Listen carefully to the Gospel: the Holy Spirit is conveyed from Jesus to the Apostles (yes, they are formally “Apostles” now because Jesus has sent them) when the Lord breathes on them. Imagine the terror you would have if today I said I wanted to breathe on everyone in the parish in order to receive the Holy Spirit! All you would be thinking of was the possibility of receiving the COVID-19!!
We have a hymn in our Journeysongs hymnal: “O Breathe On Me, O Breath Of God.” It’s such a beautiful image, especially when it’s “unpacked” by great Church Fathers like St Cyril of Jerusalem, reminding his newly-baptized neophytes that this gift is a combination of the dew that allows the flour to become dough and the fire that bakes it into bread. It’s like the final canticle of Moses (Deuteronomy 32), begging that his teaching (which is none other than the Word of the LORD) might “soak in like the rain, drench like the dew, like a downpour upon the grass, like a shower upon the crops…” The heavens open up to give life.
Still, we also long for the fire that moves us. The plea of St Ignatius Loyola (“Go, and set the world on fire”) really stimulates us to admiration, if not always to imitation. There is a prayer from the Liturgy (very familiar, for example, to Cursillistas) that asks “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love…” Isn’t that the most powerful metaphor we have for describing love—burning with passion? And Jesus was burning with His Passion for us…
While fire represents this passion, the image of breath and dew leads us to consider the gifts of the Holy Spirit as bringing peace—after all, the purpose of the gift from our Gospel today was forgiveness of sins. When we know we are forgiven, when we know we are loved, we can be totally and securely at peace, while at the same time burning with love for the One who first loved (and still loves) us.
How badly we need the Gift of the Holy Spirit, as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit! Veni, Sancte Spiritus! The Spirit can be imaged/imagined in many ways: like the Wild Goose unloosed, or Love Divine, or Breath of Heaven, or the One who sets hearts on fire—or, better, all of these. Like CS Lewis’ Aslan, who is not a “tame Lion,” like St Augustine’s insight that the Spirit is the Love binding the Trinity into unity, like the breath that is the essence of life (even more than blood), like the passionate desire to be for others—this is the Gift of the Holy Spirit, a Gift so desperately needed in the world today: to eliminate our fears, to bring us healing and peace, and make us burn with desire to serve and sacrifice and surrender.