Homily – August 18, 2019

XX Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year C
18 August 2019

A few years ago, when the steeple of my home parish of St. Francis of Assisi in NA came crashing to the sidewalk, the entire building had to be torn down. As a result, many parishioners received a brick as memento. I, of course because I’m special, received 60 bricks that I used – with help of a couple of parishioners – to build a fireplace in the rectory lawn. And as many of you know already, that outside fireplace gets a lot of use! I love sitting out by the fire, smoking my cigars! There is something so mesmerizing about fire.

Jesus proclaims in the Gospel today: I have come to set the earth on fire … In the Greek text it is worded a little differently: Fire I came to cast on earth … it brings to mind the pronouncement of John the Baptist: “he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire” … In Biblical language fire is a symbol of God’s judgment. Ironically, in the book of Acts the Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles as fire – not as judgment but as the fire of love. There is a saying attributed to Jesus that relates to this fire: “whoever is near me is near fire; whoever is distant from me is distant from the kingdom.”

These statements in the Gospel speak of conflict and division. Jesus inaugurates a kingdom of reconciliation and peace … yet still judgment, division, and discord also accompanies the work of redemption. And why is that? Because of commitment. The Kingdom of God is always divisive because it requires a firm decision and a commitment to living by the principles and morals that are mapped out for us. And not everyone will be on board with those principles. Not everyone will see them as the road map to eternal life but will see them as a blockage to their own value system – or lack thereof.

One of the definitions for fire is ‘passion’ – this is what I think Jesus means … He casts a fire in us – a passion. When a person is passionate about something he or she is committed. A decision has been made about religion, politics, sports, relationships … passion with regard to any one of these necessarily means that a person’s heart and soul is poured into it. We are consumed … “Whoever is near me, is near fire” … meaning, He has cast a passion with us. We are consumed by Him … His love, His mercy – but also committed to His teaching, His way – the way of life He has mapped out for us. The further away we stand from the fire, the colder and more distant we get – from Him. Standing close to Jesus will set us on fire – and yes, that will hurt a bit because He will show us our faults and sins … but yet at the same time we will be warmed by His mercy. This is where we need to be … on fire – deciding today to be nearer Him, committed more fully to Him and His way … passionate for Him.

I loved to choose and see my path, but now
          Lead Thou me on!

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