Holy Spirit, a rush of wind in the room and tongue of fire that settle over the heads of Mary and the Apostles. Let us examine each of these symbols, first looking at the negative and then the positive.
Wind is something that we cannot control and that we have trouble predicting. We can’t make it do what we want it to. It simply blows where it wills. In it’s worst manifestation, we may think of a tornado. It’s something that is powerful, sudden, and that can level a whole town. The Holy Spirit too is uncontrollable. He blows where he wills. We cannot manipulate him.
Fire burns. It can take something huge and turn it entirely into ash. Fire too is powerful. It destroys. One of the terrible manifestations of fire is a forest fire. It’s interesting that in the past we used to think of forest fires as entirely bad. But now we have a deeper understanding. Actually, forest fires are necessary for the natural development of the forest. The debris that collects on the forest floor can actually choke the forest. So the destructive fire that destroys and clears the way for new life is actually necessary in some cases and so we have ‘controlled fires.’ The Holy Spirit works like this too. He is destructive, he clears out the evil in our lives, so that there can be growth once again and so that we can be renewed.
The Holy Spirit in the Life of St. Matthew
Saint Matthew, our parish patron, is a striking witness to the grace of the Holy Spirit.
We know Matthew was a tax collector. He may have originally gone into his profession with good intentions, but he wasn’t spared of breathing in it’s poisonous airs. Matthew was a manipulative person, he used and abused others for his own personal gain. He had power with his profession to extract taxes from his people and took advantage of that to line his own pockets with a little extra. Then with his dirty wealth, he bought lush properties and enjoyed all of the material delights of this world.
But all of a sudden, something happened. Jesus came to Matthew’s home and the Holy Spirit invaded his spirit. That same Matthew that was stained by his profession slowly changed and became the man we know today, Saint Matthew. It would have shocked many of his friends in his day to have seen the change. St. Matthew became famous for two qualities that weren’t even on the radar for Matthew the tax collector. They were generosity and love. St. Matthew stopped stealing money and started giving it away … all of it. And when that was gone, he started giving of himself. He spent the rest of his life in service to the Gospel and to others. The manipulative man who used, abused, and was only concerned about himself became a great saint because he followed the Holy Spirit in clearing out the debris and growing new plants that would bear good fruit.
Positive Qualities of Wind and Fire
Let us now get back to our symbols of wind and fire and look at their positive qualities. Wind refreshes. We love being outside on a sunny day when there is a gentle breeze to cut the heat. The Holy Spirit is like this, he refreshes, he lifts our spirits. Despite all our technologies, we still need fire today to make them, to mold the pieces and melt the materials. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit shapes us and builds us up. He is the Sanctifier, the one who makes us more like God.
There was an old priest who once said, no matter who you are, no matter how old, no matter what situation you are in, no matter how good or how bad, there is always one prayer that works: Veni Sancti Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit). When we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives we invite one who is powerful, who can make things happen, who refreshes, lifts and builds us up. The Holy Spirit is no naive powerless dove, He is the Spirit of God at work in our world. Look out!