Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Pentecost Gifts

This is a detail of El Greco's painting of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles tells us "They were gathered..." It doesn't say the twelve apostles were gathered. So who is this on the right - next to Mary? El Greco has taken the liberty of including a woman disciple!

The lesser god, Prometheus, stole fire from Zeus on Mount Olympus and gave it to the humans who he hoped to make more comfortable. Zeus was furious when he saw the dinner fires of the humans burning in the evening, but his bad temper was lessened when he smelled the nice food they were preparing.

So Prometheus invited Zeus to come down the mountain for a roasted dinner letting him pick his meal from one of the two piles he had prepared. Unbeknownst to Zeus,  Prometheus had hidden the best part of their roasted meat under bones, while hiding the leftover and unwanted scraps under blobs of fat. Later, having chosen to eat from the pile that was covered with fat instead of bone, he learned he had been tricked, punishing Prometheus and the humans severely.

But all of that is over and done with now, because God has come into our world in Jesus, who is pure gift. We've had to to steal nothing from God - there is no jealous and punishing anger. God is only too pleased to come to be with us and to do for us what we need.

I contemplate this mystery in silence.

And when the gift of God's spirit comes down at Pentecost it comes with this sign:
"And suddenly there came from the sky a sound like a violent blast of wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting." (Act of the Apostles 2:1,2)

We are reminded of God exhaling his breath into Adam the clay man and animating him - making him a living being. (Genesis 2: 7). And in sending God's own Spirit to be with us, even interiorly, we are being re-created - made into the new kind of human person we have seen in Jesus Christ.

I make a deep interior reverence before this mystery. 

Wind is active air. It is the opposite of stagnant air, air that is so calm it has become dull, perhaps even foul. Wherever there are human beings there is the tendency to live in and breathe and even create the conditions for this inert "air". The individual, the family, the church, the nation, the globe becomes toxic.

I implore a new visitation of the Spirit which is like a blast of air.

Ezekiel called the wind from the four directions (chapter 37) to make the land of dry bones to be alive again. I pause to consider where this regeneration is most needed in my experience today.

~ Silence ~

"And they saw tongues like flames separating and settling on each of them." (Act of the Apostles 2:3)

Do we notice that the wind enveloped all of them at once, but the fire, while its source is one and the same, individuates and hovers over each of them in their uniqueness, which El Greco has so aptly depicted - each face in his painting is highly individualized.

Individuation is not pop psychology - it is spiritually essential. Individuation is the process by which the individual in the course of his life is pressed to realize his innate capacities to the full and become what he/she has it in him/her to become. 

Fire is an ancient symbol for the destruction of evil forces. Don't we need to consider that today? And fire was a symbol for purification - a destroyer of pestilence. But the need for purification is interior. It is primarily about our intention in acting. 

Where might I ask to be purified? 

Fire is an image of spiritual enlightenment and zeal, intense charity. It is related to the virtue of hospitality as the place where guests gathered was around the hearth (fire place). 

We might pause to pray for an increase of human warmth which is the inviting of friendship - that when speaking, the Christian might stop for a brief moment to ask, "Did I just speak a word of friendship or division?"

But fire can also be hard to control; it can be dangerous and destructive. The apostles asked Jesus if they should call down fire on those who were not with them. Jesus would not hear of it. Ah then, perhaps dangerous or destructive to some yet-to-be surrendered part of my life or the life of my family.

I make an interior bow, asking for my conscience to be informed.

Fire is like a ray of light, a flash of gold, a bolt of lightning. The earth is born of fire. God manifests himself by fire and lightning as the Pillar of Fire leading the Ark of the Covenant through the wilderness, or while Moses encountered God in the Burning Bush or as he received the Commandments on Sinai.

I might recall a personal manifestation of God
which was like fire.


  1. Thank you for this. Much needed insights for Pentecost. Sometimes fire is more than just tongues of flame.

  2. "More than just flame," oh yes, to be sure. And that's precisely what we must get at. The Lord bring to completion the good he has begun in you.

  3. Great post, plurimas gratias tibi ago, Pater. But, in El Greco's defense, we should note that a few verses above it says that the Apostles "with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers" (Acts 1:14). So when it says "They were gathered" at the beginning of chapter 2, while it does not explicitly say who "they" were, it is a reasonable inference that those same women were there.

  4. El Greco said, "I paint because the spirits whisper madly inside my head." I can't think of another place where an artist - especially an old world artist was bold enough to give a woman, other than Mary, a Pentecost flame. I can imagine more than a few European clerics got their noses out of joint at El Greco's "audacity." The Holy Spirit can be audacious.

  5. St. Paul writes to the Greek Christians about the diversity among them: “different spiritual gifts, different forms of service, different workings” but all are united in one body: “As a body is one though it has many parts . . . so also Christ.” It is the Spirit that breathes upon us the miracle and divine glue of unity. In the end, this one voice speaks to us through the diversity of members gathered in prayer and worship. We are many households and everyone comes with baggage from their daily lives but as we together seek the common good of all and profess one faith in Jesus as Lord, we are united and we have the power of the Holy Spirit available to us constantly. O will bear this in mind as I ask myself if I always speak words of warmth and friendship.