The Burning Fire of the Holy Spirit
Saint John Chrysostom comments on the passage in the Acts of the Apostles that relates how Paul and Barnabas healed the lame man in Lystra. The excited crowd saw in these strange individuals who could exercise such power a visitation of the gods Zeus and Hermes. They called the priests and wanted to offer a sacrifice of bullocks. But Barnabas and Paul were appalled and called to the crowd: “We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news” (Acts 14:15). Chrysostom remarks here: They were, to be sure, mortals like the others, yet they were also different from the others because tongues of fire had rested upon their human nature. That is what distinguishes the Christian—that he has received a tongue of fire in addition to his human nature. That is how the Church came into being. Each person receives the tongue of fire that is wholly and personally his and, as this person, he is a Christian in a unique and inimitable way. Admittedly, one who encounters the average Christian today is likely to inquire: “But where, then, is the tongue of fire?” The words spoken by Christian tongues today are unfortunately anything but fire. They taste all too much like water that has been left standing and is barely lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. We have no desire to burn either ourselves or others, but in not doing so we place ourselves at a distance from the Holy Spirit and our Christian Faith degenerates into a self-made philosophy of life that wants to disturb as few as possible of our comfortable habits and relegates the sharpness of protest to a place where it can cause the least inconvenience to our customary way of life. If we elude the burning fire of the Holy Spirit, it is only at first glance that being Christian seems easy for us. What is comfortable for the individual is uncomfortable for the whole. Where we no longer expose ourselves to God’s fire, the frictions among us become insupportable and the Church, to quote Saint Basil, is torn by the cries of interior factionalism. Only when we are not afraid of the tongues of fire or of the strong wind that accompanies them does the Church become an icon of the Holy Spirit. And only then does she open the world to the light of God. The Church had her origin when the disciples gathered with one mind in the room where they had celebrated the Last Supper and prayed there together. It is thus that she begins over and over again. In our prayers for the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, let us always call upon her.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (pp. 159–160). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.