Falling rose petals and fire

Originally Appeared in : 9810-5/10/18

On Pentecost Sunday nine years ago, I saw thousands of beautiful red rose petals gently fall from the enormous oculus of the Roman Pantheon. A group of fire fighters scaled the oldest building in the world still in regular use, and made these petals fall down as a gentle rain over the faithful after the final blessing of Mass. It was appropriate for fire fighters to do this: Pentecost is their feast day.


This spectacular and little known annual tradition started in 609 AD, and it represents the coming down of the Holy Spirit over the apostles as tongues of fire in the Upper Room. Against the bright light of the oculus, the fluttering petals appeared to be on fire. Audible gasps of amazement rose from the gathered crowd as the petals descended.


Saint Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, France, over 1800 years ago, wrote that the Holy Spirit is like the water that turns scattered, dry flour into a lump of dough. This is a very simple and beautiful image that stands the test of time. The Holy Spirit is that moisture that brings together every bit of flour and turns it into one loaf of bread. Flour scatters all over the place, making a mess. Nothing keeps one particle of flour together with another, but this changes immediately when you add a bit of water or perhaps an egg if you are making pasta.


On the first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles, though people had come to Jerusalem from all over the world, they all became one loaf of bread through the power of the Holy Spirit. They all understood the preaching of the apostles even though they spoke different languages, and all rejoiced together in the Good News they preached.


At times the Holy Spirit is trivialized when portrayed as a cute dove or a cut-out flame of fire, yet the Holy Spirit is God among us. It is through the Holy Spirit that we receive our faith, and through the Spirit that we do all things. As Saint Paul wrote, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”


The Holy Spirit is our helper and guide, our advocate who pleads our cause. The Holy Spirit takes the little we can offer God and multiplies it. Alone we can do very little or nothing, but when we act in the Spirit, we can do great and amazing things. The Holy Spirit unites all into one mission and allows us to achieve great things for the glory of God.


In the same manner that the rose petals gently fell on all the gathered faithful, the Holy Spirit has been sent by the Father over all his children. In the Second Eucharistic Prayer the priest prays to the Father, “make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.” The Holy Spirit gently falls over all in order to transform them, drawing them to the Father. My experience at the Pantheon nine years ago gave me a beautiful visual of the Holy Spirit coming down over all of God’s children. As the red petals rested upon the heads of the faithful, they became a tangible reminder of the presence of the Holy Spirit among us.


Father Pablo Migone is chancellor of the Diocese of Savannah and resides in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah.

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