Let us pray with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin…
Lord, enfold me in the depths of your heart;
And there hold me, refine, purge, and set me on fire,
Raise me aloft, until my own self knows utter annihilation. Amen
1st Reading: Malachi (3:19-20a)
Take a minute to go over the opening prayer again and what this reading is saying. Our spirituality is like fire. We can let it transform us, or we can rest in the coals. St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “Go forth and set the world on fire.” How does this sit with you today?
Malachi means “my messenger”. This book was written by an anonymous author about 460-450 BC after the exile. Although the exile was over and the people had been allowed to return home, they were disheartened. The temple had been rebuilt, but it did not guarantee communal, liturgical, or spiritual unity. The people were in disarray. The clergy were negligent, the ritual sloppy, and there was an indifference to the needs of the poor. The rich became richer, and poor became poorer. The prophets used the idea of the “Day of the Lord” to create fear and to motivate people to change. They claimed the day would be a day of judgment – a day of fire when the righteous would be saved, but evil would be destroyed. Because Malachi came up against the leaders, he was a very unpopular prophet. He was also insistent that the people forsake all foreign religious practices – he was even afraid of intermarriage because he thought it would taint Judaism. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 533)
The “Sun of Justice” literally means the ‘sun which is justice’. How does this image speak to you of God? Here we see the Biblical authors applying the symbol of the ‘sun god’ that was used in Persia and Egypt to Yahweh for to them Yahweh certainly was the source of all light and life. The hot sun could blaze with fire to burn away evil and to heal the righteous. Christians applied this idea later to Jesus calling him the “Son of Justice” – the One who comes as light into the world with the incarnate presence of God. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Wk, 533-534)
2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians (3:7-12)
This letter reflects an example of a group whose apocalyptic fervor has ‘gone amuck.’ They refused to work, and they were beginning to be a burden on the rest of the Christian community. We do need to be careful how we apply this text. We are all capable of being ‘shirkers’ – and we thus need to take the warning seriously. But – as with all scripture – we should not use this passage to criticize the poor who might be faced with unemployment and homelessness beyond their own choice. It may be just as likely to find ‘shirkers’ among the affluent as among the poor. Christianity always demands that we uphold the law of love. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 534)
“Faith cannot stand as an excuse. Faith does not wait for another to work, for another to think, to serve, to pray. Faith plunges the believer into the thick of the human experience with all its pain and struggle even as it realizes and lives in the hope that this life is not forever. Temporal and temporary as it is, however, it is only during THIS life that we have the opportunity to prepare for the life that never ends,” (“Preaching Resources”, Nov’04).
Gospel Reading: Luke (21:5-19)
From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
But in some ways this gospel is also just about the way life is – such things do happen as Jesus warns us. Each day is the last. Each time is the end time. Each human faces the end of the world in the span of a life. Every sunset closes a day that will never come again. Each human death is a curtain on an unrepeatable drama. Without God, this would all mean hopeless tragedy.
Has there ever been an age without such turmoil and trial, persecution and stress? As Paul says, it is only faith that saves us; it is faith that gives us hope in the midst of this ‘groaning of creation’ both within and without our human lives – as we live and when we die.
Our belief in Paschal Mystery can help us. From the Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser:
In order to come to fuller life and spirit we must constantly be letting go of present life . . .
Terminal death is a death that ends life and ends possibilities. Paschal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life . . . Jesus did not get his old life back. He received a new life – a richer life, a life that is free of death entirely. (146)
What can we learn from the cycle of the paschal mystery?
- Name your deaths.
- Claim your births.
- Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality.
- Do not cling to the old; let it ascend and give you its blessing.
- Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living. (148)
Christ’s words are meant to move us, inspire us to set the world on fire like St. Ignatius implores. Here are some reflection questions using the image of fire:
- What is blazing in your heart?
- Where in your life do you experience the fire of light, protection and warmth?
- What in your life needs to be refined or purified?
- Where do you experience resistance to the purifying dimensions of fire?
- What keeps you from living your life with an awareness of this holy fire within you?
Let us pray:
Spirit of Fire,
You revealed yourself through the burning bush
And the fiery courage of Pentecost.
Fiery Spirit, Source of all creative power,
Kindle your Holy Spark within me,
Breathe into me your Sacred Passion,
Fill me with your Flame until I have become fire,
Offering warmth and light to the world. AMEN
In the spiritual life we keep our practices, spend time in prayer, seek God in all things, and yet at some point even all this is not enough – and we are asked to become fire. Becoming fire means letting our passion for life and beauty ignite us in the world. It means, as St. Ignatius of Loyola wisely said, that we are called to set the whole world on fire with our passion for God. (Paintner, water, wind, earth & fire, p. 60) Consider the readings today within the context of becoming fire.
1st Reading: Jeremiah 20: 7-0
In this passage we hear Jeremiah’s lament, his intensely personal outcry to God. His enemies for awhile seemed more powerful than ever; his failure was painful and seemed final. Yet, in the end, Jeremiah survived his dark night of the soul remaining faithful in God’s service. The word that is translated as ‘duped’ or ‘enticed’ is the word that is used to describe the enticement involved in the seduction of a young woman by a man. Jeremiah claims to be ‘seduced’ by God into servicing and proclaiming God’s Word. It is a bold lament, filled with disappointment, anguish and love. (Celebration, August 28, 2005)
How often do we get stuck in a situation and can’t see our way out? Sometimes we make decisions and dig our heels in despite new information, or despite the nagging that maybe we should be more open (A disagreement with a friend? A work decision? A long-time family rift?). It is in those moments that the fire of Spirit could burn within you, and be trans-formative.
2nd Reading– Romans 12: 1-2
Paul tells us to “Offer our bodies to God.” This is very different from the Greek culture/theology that saw the body as only a prison-house, something to be despised and even shame-filled. But Paul reminds us that Christians believe that our bodies, our very real selves, belong to God. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation assures us that God did not ‘stand apart’ from our bodies, but in our very flesh God came to show us his presence and love. Paul is telling them and us that it is the everyday ‘bodily’ activities of ordinary work in a shop or shipyard, factory or office that we are to offer to God as worship. In fact, the word used for worship is latreia, a noun form of the verb that means to labor or work for hire. It is not slavery, but the voluntary undertaking of work, a livelihood– that to which a person gives his life. So it is used in the Bible to mean the service or worship of God. In other words, Paul is saying that true worship is the offering of everyday life to God. This demands a transformation of body and mind; we must undergo a change. Our self-centered minds must become Christ-centered. We should not try to match our lives to all the fashions and interests of the world. We are not to be chameleons, but Christians. From the inside out, we must take on the mind and heart of Christ, being the Body of Christ in the world – the ‘job description’ for a Christian. Christian ethics is not so much a code, as it is a person…(William Barclay, Romans, 155-158) What does this kindle in you?
The Gospel: Matthew 16: 21-27
The ‘rock’ that last week Jesus was going to build his church upon has now become a stumbling stone – an obstacle in the way of Jesus’ (and the church’s) true mission. Suffering is not the goal, but it is often the cost of discipleship. This passage is in some ways like the story of the temptations in the desert. Peter is trying to entice Jesus with the vision of an earthly kingdom. Although Jesus rebukes Peter, in the correction is also an invitation to follow him. Like Peter we must learn that it is not enough to just speak the words of faith about Jesus; we must follow in his footsteps. (Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship Workbook for Year A, 496)
We often feel that suffering means that something has gone wrong – that God is absent or punishing. In the light of Jesus and his cross, suffering can actually be a more intense experience of God’s presence. This is the dynamic that we call the paschal mystery – that to lose life, is sometimes to find the fullness of life. Thinking like humans, we too often focus only on the suffering and ‘death’ of an experience. Thinking like God is to focus on the fullness of life (its glory and blessings) that God wishes to offer us. The paschal mystery is not just a concept. It is a turning of our hearts and minds toward God trusting always that His life and love can work in us – even when we suffer, even when things go all wrong, even when we fail. We need to ‘get behind Jesus’ so we can follow him – to let go of our own preconceptions and worries letting God lead us to life – a life so full it overflows into eternal life. (Living Liturgy, 2002, 228-229)
To deny oneself is a phrase that has very Semitic origins. It is an idiom that means to ‘love less’ or to ‘give lower priority to’ oneself, meaning that we are to commit ourselves totally to God. It can be a dangerous phrase if taken out of context or given a negative meaning that implies that one is to subordinate oneself to others in a way that is not life-giving in a true and healthy sense. What Matthew is trying to say is that as children of God, we are to subordinate ourselves to God; it is in a way a celebration of this ownership by God. Christians are to be mutually subordinate to one another – not oppressed or oppressors. Embracing one’s cross means that we ‘put up with’ and accept whatever difficulties and shame come our way because we are trying to follow Jesus. Jesus’ death on a cross was a shameful death, yet he did not turn away from God’s way of love and truth. To follow Jesus may mean persecution or ridicule or hostility or other difficulties (like it did for Matthew’s community). These we must accept knowing with Paul that all is loss compared with “the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . . to know him and the power of his resurrection.” See Philippians 3:8b-11. (Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship Workbook for Year A, 496) What meaning (and questions) do you find in all this?
John Pilch also cautions us to read this section knowing that it comes out of a culture “where speech is more evocative than explicit.” This is language intended to call us – to awaken us – to God’s love and God’s vision of what is honorable and important in life. But Jesus can also see the ‘handwriting on the wall.’ He is making an ever-growing number of powerful enemies. Yet, Jesus declares forcefully that this ominous future is also filled with God’s purpose and God’s truth. He challenges Peter and his followers to ‘get behind him’ and travel on — doing what God wills, not what might be convenient or easy. (The Cultural World of Jesus, 132, and “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Jesus saves – that is the message. Jesus saves US. That is the fire burning. That is what can lift us up and keep us on the path. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love. Then, for a second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.” The fire grows as we help one another on our paths. Do we allow our eyes to meet and spark a connection or we turn away? What inner work will help ignite the fire of love?
Let us pray:
Spirit of Refining Fire,
Help me to release what no longer serves me
To make room for your light to fill me.
Blessings of fire be upon me
May the light of God illuminate me
And may the flame of love burn brightly in me
May I discover each day anew my own hidden fire
And enter it fully. AMEN