Sometimes God will even imbue a secular musician’s lyrics with His Spirit. This April, a palpable Presence of God swept like waves through an adoring crowd as Country and Western composer, Garth Brooks, belted out the lyrics to the song, “Standing Outside the Fire”. Twenty thousand people leapt to their feet, singing and waving their lighted cell phones which looked like sparks of hope beaming in the dark.
Many in the crowd might not have understood their passionate response but I believe God used this song to entice, not only the faithful but, the unchurched as well to respond to His Love. Many adored His Presence in that arena, even though they might not know how to adore the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, in His Tabernacle or during contemplative prayer.
Standing Outside the Fire
Although Brooks is probably not well versed in the tradition of Catholic mysticism, he understands people’s desperate need for God, the same need which drove the saints into the desert, forsaking everything for the Love of God. In the eyes of upstanding citizens throughout history, saints were and still are fools, fools for Christ. The lyrics of “Standing Outside The Fire” call attention to the difference between those the world considers successful and those who look foolish for pursuing the holy fire:
We call them cool /Those hearts that have no scars to show /The ones that never do let go /And risk the tables being turned.We call them strong /Those who can face this world alone /Who seem to get by on their own.
We call them weak /Who are unable to resist /The slightest chance love might exist /And for that forsake it all.There’s this love that is burning /Deep in my soul /Constantly yearning to get out of control/ Wanting to fly higher and higher./ I can’t abide / Standing outside the fire.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Part One of the Catechism explains each phrase of the Creed we recite at mass. Every week we announce, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”, in the transforming fire of God within me:
696 Fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions. . . the fire of the Holy Spirit transforms what he touches. John the Baptist, who goes “before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah,” proclaims Christ as the one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”38 Jesus will say of the Spirit: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!”39 In the form of tongues “as of fire,” the Holy Spirit rests on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost and fills them with himself40 The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit’s actions.41 “Do not quench the Spirit.”42
How many of us actually believe in the transforming fire of God within each of us? Or do we trust more in our own self-discipline, prayer, and sacrifice to transform us? The painful truth is only this holy fire, this”transforming energy”, will purify us.
Stand Inside the Fire
Yet Catholics often end up quenching the Spirit, fearful they will be deceived if they listen and surrender to the fire within. Jesus reassures the fearful that the Holy Spirit will lead them “in all truth”:
I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. (John 16: 15)
I am a convert who understands the wealth of wisdom in the Catholic tradition, in formalized prayers and the Liturgy of the Mass but I also understand Christianity is a relationship with a living God who communicates with us directly through the Holy Spirit.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. (John 14:19)
We have a choice to let go of fear and trust the fire. As we mature, we are conditioned by society to resist the latent firepower within. The saints show us how to let go of control and allow God to do His job within our souls. The truth is it is only the fire of God can purify, refine and changes us into the Image of Jesus Christ so Love shines through us into the world.
Pope Francis rattles many conservatives with his inclusive attitude towards other religions. On May 18, 2013, the pope reiterated this theme, “Every man and every woman must be free in his or her profession of religion, whatever it may be. Why? Because that man and that woman are children of God.” The entire universe is the Almighty’s domain; God moves where, when and how He pleases. Pope Francis expressed this concept eloquently in his Address to World Meeting of Families, “All that is good, all that is true, all that is beautiful brings us to God. Because God is good, God is beautiful, God is the truth.”
Like all faithful Catholics, I am obedient to the Magisterium and believe the Roman Catholic Church contains the fullness of truth. Standing on this rock, I support the New Evangelism as it employs fresh methods to reach those ”who lack a meaningful relationship to the Church and no longer experience the consolation born of faith” (The Joy of the Gospel). The Holy Spirit chooses anyone, anywhere, to use as an instrument of evangelization.
Christ warned us, “I have come to set the world on fire.” (Luke 12:49) This Pentecost, let’s agree with the Lord and pray, “Set the earth on fire. Set me on fire as I choose to stand inside the fire, even if that means I will look foolish to society”.
first published on Catholic Stand