“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls ones’ ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.” ~ From a 1943 letter from C.S. Lewis, included in Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis
It is difficult to become a saint; difficult but not impossible. The road to perfection is long, as long as one’s lifetime. Along the way, consolation becomes rest; but as soon as your strength is restored, you must diligently get up and resume the trip. ~St. Padre Pio
The Gift of God’s Fire on Earth
by Fr. David May
Mass reading: from the Gospel of St. Luke, ch 12, vs 49-53:
I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!
Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
The Lord tells us in this challenging passage of the Gospel that there is a baptism that he must receive, and how great is his distress until it is over. All the interpreters of this particular verse say that that ‘baptism’ refers to his suffering and cross.
It is on the cross that the Lord suffered and bore all that divides us from God. Everything imaginable that divides human beings from their Creator, he suffered on the cross. That gives him, you could say, the right, and the power, to bring fire to the earth, God’s fire. Because anything that divides us from that fire, he has already taken on, on the cross. Therefore his distress was great until he could reach that moment where he is free, now, to give that fire to all of his people.
I’d like to talk about the fruit of the Lord’s suffering on the cross, which is the gift of fire that he mentions in this Gospel. We know from Scripture studies that fire, in the Old Testament as well as in the New, means purification. Whenever the word ‘fire’ is mentioned—very often, in the Prophets—it means some type of purification that’s coming, or that will be given.
It can also mean the judgement of God. Fire refers to his judgement, the judgement like a fire, to burn away all that is opposed to God, so that what is of God might flourish. Fire also refers to sacrifice, and there is no sacrifice without fire—something has to be given up.
Also, we learn in the New Testament that fire refers to the Holy Spirit. He is the fire, sent by God. John the Baptist said, “I baptize you with water, but there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to undo, and he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The two are equivalent.
And I find unforgettable that passage in the Book of Revelation, the beginning of chapter one, where the Lord appears in glory to John (the one who received the revelation) and John says that “his eyes were like flames of fire”. It is interesting what the Lord says, because once John sees this vision “with eyes like flames of fire”, with the word of God coming “like a sword from his mouth”, with “his face as bright as the sun”, he faints—which is a sensible solution to the situation! The Lord takes him and raises him back up, and says, as usual, “Do not be afraid”. Then he says, “I was dead but now I live; and I will live for ever and ever. And I hold the keys to death and the nether world”.
That tells us, then, what this fire is all about: the Lord does not want his people dead. He wants us alive. He wants us to be risen, in the way that he is risen from the dead. He wants us alive.
It’s interesting, when the Lord says, “I have come to bring fire to the earth” literally it means: “I’ve come to throw fire on the earth”. Whhhhoom! The word is the same as for ‘throw’ or ‘toss’.
“I’ve come to toss fire onto the earth.” To throw it. It’s a well-aimed pitch, a well-aimed toss.
“What’s dead? What, in my disciples, isn’t alive yet?” And “with eyes like flames of fire” (which means with divine love)—Whhhhoom! Love can’t stand the death of the beloved. Love cannot stand to see his beloved still dead in some way.
His solution is fire, to separate (or, as it says here, “divide”) what’s dead from what’s meant to live, so that what’s dead no longer suffocates what’s alive. And so that what’s alive from him, the Spirit, can flourish. Well-aimed tosses of the flame—he knows just where to throw it.
The next verses tell us that the Lord comes, not to bring peace, but division. So much for the angels’ song at Christmas! That’s temporarily canceled. Peace on earth—forget it, says the Lord; because the Lord does not want his disciples to be ‘resting in peace’. That’s a graveyard activity! The Lord wants us fully alive.
We need to just sit for a moment with this theme of fire.
It seems from this Gospel and from many other passages that the only way for Christ to obtain the life of his disciples is to divide us from what kills us. We are incapable of doing that ourselves. As soon as I start operating, self-surgery, I make a mess of it. I’m unable to remove, myself, what kills me. Only he can do that; but he will enlist my cooperation.
Christ comes because he wants us to leave behind, our comfort zone. My world, my comfort zone, ‘what I can handle’, what I like, my plans, ‘my limitations’ (reasonably thought through!) these the Lord doesn’t like. They’re called “dead,” at least according to the Lord. They might seem quite alive to us. How often have you found yourself saying, ‘I just wish I had a normal life, and did not have so many troubles.’ “If you wish to be perfect, sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and come, follow me,” Christ says.
‘But,’ you reply, ‘I’m keeping all the Commandments already; that’s a good track record, Lord.’ Apparently, that’s no longer enough—as admirable as it is, and necessary. The Lord wants more. With the coming of the New Covenant, just keeping the Commandments, my way, means that eventually I will not keep them, I will break them, because it’s my way. Now it must be his way. And so the Lord ‘casts fire’ at me.
I remember once at our Madonna House summer camp for families, we brought the teenagers here to watch a video, and then we told stories about vocations. A 14 year old young lady, precocious, said, “You mean God can interfere with my life like that?” It was such a beautifully honest question. She had never thought that could ever happen: “I have a life; I’m going to live it; I’ve got plans. God? Could he interfere with them?”
But there are other bondages that the fire of God is hurled at—because he loves us ‘a little too much’! If only he loved us a little less, life would be ever so much more comfortable. He sees our interior attitudes, thoughts, plans. And the Lord doesn’t always like them—because he loves us. So the Lord hurls fire at that place in our soul, and our bodies, that’s clinging to that comfort, that passion, that opinion, that way of living, that way of doing things, where “I just am not quite ready yet to let go of—because if I do, I will die; I know no other way to live”.
The Lord smiles and says, Fire! God sees where the attachment is—to sin; to passion; to a person; to one’s way of thinking; to one’s opinion; to one’s “it has to be this way or no way”—and he goes Whhhhooom!
Now I discover another dimension to the fire, which I wasn’t anticipating, which is in some ways easier, and in some ways much more difficult. And that is: he has mercy on cowards and failures. That burns, if I’m a coward or a failure. That really burns! “You mean he’s forgiven me again?” He says, “Okay. Start over.” Again? You mean he’s not put off that I have turned my back, again? That I’ve not filled the quota yet, of: “Finally You will reject me; finally, You will be finished with me. I’ve proven to You, at last that I’m not worth the effort.”
He says, “My child, come. I forgive you. Let’s try again. Let’s start all over.” This burns pride.This sears condemnation and shame. It can hurt. Oh, delicious hurt—at last to be freed from the delusion that I’m supposed to be a spiritual success. Because I’m not a spiritual success; I am a failure, but for the mercy of God. And if I live in that mercy then I’m what God calls alive—having faith that I am forgiven, and can start all over, fresh. Mercy is a fire, a beautiful fire, especially when you believe in it. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
Only those who receive fire give it. This earth, our world, is in desperate need of fire—the Holy Spirit—desperate, life-threatening need.
The Lord wants to give fire, because he knows the alternative is not mediocrity, or ‘carrying on as usual’. The alternative will be death. We will choose either death or fire, which is life; it’s just the way we’re made. Either we choose fire, or we choose death. A worldly life might be nicely packaged, but it’s death.
“Choose life, then,” says the Lord, “because I want to give it to you.”
“Your lives must testify to the personal encounter with Christ which has nourished your consecration, and to all the transforming power of that encounter . . . In a world of relativism and mediocrity, we need that radicalism to which your consecration, as a way of belonging to the God who is loved above all things, bears witness.” ~ Pope Benedict XVI speaking of the Consecrated Life at WYD2011, August 19, 2011
On the Fulfillment of the Law
VATICAN CITY, February 16, 2014 (Zenit.org)
Here is the translation of Pope Francis’ address before and after the recitation of the Angelus to the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
* * *
Dear brothers and sisters, hello!
The Gospel this Sunday is part of the so-called “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus’ first important preaching. Today the theme is Jesus’ attitude toward the Jewish Law. He says: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus, then, does not want to eliminate the commandments that the Lord gave through Moses, but to complete fulfillment. And immediately afterwards he adds that this “fulfillment” of the Law requires a greater justice, a more authentic observance. In fact, he tells his disciples: “If your justice does not surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
But what does this “complete fulfillment” of the Law mean? And in what does this greater justice consist? Jesus himself answers us with some examples. Jesus was practical. He always used examples when he spoke to make himself understood. He starts with the 5th commandment of the Decalogue: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill’ … But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22). With this Jesus reminds us that words too can kill! When it is said of person that he has the “tongue of a snake,” what does it mean? It means that his words kill! So, not only should we not try to take our neighbor’s life, we should not pour the poison of anger on him or strike him with calumny. Nor should we speak ill of him. We start gossiping. Gossiping too can kill because it kills a person’s reputation! Gossip is very ugly! At the beginning it can seem pleasant, even entertaining, like sucking on candy. But in the end it fills our hearts with bitterness, and it poisons us too. I will tell you the truth, I am convinced that if each of us were to decide to avoid gossip, in the end we would become a saint! It is a beautiful path! Do we want to become saints? Yes or no? [The people in the piazza respond “Yes!”] Do we want to be attached to gossiping as a habit? Yes or no? [The people in the piazza respond “No!”] So, we are agreed: no more gossiping! Jesus proposes the perfection of love to those who follow him. It is a love whose only measure is to be without measure, to go beyond all calculation. Love of neighbor is an attitude that is so basic that Jesus even says that our relationship with God cannot be sincere unless we are willing to make peace with our neighbor. He puts it this way: So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
From all of this it is understood that Jesus does not merely stress disciplinary observance and external conduct. He goes to the root of the Law, pointing above all to the intention and so to the heart of man, from where our good or evil actions originate. To act well and honestly juridical norms are not enough, deeper motivations are necessary, which are an expression of a hidden wisdom, God’s Wisdom, which can be received from the Holy Spirit. And we, through faith in Christ, can open ourselves up to the action of the Spirit, who makes us able to live divine love.
In the light of this teaching every precept reveals its full meaning as a demand of love, and all precepts are contained within the greatest commandment: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.
[Following the recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father spoke further to those gathered in St. Peter’s Square:]
I greet with affection all of the Romans and pilgrims present, the families, the parishes, the young people from the many countries of the world.
I especially greet the many faithful from the Czech Republic, who have accompanied their bishops on the “ad limina” visit, and the Spaniards from the Dioceses of Orihuela-Alicante, Jerez de la Frontera and Cádiz y Ceuta.
I greet the parish groups from Calenzano, Aversa and Naples and from Santa Maria Regina Pacis in Ostia and Sant’Andrea Avellino in Rome. I greet the Movimento Giovanile Guanelliano, the young people of the Movimento Arcobaleno of Modena and the choir of Santo Stefano in Caorle.
I greet the group of members of the Italian military.
[Translation by Joseph Trabbic]
I wish everyone a good Sunday and a good lunch! Goodbye!
“All religious are under an obligation, in accordance with the particular vocation of each, to work zealously and diligently for the building up and growth of the whole mystical body of Christ and for the good of the particular churches. It is their duty to foster these objectives primarily by means of prayer, works of penance, and by the example of their own lives” (Vatican II, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops, 33, Austin Flannery translation).
“You will hear people tell you that your religious practices are hopelessly out of date, that they hamper your style and your future, that with everything that social and scientific progress has to offer, you will be able to organize your own lives and that God has played out his role. Even many religious persons adopt such attitudes, breathing the practical atheism that is at their origin.
“A society that, in this way, has lost it’s higher religious and moral principles will become an easy prey for manipulation and for domination by the forces, which, under the pretext of greater freedom, will enslave it ever more. Christ has the answers to your questions and the key to history; he has the power to uplift hearts.
“Without heeding the call of Jesus, it’s not possible to realize the fullness of your humanity. He keeps calling you. He keeps inviting you. Yes, Christ calls you, but he calls you in truth. His call is demanding, because he invites you to let yourselves be “captured” by him completely, so that your whole lives will be seen in a different light. He is the friend who said to his disciples, “No longer do I call you servants . . . but I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15). And he proved his friendship by laying down his life for you.” ~Bl. John Paul II, Galway, Ireland, 1979
“In this Mystical Body which is the Church–with each one in his or her own place–you have also chosen to be “the heart.” You are the love which animates all the members of this Mystical Body. Try, then, to be the heart of the Church, in order to be one with the Heart of Christ…. (cf. Venite Seorsum, III).
“The Church affirms, contrary to all the secularizing tendencies and all the temptations to give primacy to action to the detriment of the interior life, that your solitude, lived in contemplation, cannot be considered idleness, but “an overflowing fountain of heavenly graces” (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, 7).
“What ardent apostolic desires fill your life! What missionary dynamism characterizes each of your days! What pastoral activity is enclosed in your vocation to the cloistered life!” ~Excerpts from Bl. Pope John Paul II’s Message to Cloistered Religious of Latin America, December 12, 1989
“We must faithfully keep what we have promised. If through human weakness we fail, we must always without delay arise again by means of holy penance, and give our attention to leading a good life and to dying a holy death. May the Father of all mercy, the Son by his holy passion, and the Holy Spirit, source of peace, sweetness and love, fill us with their consolation. Amen.” ~St. Collete, Franciscan, 1381-1447