The Fire of Love
[Jer.38:4-6; 8-10; Heb.12:1-4; 8-19; Lk.12:49-53]
Four hours’ drive north of Sydney is Mount Wingen. It’s often called ‘Burning Mountain’ because deep inside it is the world’s oldest fire.
Wingen is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘fire’, and that fire has been burning 30 metres underground, for over 6,000 years. [i]
Fire occurs naturally wherever the right amounts of fuel, oxygen and heat are combined. As long as these three elements are present, fire will keep burning. But if you take any element away, it will die. (At Mount Wingen, the fuel burnt is coal.)
A blazing fire is a remarkable thing. It can purify metals like gold and silver, it can protect by destroying vermin and disease, and it provides light and warmth. But of course, it needs to be handled carefully.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about bringing fire to the earth. ‘How I wish it were blazing already!’ he says. But this isn’t any ordinary fire. What Jesus is talking about is spiritual fire.
The Bible often uses the image of fire to represent God. In the Old Testament, God appears as a consuming fire (Dt.4:24), a burning bush (Ex.3:2-3), and a pillar of fire (Ex.13:21). And at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3).
Like earthly fire, spiritual fire also has three elements. It needs the Holy Spirit’s spark to ignite it, our loving hearts to fuel it, and God’s graces to fan the flames into life. But if you remove any of these elements, spiritual fire will die, too.
Spiritual fire changes whatever it touches. It heals and it reconciles, it provides light and warmth, and peace and comfort. And in the sacraments, spiritual fire transforms ordinary gifts into the very presence of Jesus Christ.
It’s not surprising, then, that fire plays an important role in our liturgical worship. Our Paschal candle and our baptismal and altar candles all reflect the fire and light of Christ’s love.
This spiritual fire is a gift, and we receive it at our baptism. It comes in the form of a spark from the Holy Spirit (Lk.3:16), when we receive the graces of faith, hope and love.
For too many, however, this fire lies dormant. It’s not blazing, because we’ve not yet added the fuel of our loving hearts. Our hearts are somewhere else.
During the cold winters of 16th century Spain, St John of the Cross spent many hours contemplating the mystery of fire. He noticed that the process of a person drawing closer to God is very much like a log burning in a fire. [ii]
At first, a log will crackle and pop as it begins to burn. That’s because impurities like moisture and sap (which won’t burn), are being expelled from the wood. The fire gradually drives these impurities out, leaving the log dry.
Then, the fire starts burning that log until the entire piece of wood is engulfed in flames. The log itself is transformed: it becomes the fire, glowing and releasing heat and light.
The purpose of our spiritual lives is to prepare our souls to receive the fire of God’s love. And just as a dry log burns much more easily than a wet one, so a soul will more easily absorb the fire of God’s love if it has been prepared by the Holy Spirit.
Each of us, then, needs to be purged of our sins, distractions and impurities, before we can be fully immersed in God’s spiritual fire.
Most of us, however, tend to crackle and pop as we struggle against this process. Letting go of our unhealthy attachments can be hard.
But when we do stop resisting God’s divine flame, our hardened hearts start to dissolve in love. His holy flame then reaches deep inside us, transforming us. We become the fire of his love, reflecting light and heat that, in turn, helps to transform others. [iii]
6,000 years ago, the fire in Mount Wingen started to burn. It has never ever stopped because there’s been a constant supply of fuel, oxygen and heat.
2,000 years ago, the fire of Christ started spreading all over the world. But in too many places today, that fire has died. Why? It’s because too many of us have withdrawn its fuel: the love of our hearts. We’re too distracted.
Spiritual fire transforms lives. Its heat keeps us warm; its light helps us see in the darkness. It empowers us to do remarkable things, and it fills us with comfort and peace. We need all these things.
Spiritual fire is our love united with God’s love.
Let’s ask Jesus to help us set the world on fire once again.