When I read the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit from the Acts of the Apostles, I think our God has a sense of humour! It seems that the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early Christians at Pentecost was by no means a quiet or gentle event; it was a noisy, chaotic and somewhat disorganised affair! Certainly, I think that if many of us were given the responsibility for the official “launch” of the Church (which is what Pentecost is about), I think we would organise it far more efficiently – noises, tongues of fire, people speaking different languages – no way!
The poem “Pentecost” by the 19th century poet William Blake captures some of the power of the scene, with the repetition of the phrase “catch fire”. When a piece of news or gossip gets around quickly, we say it “spreads like wildfire”! By its very nature, fire jumps from one thing to another, burning more intensely the more it spreads as was evidenced in the West of Ireland recently.
The symbol of tongues of fire is apt then. The arrival of the Holy Spirit propels the apostles from the room where they were huddled out into the street. They cannot contain themselves as they begin to preach and spread the Good News far and wide – like wildfire.
Perhaps what Luke (the author of Acts) wants to convey to us is that God does not always act in a way that is humanly reasonable. God does not meet our expectations! Our God is a God of surprises! The feast of Pentecost should teach us to be open to the wonderful and amazing things God can do in our lives. There is noise, chaos, many different languages in our world and in our Church today and as disciples of Jesus, this is our time. We are called to engage and embrace this diversity in a positive way. The Catholic Church is at its best when it is precisely that – truly Catholic, with a welcome and a place for everyone. So, let us not be afraid of entering into the confusion of our times – there we will find God.