Friday, November 1, 2013

Where is the fire?

The ancients saw fire as one of the 4 basic elements of the created order.  Fire is transformative, purgative, and alters whatever it touches. It is fearsome; it destroys one order in favor of a new.  We use this basic element to describe more than physical fire.  We use it to talk about zeal and passion.  We tell fans of a team to 'fire up'.  When we speak about burning with something, we mean that we have something that so consumes us as to change everything about us and want to spread that to others.  Without fire there can be no heat nor light.  Without it, their is only anonymity, bitter cold, and death. Anything devoid of a fire from within  will simply peter out to death.

The world understands this concept.  It stokes fires to rage for its own concepts.  Sports teams, political parties, Hollywood, the music industry, social causes, and such all know the absolute necessity for stoking these flames.  The see the value of rallying their fans and supporters with a zeal, passion, and willingness to do anything to show their connection to the cause.  They will come up with slogans to rally around, concepts to defend, and worlds to conquer.  In the hands of good, this can be a wonderful thing.  In the hands of evil, it is horrific.  There is a tell tale sign between the two, regardless of the cause,  one seeks to lift up all humanity, the other seeks only the lifting up of a select group and the destruction of other groups.  All avenues of human reality can be commandeered or even hijacked to this end: religion, governance, sports, and industry.

Jesus says in Luke 12:49, "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!"  Not exactly fuzzy surfer dude Jesus there! There was a transformation to take place.  A transformation that as Simeon said to Mary about Jesus as an infant, "Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and a sign that will be opposed." (Luke 2:34)  A fire would break out that would change the course of world events, that would purify anyone brave enough to enter such a furnace.  Not all will be.  In the passage from Luke 12, He refers to how it will set family against each other.  The world was to be transformed, and how earnestly he wanted to do it.  That zeal and passion for us, the beneficiary of his actions, could not be diminished by the Cross.  His fire for us and the will of the Father, removed any trace of real fear and discouragement.  Even the moment at Gethsemane was dismissed instantaneously.  After the death, resurrection, and ascension, the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3) and transformed the prayerful yet timid apostles into firebrands who would set out from the safety of the Upper Room across the world; braving pain, death, and persecution with a fire to transform the world for Christ.

In every day and age men and women have shared in that same zeal: the adventure and pressing demand of making known the Gospel in a very alive and transformative means.  Whether it was Jesuits who braved into the new world into hostile environments, or Archbishop Sheen braving the new medium known as TV, or the countless Catholic media companies and social media mediums in our day, there are many who bravely go out into the world and make known the message of Christ.  The fire is there...but it needs to burn more intensely.

In the book of Revelations, when the One Seated on the Throne (Christ) speaks words to the 7 Churches of Asia Minor, some are of comfort , some are of mild correction, and some are of utter disappointment.  Two churches where the fire is going out are referred to as 'dead' (Sardis) and so bland as to be vomited from one's mouth (Laodicea).  In both instances, they are to rekindle that fire.  In both cases we get the impression of self-satisfied churches assured of their own salvation that the fire to spread the word falls apart.  The Christian faith must have that fire.

So how are we?  Am I as a person on fire with the faith?  Do I have a passion to spread the Good News, to show mercy and compassion?  Do I speak of my faith? Or am I timid?  Do I allow myself to be silenced?  Silence is the deadliest of all things when it comes to faith.  I am not talking about the silence we need to put ourselves in a place for prayer.  I am talking about the silence when we hear the faith misrepresented, lied about, distorted, or dismissed.  Our silence becomes fertilizer for those who would attack the truth.  Our silence and inaction replaces the blood with formaldehyde.  Our silence tries to extinguish the fire that Christ came to set ablaze.

Fire, though, is not a merely a matter of words nor something to use by force.  We don't do conversion at the tip of a sword.  Our actions bearing true love and concern for God and for our brothers and sisters speak far more powerfully and eloquently than the most exquisite of words. That is not to say the exquisite words are unneeded, only that the fire within cannot remain only words. There MUST be a passion!  There must be a burning desire born of our own experience of the Living God that we lovingly want others to experience such joy and fulfillment!  

We do not belong to a safe faith.  We do not belong to a genteel country club where members get special privileges. Our faith is a fire--a transforming fire-- meant to change and purify to the better whatever it touches.  Passion cannot be faked.  Passion doesn't come instantaneously either.  Make a promise...pray for a passion..a burning zeal...a zeal that will not be silenced.  Express it not in the condemnation of others and their activities, but is modeling the reality of the transformative power of the fire that is Christ!  Pray for it!  Long for it!  Heaven is not a residence for the lukewarm and  the dead; it is where the fire of faith, hope, and love burn with the intensity of a thousand white hot suns.  That fire is not something we merely wait till later to get, it has to be now, because where there is no fire, there is no transformation, where there is no transformation, faith goes into atrophy and dies. Spend the time with the faith and learning the faith with the same fervor that a baseball fan follows the playoffs, hungry for every detail and desperately wanting to win.  Surely if we can spend such time and effort (and even resources) for something as eternally inconsequential as a sport, can we not spend at least the same time for that which is eternally consequential?