Pentecost’s flame tree

Our Society Leader Fr. Tim Mulroy writes about the bright red flowers of Royal Poinciana, more commonly known as the Flame Tree, and sees a resemblance between its astonishing flowers and the tongues of fire through which the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles. This article is published in the May/June 2022 issue of our Far East magazine.

The morning after Pentecost, as I opened the curtains of my bedroom window, the bright red flowers in the garden next door grabbed my attention. In some mysterious way, they seemed like tongues of fire. As I stood gazing, I asked myself why I hadn’t noticed them previously. Perhaps, it was because my mind had become fixated on the large, grey construction site that lay just beyond them. Later that morning, one of my Columban companions commented that those same flowers looked so radiant, while that evening another of my companions set out to capture their beauty with his camera. It was then that it dawned on me that the natural world was also celebrating Pentecost in response to our prayer, “Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth”.

During the weeks that followed Pentecost, as I walked through the nearby hills my eyes were drawn repeatedly to other varieties of red flowers. For the Chinese people, the colour red is associated with good fortune and happiness, and the display of red lanterns creates a joyful atmosphere during festivals. In a similar way, those red flowers on the hillsides seemed to hang like lanterns among the trees, proclaiming through their unassuming beauty their festive joy in the Holy Spirit. Moreover, as I stood to observe them, I sensed their silent but insistent invitation to me to share in their delight.

On one occasion, as I looked closely at one of those flowering red lanterns that overhung my path in the forest, I noticed that the petals had expanded to form pods. Upon closer examination, I saw that some of those pods had broken open, revealing neatly arranged seeds inside. As I stood marvelling at the craftsmanship, I realised that the pod held seven seeds. Seven! Yes, here was another sign of the Holy Spirit at work in creation, infusing it with wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and reverence of God. In that moment, I sensed that this simple red pod was in some mysterious way witnessing to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Such a moment of awareness of the presence of God in the surrounding world cannot be manufactured: rather, it is a gift that takes one by surprise. Moreover, only poets are courageous enough to attempt to convey in words such glimpses of the mystical world. In his poem, God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins seeks to capture the Pentecostal dimension of everything with the opening proclamation, The world is charged with the grandeur of God, and in the concluding explanatory verse, Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Society Leader, Fr Tim Mulroy, is from Meelick, Swinford, Co Mayo. Prior to his appointment to this leadership role in the Columbans he worked on mission in Japan and in El Paso, Texas. He was also Regional Director in the US.