One of the ways I prepare for each “Little Easter”, the Lord’s Day, Sunday, is to drive across this city each Saturday morning slightly after five a:m to the Perpetual Adoration Chapel.
This time of year it means beginning by scraping either ice or snow off the car windows!
Usually the streets are fairly quiet. There is a rare stillness about the city at that hour, yet even then, as throughout the previous night, and will be throughout the coming day, ordinary people are in the chapel with Him, adoring Him, interceding for the entire world.
This morning with Him I was surprised by two movements in my heart. The first struck me as a joyous longing and the latter as a type of thirst.
The longing was to experience, tangibly, divine fire.
The thirst was to absorb the pain and loneliness of every human being.
Only later in the day would I come to understand my longing was to experience in a superficial way what is poured into us at Baptism.
As to the desire to absorb all the pain and loneliness of every human being, that is an impossibility and not what Jesus asks of us for He alone can endure such a burden, a burden He took lovingly upon Himself in the Garden and on the Cross.
What He does ask of us is to keep vigil with Him in the Garden, to stand, in the company of His Mother, our Mother, at the foot of the Cross.
This is no standing on some isolated hill – rather it is to stand with our brothers and sisters, the person with us in the moment, in the depths of their pain, loneliness, yearning, pleadings, joy – in a word it is to be present to the other as living icons of Christ.
Tragically, and in a way as a priest this is the heaviest burden to embrace, so much time, energy, is wasted by we Christians with assessments and attitudes which betray the Gospel.
For example how often have I had people who consider themselves true disciples of Christ articulate racist attitudes, look down upon those of a perceived lower social class or because of being different somehow; saying to me “Well Father sure Jesus says we have to love one another but He never said we had to like each other!”
I am well aware I am a mere beginner even after six decades of baptismal life as a disciple of Christ and still a mere beginner even after a near quarter century when it comes to being a good and holy priest.
Nonetheless I sure long for the day when, beginning of course with myself and my brother Bishops and priests, we will cease trying to compromise the Gospel to make it ‘fit’ into the world’s notion’s of truth [which is the scourge of relativism] and ‘my rights’[which tends to be the tragedy of first world greed and abortion ].
We have just come to the end of the designated Year of the Eucharist – yet every moment of our lives should be Eucharistic! Our beloved Holy Father Pope John Paul called for this year that we might rediscover the immense gift and presence with us of Jesus Christ.
Pope Benedict invited us during World Youth Day in Cologne to open our beings that we might continually be “surprised by Christ”!
The surprise is, in part, that what is impossible for us, to take all the pain and loneliness of our brothers and sisters and absorb it in our hearts, IS possible IF we do so in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ – for it is the suffering Jesus, the lonely Jesus we encounter in those who suffer.
I began this Blog sometime ago stating I would explain why the title: Fire, Salt and Light.
Please forgive the long time it has taken to continue to complete that promise.
However in the intervening weeks the title has been a source of interior questioning, examining, meditating and I have discovered it is a process which may well continue for a long time to come.
This morning, while seeking intently to be one with Him in the Garden and on the Cross, which is by the way also to be one with Him in the Manger and Risen, simultaneously that yearning to experience fire was as if our Blessed Mother was taking me, then and throughout the day until this very moment, to school – to her school, as Pope John Paul urged us.
As the sun was setting over the city this evening, and already frost alighting upon the ground, trees, buildings, the time for First Vespers of the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time approached.
Within that prayer it was as if the entire schooling of this day, from the first moment with Him in the Blessed Sacrament – or more accurately He staying with us – became clear!
Holy Mother the Church in her wisdom always places before our hearts and on our lips each Saturday evening the same Canticle from Philippians 2: 6-11 – the great hymn of the reality of the Incarnation, Life, Passion, Death, Resurrection of Christ, ending with the ultimate shout and song of faith: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!
To pray that IS to taste divine fire!
Admittedly over the years, perhaps not unlike you, I have mistakenly thought I would ‘really’ believe Jesus is real IF I had actual [ code for sensory ] experiences such as that of St. Philip Neri who, praying one eve of Pentecost was granted to see, indeed to swallow, a globe of fire that burned so intensely within him his chest swelled permanently.
In truth that very fire is poured into us, lavished upon us, first in Holy Baptism, when we receive the Fire of Divine Love, the Gift-Giver, the Holy Spirit and this fire, which is also the Fire of the Father’s Love for us, and is lavished upon us again and again every time we receive Jesus in Holy Communion.
It is the fulfillment within us of Jesus’ longing to ‘cast fire upon the earth’ [Lk.12:49] and the real earth upon which this fire is cast is our very person and the vessel, the oil lamp of our being if you will, ignited by that divine fire, is our heart.
Sacramental Confession is akin to oxygen for a fire which perhaps has dwindled, because we have sinned, to mere embers.
It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that this fire of love purifies and sanctifies: purifying us so that everything which is not of Christ within us in burnt away; sanctifying us so that we radiate Christ. Through virtue yes, but especially through humble loving service of one another; forgiving one another; being present to each other - especially, like Our Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross, when any other is suffering.
As St. Anthony Mary Claret teaches if we indeed truly burn with this fire then as children of she whom Popes John Paul and Benedict call the “Eucharistic Woman”, St. Anthony says we will “ work….to inflame..” that is to set ablaze all our brothers and sisters “..with the fire of God’s love.”
Mostly we don’t ‘get it’, that Jesus is within every one who suffers, that Jesus is within all our brothers and sisters. Indeed mostly we miss the reality of Matthew 25 and the “ I was…” statement of Jesus, because we have become, in the darkness and poison of the culture of death, blind.
We don’t see other as one like myself but rather indeed as ‘other’, different somehow.
By the end of Vespers the great yearning within my being was no longer for some ‘experience’ of that fire but a great cry: “Master, I want to see!” [Mk.10:51].
Well the Lord does answers honest cries and no sooner had that been wrung from my heart when I was moved to open at random one of my favourite books, which by the way has a lot in it about this divine fire.
The first words my eyes fell upon, or rather saw, were from Deuteronomy 4:24: “ On earth He let you see His great fire, and from the heart of the fire you heard His word.”
The heart of the fire is the Father’s heart and from the blazing heart afire with love for us He speaks His Word: Jesus, Incarnate, Crucified, Risen for us and “ Love is the fire the risen Lord pours into the hearts of all those who follow Him….”
[ The book by the way is CIRCLING THE SUN by Robert D. Pelton, published by The Pastoral Press.]