A short while ago the Pope reminded us that we should always pray to the Holy Spirit. He is , he said, the 'forgotten one'. Read Here. Francis has made quite a few observations about the need for us to pray to the Holy Spirit for a heart that is open to the love of God. At mass today we read from Paul's letter to the Hebrews ( 3: 7-14) in which he reminds us about the dangers of a hard heart - closed to God. And we then heard Psalm 94 which warned us about listening to the voice of God and not hardening our hearts as the Israelites did at Meribah.
This relationship between our open/closed/hard heart and the heart of Jesus and the action of the Holy Spirit is important - and hence in the icon we see the use of three symbols closely associated with the Holy Spirit. Fire, water, cloud and light. Fire - at the centre of the icon reminds of the way God revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai as a burning bush ( Exodus 3.2). It reminds us of how God led the people of God with a burning pillar of fire.( Exodus 13:21). But is also reminds us Pentecost - when the Holy Spirit appeared as fire to the Apostles ( Acts, 2.3). Water is also an important symbol of the Holy Spirit. As St John emphasises , out of Jesus's heart flowed blood and water. Water is the great symbol of life and the new life in baptism when we receive the Holy Spirit. The image of John the Baptist in the icon prompts us to recall when the Holy Spirit was present as Jesus entered the river Jordan. So water in the icon is there to remind us of the third person of the Holy Trinity. At the base of the icon we also have 7 streams of water- which also serve to remind us of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.
A symbol that is a little less obvious is the circle of clouds which surround Christ. The cloud is used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit because, of course, it is where the life-giving water comes from! At the same time we find that God often appears in the form of a cloud . At the transfiguration the Apostles as covered by a cloud and are told that ' This is my Son, whom I love. `Listen to him!' (Mark 9: 2-7) As to light - it is everywhere in the icon. An icon uses gold to capture and reflect light in so many ways that the role of light is always a aspect of an icon that stimulates reflection.
The Catechism says about these symbols of the Holy Spirit:
696 Fire. While water signifies birth and the fruitfulness of life given in the Holy Spirit, fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit's actions. The prayer of the prophet Elijah, who "arose like fire" and whose "word burned like a torch," brought down fire from heaven on the sacrifice on Mount Carmel. This event was a "figure" of the fire of the Holy Spirit, who 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." 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 himself. The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit's actions. "Do not quench the Spirit. "
697 Cloud and light. These two images occur together in the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. In the theophanies of the Old Testament, the cloud, now obscure, now luminous, reveals the living and saving God, while veiling the transcendence of his glory - with Moses on Mount Sinai, at the tent of meeting, and during the wandering in the desert, and with Solomon at the dedication of the Temple. In the Holy Spirit, Christ fulfills these figures. The Spirit comes upon the Virgin Mary and "overshadows" her, so that she might conceive and give birth to Jesus. On the mountain of Transfiguration, the Spirit in the "cloud came and overshadowed" Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John, and "a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!'" Finally, the cloud took Jesus out of the sight of the disciples on the day of his ascension and will reveal him as Son of man in glory on the day of his final coming.
In addition, of course, we have the image of Mary, who conceived through the Holy Spirit, and John the Baptist who was full of the Holy Spirit. See Catechism, 717-726.
And, of course, at the very centre of the icon we see the heart of Jesus which is open to us and we see Jesus imploring us to open our heart to the fire and water of God and inviting us into the great cloud of the Divine life. Again the Catechism is clear and concise: 'Christ's whole work is in fact a joint mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.' (727)
So, what is stopping us? The Bible is very clear about what stops us in so many places. What prevents us from opening up our hearts to Jesus is the 'hardness' of our hearts. In a General Audience back in May 2013 Francis gave us a little prayer to help us soften and open our hearts:
This is a prayer we must pray every day: “Holy Spirit, make my heart open to the word of God, make my heart open to goodness, make my heart open to the beauty of God every day”. I would like to ask everyone a question: how many of you pray every day to the Holy Spirit? There will not be many but we must fulfil Jesus’ wish and pray every day to the Holy Spirit that he open our heart to Jesus.
Could not be clearer:
“Holy Spirit, make my heart open to the word of God, make my heart open to goodness, make my heart open to the beauty of God every day.”
This a prayer we MUST say!! Simple.
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