My dear friends in Christ!
When bushfire season starts nobody would like to hear about casting fire. The words of Jesus from today’s Gospel may sound out of place even in Poland, as at the moment it is so dry. However Jesus’ words aren’t about bringing disaster but they are a promise of purification and redemption. In the Bible there is a passage written by Prophet Isaiah who described what he saw when in a mysterious vision he was given a glimpse of heaven. The prophet saw God as fire burning with great intensity and Seraphims, the spirits of fire, serving the Most High. His reaction was acknowledgment of his sin. Then one of the Seraphims took a burning coal and touch the prophet with it in order to purify, to burn out what was unclean, what was sinful in him. What we hear from Jesus today is a similar promise, to burn out within us whatever is unclean and sinful. Even if sometimes it may hurt us, it is because sin took deep roots in our soul. The sin that, as the Letter to Hebrews says: “Clings to us so easily.” This purification fire is fueled by our sins. It consumes them. The spiritual pain we experience is the sign of the healing process.
However there is another aspect of what Jesus means by casting fire. Jesus doesn’t simply want to get rid of sins in us, he wants to set us on fire. The same letter to Hebrews encourages us, Christians: “To keep running steadily in the race we have started.” However how much we resemble the two disciples of the Lord on the way to Emmaus. They lost heart. They were downcast. They were discouraged. As we know the encounter with Christ changed everything. The two men who had dark night in their soul even when they were walking in the bright daylight as they were walking away from Jerusalem, returned to the city even after the nightfall as there was now brightness in their soul. They explained it in these words: “Hearts were burning within us when He explained the Scriptures to us and broke the bread.” Jesus set them on fire. He cast the fire which he spoke about in the Gospel we have heard at this Mass.
There is a saying: “Many people start strong but only few finish strong.” When novelty wears out, when we don’t see the results we dreamed about, we can get discouraged and downcast. However it doesn’t need to drag us down to the abyss. Our Lord approaches us with his fire to set us on fire. The two men on the way to Emmaus said that the fire started in them from listening to Jesus’ words and receiving Holy Bread from him. There is no doubt that it means Eucharist. Not everybody can enjoy the vision Isaiah had, but we all can
approach the Holy God he saw. This time however we aren’t simply touched by
burning coals started from the altar of the Most High, but we are given to consume the Holy God in his Body and Blood. The first miracle we experience is that we aren’t burnt down from receiving this fire from heaven, on the other hand we become like the burning bush Moses saw. The bush that was burning but wasn’t burnt. It was the sign of God’s presence. The same God’s presence fills us with fire that purifies us of what is unclean but it also sustains us on our path of faith. We don’t need to worry about running out of fuel. This fire has its source in God who is inexhaustible.
Last year I assisted a parishioner in his last journey. A man of deep faith and love of God. When I was celebrating a Mass in his room in the hospital I gave him Jesus’ Body, then his son seeing him struggling to swallow the host asked: “Dad, do you want some water?” The man answered: “I don’t want water! I want Jesus’ Blood!” The man knew that if he was to finish strong he needed fire from heaven. Once again witnessing his passing I saw Jesus fulfilling his promise from today’s Gospel about casting fire. Christ did cast fire in the dying man that evening and he can do this when we lose heart in various situations we experience in our life.