Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 18, 2019 Cycle C

by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.E., Chaplain,
Saint John Paul II National Shrine,
 Washington, D.C.

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Sunday Reading Meditations

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Lk 12:49).

Today’s first reading tells us that the prophet Jeremiah was punished by being thrown into a muddy cistern, where he experienced darkness, anguish and fear, that is to say, the void of life.

We need to fill the emptiness of our hearts with Jesus’ presence. In today’s Collect, we implore: “Fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus declares: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Lk 12:49). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes: “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). Origene of Alexandria attributed the following statement to Jesus: “He who is close to me is close to fire; whoever is far from me is far from the kingdom.”

Fire propagates by contact. We need to allow the fire burning in Jesus’ heart to ignite our hearts. To ignite our hearts with Jesus’ fire means to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This was the experience of the disciples on the day of the Pentecost: “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them” (Acts 2:3). The disciples of Emmaus described their experience of encountering the risen Lord in these words: “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32).

We see Jesus’ desire to set the earth on fire fulfilled in the testimonies of many mystics and saints, whose hearts burned with love for him. Today’s second reading says: “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). Saint Jacinta of Fatima declared: “I love Our Lord and Our Lady and I never get tired telling them that I love them. When I do that it seems as if there were a fire burning inside my breast, a fire that does not consume.” Saint Gemma Galgani exclaimed: “You are on fire, O Lord, and I burn. O pain, O infinitely happy love! O sweet fire! O sweet flames! […] Cease, cease, I cannot withdraw my heart from so much fire. What am I saying…No; rather come Jesus! I will open my heart to You; put Thy Divine fire into it. You are a flame, and let my heart be turned into a flame!”

Jesus is the only answer to our hearts’ deepest desires. As in today’s second reading, let us keep “our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Heb 12:2). Let us reject whatever separates us from Christ’s love.

The fire that Jesus brings to life is not a private or individualistic experience because it pushes us outside ourselves. It impels us to action, as Saint Paul writes: “For the love of Christ impels us” (2 Cor 5:14). As Saint Catherine of Siena famously admonished, “[b]e who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” Jesus’ fire is a missionary fire. Our horizon is the entire world.

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

Let us open our hearts to Jesus’ fire. May he fill our hearts with the warmth of his love, so that, loving him in all things and above all things, we may attain his promises, which surpass all human desires.  Amen.