Virginia Barton

4 May 2018: Tongues of Fire


4 May 2018


You can’t attend another’s rite of passage without recalling your own. It’s the season of Confirmation and I was honoured to attend our youngest grandchild’s celebration. The church was packed, the Bishop made a suitably teen-friendly sermon and naturally I woolgathered back sixty decades to my own.


It was on May 18, 1958. The 1950’s were halcyon years for converts to the Catholic church in England. I don’t know about elsewhere, but here, Waugh, Greene, Ronnie Knox and Merton were the buzz authors to read, quote and discuss.

Personally, I didn’t do much quoting or discussing but my mother’s circle went at it hammer and tongs. There were Groups of this, Centres of that and Society’s of the other. It must have been very stimulating, inspiring and exciting. Newman’s influence was as strong as ever and Chesterton and Belloc still popular, particularly the former.

On that May day 60 years ago several hundred of us were confirmed in Westminster Cathedral. It seemed an endless occasion. Perhaps it is the same today?

There were 64 youngsters in the parish church in London last weekend. Anthony and Patrick headed up the favourite patron saints for the boys; Rose and Cecilia for the girls.

(Greedily, I took four names: Bernadette, Therese, Perpetua and Felicity.)


Do you find Confirmation the most mysterious of the sacraments? Certainly it has taken me many years to get to grips with the Holy Spirit — and aged 81, I am still at the groping stage.

Most of us have never heard or felt that powerful rush of wind, nor seen those tongues of fire poised over our heads. That was the disciple’s experience. Jesus’s friends and followers were frequently terrified or mystified or both. So much was beyond their ken, from voices in the sky, or hovering doves, to seemingly endless loaves and fishes – not only enough to feed thousands, but basket upon basketful of leftovers!

Puzzled? Gobsmacked.


Now to cap it all, the Holy Spirit. Despite many forewarnings this was surely the most alarming experience of them all.

Totally life-changing. If you look up the Holy Spirit’s gifts and fruits it’s not surprising they are life-changers.

How often do we remember that among others He has given us the gifts of wisdom and right judgement? Or knowledge? And that His fruits include joy, peace, mildness and self-control? These gifts and fruits are worth mulling over. We must have been given them freely at Confirmation but fail to remind ourselves of them or practice them or pray for them.


I would do well to pray for courage and kindness as the great feast of Pentecost rattles in. I say “rattles” because of the noise of all that wind and fire.

(And no, I have not forgotten that today is BH’s Feast Day.)






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