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FIRE FROM HEAVEN

James and John were exasperated when a Samaritan village rejected  Christ. They wanted to respond by calling down fire from heaven. The Lord rebuked them for their impetuosity (Lk.9:51-62).

Later, their impulsive suggestion was strangely fulfilled, but in a way they could not possibly have imagined. What they had previously asked for is what actually happened on the day of Pentecost. Fire came from heaven.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down in what looked like tongues of flame and with the power of a mighty rushing wind. That fire from heaven launched the Church on its mission of evangelizing not just one village but one world, all the nations of the earth.

That same mission has already subsisted for over twenty centuries and will continue until the Lord returns and this world passes. James and John knew nothing of that when they asked for the unresponsive Samaritans to be consumed in a blaze of retribution. At Pentecost God gave the apostles His fire. That fire was not for retribution, but for the preaching of God’s mighty deeds, and the conversion of all mankind.

Our search for God and our work for His Kingdom do not usually bring immediate results or instant satisfaction. Our growth in holiness is slow. A few halting steps forward are often followed by several steps backwards. As regards direct knowledge of God, above and beyond the gift of faith, there is rarely any instant access. Infused knowledge is rarely given, and then only to specially chosen souls as an exceptional sign but never as the norm.

St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila were among such rare examples. Throughout their lives they both seemed to experience a kind of direct access to the unfathomable riches of Christ. But their special gifts from the Holy Spirit went hand in hand with years and years of slow mortification, first of the senses and then (even more arduous) of the mind and heart. Mortification taught those saints to be cautious and patient.

We should be thankful that the fire of the Holy Spirit now comes to us more often as a serene and slow burning flame than a tornado. Mercifully, the Paraclete scales Himself down to our limited capacities.