Becoming a blaze in the fire of God’s Love
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing!”
It’s true that fire is a symbol of destroying power, but that’s not so much what we’re hearing from Jesus in the Gospel today. This is not the fire of destruction. In fact, in scripture, destructive fire imagery is not as frequent as when it stands as a symbol of life. It is the fire of God’s presence. It is the fire of heat and light. It is the fire that purifies.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven he told His disciples to wait for this fire, he said “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49 The Holy Spirit that was known as the “promise of the Father.” According to that promise, the Holy Spirit came down to the disciples of Jesus in a unique way animating the ‘Mystical Body of Christ’ and giving birth to the Church.
As with coal that begins heavy and black in its deadness, when cast into the fire it is turned into the likeness of the flame which it catches and itself begins to glow red then white hot, and itself to break into a blaze. The fire of the Holy Spirit desires to consume us but not destroy us, but to make of us like incense rising to the heavens: the white-hot aroma of the fire of God burning within our souls ascends as a sweet smell, acceptable to God.
On Monday 23 November 1654, a French mathematician and philosopher had a mystical and ecstatic experience of the Spirit of God! His name was Blaise Pascal and he was transformed forever. He spoke to no one about it but, trying to express what he experienced he wrote some words on a paper. This was found at his death, sewn into his jacket. On the paper Paschal wrote this:
From about half past ten in the evening until half past midnight: FIRE God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob; not of the philosophers and scholars. Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ. God of Jesus Christ. Joy, joy, joy; tears of joy. “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ.
The fire of which Paschal spoke is that same fire of divine love which Jesus spoke of; the fire of the Holy Spirit. An encounter with the blazing love of God that no one could emerge from unchanged. This fire of purifying, transforming, overwhelming, thrilling, energizing - Love.
Into our state of physical, mental inactivity, of our sluggish half-lives Christ was and is waiting for us to be enflamed with the Holy Spirit that makes us glow and flame with earnestness, burn with love, aspire with desire, cling to Him with firm conviction, and be in focus and measure like those mighty spirits that stand before the Throne, the seraphim that burn with adoration and glow with rapture. A fire that transforms all our imperfections, and desires to leave only the purified soul of glad obedience, of perfected love.
From human experience we know that fire purifies in a powerful way. So powerful and moving is our experience of this truth, that every ancient culture in some way ritualized fire as a symbol of purification. Every disciple of Christ / Child of God must come to know this same power within them. Each having been cleansed in the waters of baptism must yet be purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit. We are to be like clay in a furnace, as it warms it whitens, the stains melting off. What remains is more truly itself and more precious. Our anticipated Holiness is wrought in this cleansing and purifying water and fire. Through which we must pass if we are to dwell in the everlasting burnings of a Divine Spirit and a changeless love.
It was not in His power to kindle this holy fire in humanity until He had died for men’s sins. The Cross necessarily precedes Pentecost in the salvific plan of the Father. There can be no Divine Spirit in full and lofty power poured out upon humanity until the Sacrifice has been offered on the Cross for the sins of the world.
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.