Being a Controlled Burn

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Readings:  Jer. 38:4-6, 8-10/Heb. 12:1-4

Psalm:       40:2,3,4,18

Gospel:      Lk. 12:49-53


Every spring around Illinois, once the weather gets nice and the winds calm down, we tend to notice some low-hanging clouds coming over the horizon.   But what is happening is the time for farmers to do the control burns of their pastures and the smoke from the fires is covering the skies.  The fire is to burn off the dead grasses and weeds left over from the winter so that the new grass can grow.  That new grass is what will help sustain life for the animals that live in the area and keeps the weeds from taking over and killing all the wildflowers that the animals need to live.  The controlled use of fire can bring new life to a world that was once considered dead.

While fire can help life grow and prosper, it can also bring destruction when it is abused and neglected.  While a control burn can bring life to a piece of ground, it can also destroy an entire forest.  While a blacksmith can forge a piece of iron into a plowshares, he can also turn it into a sword.  Fire can also turn someone from a normal person into someone who loves to start fires just for sheer enjoyment.

But Fire is also used as a symbol of God’s grace.  God spoke to Moses in the form of a burning bush.  He protected the Hebrews from Pharaoh with a pillar of fire.  We use the image of tongues of fire at Pentecost and Confirmation.  With that in mind, how do we understand the fire that Jesus is talking about in the Gospel proclaimed today?  If we remember the message Jesus gave us last week to be vigilant (Lk. 12:32-48), and that vigilance is to be expected for everyone, particularly the stewards of the master’s estate, then the fire He is calling about is the fire of full discipleship.  It is a fire waiting to be lit.  To wait for something means you are prepared for it to happen.  You are thinking of the moment and not primarily yourself.  You keep things prepared for when the moment occurs.  But when we neglect this vigilance and use our authority over others for our own personal gain, then that fire, that sense of full discipleship, remains dormant.

“Oh how I wish (the fire) were already blazing!” Jesus says.  He is waiting for his mission to be done before he is to receive his baptism on the cross.  Yet He is growing wearing of their lack of understanding of what being the Chosen One’s of God requires of them.  Until He feels that they are ready to not just believe but are able to spread this message, He will go through some sort of Exhaustive Anticipation.  This is where someone is waiting for some action to occur that, in the waiting, our bodies become tired as if we had been through some sort of heavy labor.  That feeling will continue until the moment has occurred.

We are living in the age of that moment occurring still.  Even though Christ was nailed to the cross, the moment of this unique baptism, we are the family that is divided in belief and disbelief.  We are the fathers divided against the sons, the daughters against their mothers and the in-laws at war with each other.  And yet even in this time of division, God does not abandon us whenever we are in need.

In the First Reading from Jeremiah, the prophet is thrown in a cistern that is empty.  But in the words of the psalmist, God raised Jeremiah (and us) from the worries of everyday life.  “I waited patiently for the Lord: he stooped toward me and heard my cry.  He took me from the pit of destruction and set my feet upon a crag and made my steps firm.”  When we place ourselves under the care of God, our worries don’t all go away, but the burden to resolve them is shared so we are not pained as Christ was; for have become the true disciples of The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The discipleship that Jesus is seeking from each of us is to be like him in the moment he was transfigured.  Peter, James and John were shown the Glorified body of Jesus as he was

speaking to Elijah and Moses.  The Glorified body is what we will have when we enter Heaven, and it is the Glorified body that we show others when we do something for them for their benefit.  The human body is for doing human things.  The Glorified body is for doing God’s things.

We see that same example in the Feast of the Assumption we celebrate on August 15th.  The Blessed Virgin Mary, at the moment of her death, was taken up body and soul into Heaven rather than wait for the End of Days.  Legend has it that at the moment of her burial, Jesus came down from Heaven with a group of angels carrying the soul of Mary.  He ordered her soul to return to her body and carried her up to Heaven.  She set the example that in being in the care of Christ means that we are to help those in despair.  When we assist those in need, miracles happen.

One of those miracles that we have celebrated recently was due, in part, to the intercession of Mary to her son. There was a Roman couple in the mid-4th Century that pledged to the Virgin Mary their entire fortune if they received some sign. The next morning, a freakish snowstorm hit one of the hills of Rome and a voice told the couple to build a great church on that site.  The Church became known as the Basilica of St. Mary Major and the Feast that we celebrated on August 5th is also known by another name:  Our Lady of the Snows, whose shrine sits just down the road from us in Belleville, IL.

When we speak of something being “on fire” we do not mean that we want something to be destroyed, but only for the things that deter its growth to be removed.  Life’s troubles get in the way of our growing.  We get caught up in current events as if they are matters of life and death.  When we continue to cry out as the Psalmist does “Lord, come to my aid” we can remove those burdens and become true disciples.

As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”  Now is the time to set our worlds on fire, let’s just make sure it is not a wildfire, just a controlled burn.


Questions for Reflection:

  1. When was the last time that you thought you were “on fire” for your faith?  Was it a controlled burn or did you flame out?
  2. Christ showed Peter, James and John His Glorified Body as a demonstration of who He really is.  Has someone revealed their true self to you as if they were “transfigured?”  Were you the one who was “transfigured” for someone else 
  3. When was the last time you asked someone for a favor and they gave you more             than what you asked for and wanted nothing in return but your friendship?  How does this compare to the Miracle that inspired the building of the Basilica of St. Mary Major?                 

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