Spirit Matters: Why not set the world on fire?

April 29 is the memorial of St. Catherine of Siena, a Doctor of the Church, which means her writings and teachings particularly capture the heart of Christianity.

She is one of four female doctors of the church. The others are St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Hildegard of Bingen, who was named a doctor in 2012 by Benedict XVI, 800 years after she lived.

All of these women are forces to be reckoned with. Indeed, their lives are quite relevant to our lives today, in the 21st century. Although they lived in different times and cultures, the heart of genuine Christian spirituality is timeless. And, so the wisdom they learned during their lifetimes can certainly be mined for inspiration to guide us today. Their teachings are alive, and speak through the Spirit of Christ.

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

When I first read these words from St. Catherine of Siena years ago, they set my own heart on fire.

And they still do.

Jesus himself spoke of setting the world on fire in Luke 12:49.

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

Jesus speaks of the fiery love and power of the Holy Spirit who descended upon his inner circle of men and women in the upper room at Pentecost.

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then, there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Acts 2:1-4

Although the image of tongues of fire might or might not be a metaphor, those who have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, can readily relate to these verses.

Fire is all-powerful, all-consuming. Fire purges the old, and births new life.

When the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’s followers, they were indelibly changed. From that point on, they were able to go forth, and without fear, proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who would listen.

Jesus foresaw this in Matthew 10:19-20:

“Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say, for it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

When I first began my adult faith journey, I was hesitant to talk about or even give any hints of my newfound trajectory of love to family and friends. I was afraid of what they would think of me.

But soon it became apparent that my hunger and thirst for the love of the Holy became all-consuming.

In fact, I couldn’t stop myself.

And as the years have gone by, I have experienced many times over the Spirit speaking through me.

Here is a small example: For many years I was active in the We Are the Church program at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Streator. The WATCH program is a renewal weekend, to re-energize believers in their faith.

Through the years, I wore various hats. Early on, I was content to quietly assist in the background. One year, our assistant spiritual director looked me straight in the eye and said “I think it’s time you give a talk.”

I was terrified.

Giving a talk at one of the weekends was the last thing I had in mind, and so I feebly and meekly responded “I will pray about it.”

That year, I gave my first talk on “Sharing God’s Love.” In subsequent years, I gave talks on reconciliation, the trinity, study, prayer and more. I was even the weekend leader one year.

Before preparing my talks, I always prayed about it, and other members of the team prayed as well, not only for the speakers, but for the entire weekend.

Without fail, when I sat down to write my talks, they came together with very little effort on my part. And I might add, every year it seemed as though all the talks ended up touching on similar themes, without the speakers even intending it.

But here is the biggest thing: when I stood up and gave those talks, I could feel something moving through me, something energizing me as I spoke. It was a power I could not explain. And when I was finished, I could tell by the reception I had received that that power had moved through me into the hearts of those who had heard me and listened.

I have experienced this phenomenon again and again through this column, and through other pieces of writing as well.

I might write the words, but the message is coming from somewhere else.

When the Spirit of God comes upon you, you cannot and will not be able to stop it.

“Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”

  • SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.