I think Pentecost shows us that somewhere along the path of the past 2,000 years, we got it all backwards.
''I baptize you with water," John preached along the Jordan. "But the one coming after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." We hear that Gospel in Advent, a time of year when it seems like our ears are stuffed with holly and Christmas to-do lists. It's a reading that can leave us a bit confused, and maybe more than a bit apprehensive.
Most of us would shudder at the notion of being "baptized in fire." (Isn't that just one of those Biblical figures of speech? I'll take the water, thank you.) But 2,000 years into the mission of Jesus Christ, we ought to know better. The God we worship lives way beyond our comfort level and even further outside our control.
Our difficulty with that fact is reflected quite clearly in the way most of us live our faith. I'm not saying that everything is for everyone; that we should pursue all available Christian practices in our own lives. That's not even possible. What I am saying is that the range of Catholic expression we expose ourselves to, accept as valid, or affirm in the lives of others, is limited by our unwillingness to feel uncomfortable. For some of us, that is eschewing the traditional Latin Mass. For others, it's avoiding the Charismatic Renewal. In short, we prefer the frying pan to the fire, even when that fire is God himself.
Pentecost reminds us that God calls us out of the Upper Rooms we share with friends and into streets that are filled with foreigners. He empowers us to bring the Gospel to people who don't "speak our language" or see things the way we do. That doesn't mean that we equate discomfort with discipleship. It does mean that we ought to stop equating what makes us comfortable with following Christ.
That's a challenge in our comfort-driven times. We don't want to see, hear, smell, taste, or touch anything that causes us discomfort. Medicines are flavored like cotton candy. Earbuds ensure that we can always and only listen to "our" music. On-demand television makes it possible for us to watch whatever we want whenever we want. We make appointments for spa treatments and surround ourselves with aroma-therapy. We wear softer clothing, sleep between softer sheets, and dry ourselves off with softer towels. We live softer lives that make us "softer," too. That is, we have become less willing and less able to take up a challenge, to make sacrifices, to accept a Baptism in Fire.
I think Pentecost shows us that somewhere along the path of the past 2,000 years, we got it all backwards. At some point, we started challenging the world and comforting disciples. Instead, we should be challenging disciples and offering comfort to the world. That's what Jesus did.
There is, of course, a time to pray in the Upper Room, a time to wait for power from heaven. But the Church was never meant to be confined there. It's time for us to unlock the doors, to open the windows, to venture out. It's time for us to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire, so that our lives can be kindling in the world. It's time for us to grasp the difference between what is comfortable and what is good, and to choose good over comfort. And it's time to leave the frying pan for the Fire.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.
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