Set the Earth on Fire
by Rev. Jack Peterson, YA
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Jesus said to his disciples: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."
"I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were blazing!" These words from Jesus in the 12th chapter of Luke's Gospel are an intense challenge from our precious Lord to live ur faith with passion and zeal. It is an alternative way to say: "and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind" (Mk 12:30). We should note that Jesus expresses a sadness that the fire is not blazing. We see this too when Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem for is lack of faith (Lk 19:41). Let Jesus ignite the flame in your heart by pondering how greatly he desires that your love for God and your love for your neighbor be genuine, generous and gigantic.
St. Paul definitely had a passionate and zealous love for God and for his flock. In our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, he offers sound advice on how to live our faith authentically. He posits three particular efforts that help ignite the fire of faith in our lives.
First, the Apostle to the Gentiles encourages us to "rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us." What does that mean? I think it begins with building a healthy disgust for our sins - those actions that contradict the will of God for our lives and hurt ourselves, our neighbor and our God. This means humbly looking at our lives through the lens of the Gospels. (It helps, on occasion, to ask those around us for their insights - this requires additional humility.}
Then, we need to take the next step and confess our sins regularly. Ridding ourselves of sin also includes living with a profound gratitude for God's immeasurable mercy. Finally, this process demands a growing trust in God's power and desire to actually root sin out of our lives. "I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13).
Secondly, St. Paul issues the challenge to "persevere in running the race that lies before us." Not enough is said about the gift of perseverance. Remaining faithful to God and the beautiful Gospel way of life through life's ups and downs and through the darkness of the night is a powerful manifestation of being on fire for God. Our light shines brightly when we remain faithful while others are wandering off course or abandoning the race altogether. Jesus reminds us that the path that leads to God is narrow. We must remain committed and focused to stay on this path. The race is not always to the swift, but to the one who perseveres.
Finally, the Apostle Paul enjoins us to keep "our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith." We are so easily distracted in life. The daily burdens and tasks of life can divert us from what is really important. In addition, life throws curve balls at us like sickness, job loss or injuries. These unexpected challenges can also keep us from remaining focused on God and building our relationship with him, which, in the long run, is what gives true meaning to life and brings much needed peace and joy to the soul. Finally, various elements of our culture and even the devil himself are out there aggressively trying to distract us with both subtle and big lies to take our attention away from the Lord, his love and the truth that sets us free.
Let's get practical. Daily prayer is essential to catching the fire. A daily dose of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication is super helpful. But, so is listening to God and meditating on his world. So, we need to pray each day with the sacred Scriptures. I personally encourage the use of the readings for daily Mass. Speaking of Mass, go to Mass during the week. If you are not in the practice, start with one day a week in addition to Sunday. Try to build that up. Being fed regularly at the table of both God's word and his precious body and blood is a most powerful way to nurture our intimacy with Christ. Humble yourself and go to confession regularly - once a month or more often during rocky times. Spend time with other Christians who are on fire. Join a small faith group - a Bible study, a prayer group, a third order - where you can journey toward Christ in a focused way with additional support, encouragement, challenge and accountability. Finally, regularly share your faith with others through an intention form of service offered in the name of Christ - teach the young, serve the poor, visit the elderly or give time to those with special needs. If you have questions about any of these means, find a good spiritual mentor.