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 has been burned does not remain the same. What fire touches, it transforms. Jesus wants us to be consumed so as to be transformed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. 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. We continue to fuel the fire by getting in touch with what God has called us to do in our place and in our time.
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 is 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 when I was still teaching 5th and 6th Grade Religion and acting as the dean of students at Rosarian Academy. At the same time, I was also immersed in family and parish life, as well as my studies and formation activities for the permanent diaconate.
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 the depths of my being. I felt an energy well up within me that I cannot to this day describe. I felt an inexpressible joy. Not only did the experience carry me into the day but lasted throughout the whole week.
God comes to us and seeks to transform us with the fire of his Love, and even when we are at our lowest as if we were just cooling embers, we need to resist the temptations of indifference and complacency and remember to turn to Jesus. Instead of brooding over what we don’t have, we will encounter him in being thankful for that which he has given. We will experience him in his Word, in prayer and worship, and in serving one another. We just need to keep showing up, even if sometimes we have to crawl to get there, and allow God to set us on fire.