A priest I’ve long consulted for advice always tells me to pray that God will “pour more of the Holy Spirit” into my heart.
Every time he says this, I’m a bit perplexed — not because I doubt the Spirit’s power to transform me, but because the verb “pour” reminds me of water, not fire.
And didn’t the third person of the Trinity appear at Pentecost in “tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one” of the Apostles and those gathered in the upper room (Acts 2:3)?
So how exactly do you pour fire?
As it turns out, Scripture isn’t using a mixed metaphor here. Rather, the Spirit — who transcends all description — is at once flame and fluid, searing the soul while quenching its thirst.
According to St. Cyril of Jerusalem, the Spirit is “a new kind of water, a living, leaping water.” And as such, he enters into our souls “like rain coming down upon the fields, like showers watering the earth” (Psalm 72:6).
He doesn’t batter our hearts in destructive torrents, flattening us with despair at the contrast between our sinfulness and his perfection. Rather, he descends “like dew from above, like gentle rain” (Isaiah 45:8).
The second Eucharistic Prayer at Mass also reminds us of the gracious manner in which the Spirit comes, as the celebrant asks the Lord to “make holy … these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Mercifully, we are not crushed under the weight of such glory. St. Cyril assures us that the Spirit “is not felt as a burden” but “comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console.”
And just as water can effortlessly divide and reshape itself without losing its essence, the Spirit “adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, De Spiritu Sancto).
He meets us right in the midst of our brokenness, our confusion, our weariness, our darkness. And he does so not as an impersonal force of goodness, but with a full and intimate knowledge of each one of us. Quoting St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians, St. Cyril says that “in each person … the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.”
Even as his divine dew refreshes the soul fevered by sin and suffering, the Spirit enkindles in us a new spark. Shivering by a courtyard fire, Peter had thrice denied the Lord whom moments earlier he’d sworn to defend (Mt 26: 69-75; Mk 14:66-72; Lk 22:54-62; Jn 18:15-18, 25-27). Bathed in flames on Pentecost, that same Peter preached to a crowd “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) of the risen Christ (Acts 2:14-41), and “about three thousand persons were added that day” to the believers (Acts 2:41).
In fire and in rain, the Spirit of the living God enfolds us, his love consuming the very depths of our being. This Pentecost, and every day, may we be scorched and soaked anew by this Comforter, so that we can “set the earth on fire” (Lk 12:49) and “drench like the dew” (Dt 32:2) a world both cold and thirsting.
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