Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing” (Lk 12:49)!
What fire touches, it transforms. What has been burned does not remain the same. Not only are we to catch and spread the fire, of Jesus, he wants us to be consumed by the fire.
Encountering Jesus effects a change in us, when we are open to allow the Holy Spirit to breathe on the embers in the depths of our souls they are fanned like tinder and ignite. If we continue to fuel the fire, getting in touch with what God has called us to do in our place and in our time, the fire continues to spread and, like the saints whose shoulders we stand upon, we are consumed and transformed.
We are not to be a Christian in name alone but in thought, word, and deed. Pope Francis, in his exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, wrote: “THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept this offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness” (Francis 2013, 9). Joy is a gift, a holy flame, that is given to us by the Holy Spirit and it wells up within. It is different than pleasure which arises when the stimulation of the senses are aroused, but fades once the external stimulus has ended.
Happiness is also external and fleeting. It lasts longer than passion in that the memory of the experience will linger on, but it too will also dissipate. Joy wells up from within, as it is imparted to us by God and can be present even when the external experiences are stressful or chaotic. I experienced this during my time of formation for the permanent deaconate. I was still teaching 5th and 6th Grade Religion and acting as the dean of students at Rosarian Academy, while at the same time immersed in my studies and formation activities, parish, and family life.
One particular morning I woke up exhausted. When the alarm went off my first response was to skip my morning prayer and hit the snooze button to get an extra twenty minutes before getting up to go to school. Instead, I literally crawled to my small chapel area, lit the candles and opened my breviary. When I read the words in Psalm 42: “Hope in God; I will praise him still, my savior and my God”, something ignited within my soul. I felt an energy well up within me that I cannot describe. I felt a joy that was inexpressible. Not only did the experience carry me into the day, but lasted through the whole week.
God meets us where we are in our present situation, and even when we are at our lowest, running on reserves, we need to remember to turn to him and he will provide the fuel to keep the flame burning. Pope Francis encourages us to discern the path that Jesus points out for us and we are “to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (Francis 2013, 24). When we are on fire for Christ that fire will continue to burn as long as we resist dousing the flame with indifference and complacency, but instead continue to share it, to spread it, such that we join with Jesus and set the world on fire. “The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded” (Francis 2013, 25).
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Pope Francis. Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel. Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 2013.