I was recently struck by the presence of fire in the liturgical time we have entered, namely Lent, proceeding into Holy Week and then Easter. We begin with Ash Wednesday, our foreheads being signed with ashes, the result of palm branches from previous Palm Sunday burned with fire. The ashes remind us of our origin - and our destiny. We will return to the earth from which we came. And while many people today who are not church goers may have some vague notions of a nice afterlife, the stark reality is that many are confronted more and more with the anxiety of being unsure of their ultimate destiny.
The great hope we have as Christians though is not vague. It is not pious thoughts or imaginary ideals. It is concrete. It is God Himself became man. He handed Himself over for our sakes to the most terrible experience of betrayal, suffering, abandonment, abuse and death. He then rose on the third day and began to transform men and women very specifically from the inside out.
This inside-out transformation only comes through another Fire which descends at the end of Easter on the Feast of Pentecost. This time it is not a fire that burns something alive and makes it dead ashes. This time it is a Fire that is a Person - as we profess in the Creed, "the Lord and giver of life." The Fire of the Holy Spirit does not kill as it burns, but rather infuses with Divine Life, and Love and Hope. The journey of Lent invites us to prepare our hearts, to empty them out, not unto death, but unto the Fire of the Holy Spirit so that the inside-out transformation continues in 2023 and new life is brought into the aching and at times hopeless world.
Perhaps we can all liturgically cheat a little and begin already, "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and enkindle in us the Fire of Your Love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth." Just don't use the "A"-word yet!
- Fr. Francis Mary Roaldi, CFR