I. Introduction: The Fire of God’s Love
During the summer, forest fires often break out, especially in Western states. Because of dry and windy conditions, the fire spreads easily, and containment becomes very difficult. We think of the firefighters in Arizona who died trying to contain a wildfire; we remember the many people who have lost their lives and property in such fires. Yes, forest fires spread so readily … would that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would spread as readily.
Yet in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that he has come to ignite a fire. But the fire of which Jesus speaks is not a raging forest fire but rather the fire of God’s love. Unlike the fires that cause death and the destruction of property, the fire Jesus brought to the world destroys our sins, mine and yours. The fire Jesus came to ignite is the saving love of His heavenly Father; the Lord wants nothing more than to inflame our hearts with divine love and to have this fire engulf the whole world.
Our Savior has revealed to us that our Heavenly Father burns with love for all humanity and for each of us individually. By faith we sense the depth of the Father’s love for us as we look upon His Son Jesus – crucified and forsaken. As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians (2:20): “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me!” The flame of faith that burned so luminously in St. Paul must also inflame our hearts and illumine our minds.
II. Three Ways of Responding to God’s Love
How God’s heart burns with love of us! The fire of his love is ignited when, through God’s grace, we respond to Him in love; that is to say, when you and I accept His love in our daily lives and manifest that love as his disciples by word and example. If, with all the saints, we truly understood “the breadth and length and height and depth” (Eph. 3:18) of God’s love for us how differently we would lead our lives! How can we comprehend his love? How can the fire of God’s love, which may be but a smoldering ember in our hearts, be fanned into flame, indeed become a conflagration of love?
The first way to fan the flame of God’s love in our hearts is by prayer. All of us remember the definition of prayer: it is raising one’s mind and heart to God. We need to take time to pray— first and foremost by taking part in Holy Mass each Sunday and by spending some time each day reading the Scriptures and praying in private. But let’s be honest: we sometimes imagine that prayer is an unpleasant chore. Many people think nothing of watching television or spending time with the social media for hours on end. But when it comes to prayer, the time can seem to go so slowly. We may find ourselves daydreaming, watching the clock, looking out the window! It’s also easy for people to think they are too busy to come to Mass once a week, or that they don’t need the Mass and the Sacrament or private prayer. The truth is that none of us is too busy to pray and we all need to pray. And it is only when we pray— freeing ourselves from all our distractions and all that preoccupies us – that we begin to grasp that He really knows and love us. When we pray the fire Jesus brought into the world begins to blaze in our souls. We begin to burn with love, they way a lover’s heart is inflamed. We begin to long for God and seek to deepen our friendship with him. And when that happens, we experience genuine joy.
A second way that the fire of God’s love is ignited in us is by repentance. Our sins and our sinful attitudes throw cold water on God’s love. And serious sin can even extinguish God’s love in our loves. Lesser sins often render our souls lukewarm – neither hot nor cold. How easily we can assume a blasé attitude toward the God even though he knows us better and loves us more than we know and love ourselves. The fire which Jesus came to bring, the fire of Baptism and Penance, is a purifying fire, a fire which brings to light the true nature of our sins; it is a fire which consumes them not with anger but with love – for the love of Jesus crucified is stronger than sin and more powerful than death. That is why the Letter to the Hebrews tells us “to rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us … to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus …” who endured the Cross to save us from sin. If we want to be on fire with God’s love, then we need to make regular use of the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation and every day we need to make a good Act of Contrition, seeking God’s forgiveness.
A third way we respond to God’s love is to spread that love by word and example. As we listen to God’s Word, as we grow in the ways of prayer, and as we ask and obtain forgiveness of our sins – then our lives become transparent signs of God’s love in our midst. People begin to see that we take our faith seriously, that we live our faith with integrity – whether we are at home, or at work or taking a moment of leisure. We should never underestimate the power of example. The example of a good Catholic life is like kindling wood – which helps to light the fire of faith, one life, one home, one community at a time. Can people see a critical difference in our lives? Can that sense that we are on fire with God’s love? All too often we tend to be shy and hesitant about speaking up for our faith, even when our faith is under attack, including the freedom to practice our faith. Of course, it is always a dangerous enterprise to do the work of God. Jeremiah, as we saw, was thrown into a cistern for preaching the Word of God. Jesus felt great anguish as he approached the hour of his saving death. No surprise that we might hesitate to bear witness to our faith yet the fact remains that the fire of God’s love spreads by the contagion of good example and courageous witness even in the face of ridicule.
Jesus has come to light a fire. That fire burns most brightly in our midst as we celebrate this holy Mass. At the heart of our Mass is the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. We truly share what Jesus did to save us and are fed with His Body and Blood. May we come to know more and more how deeply Our Lord loves us and with the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary may the fire of his love burn brightly in our hearts through prayer, repentance, and daily witness to the Gospel.
May God bless you and keep you always in His love!