Outsiders becoming Insiders
Many Jews at the time of Jesus thought that salvation was based on external factors, like race and ritual. Jesus takes the opportunity of this question, about whether or not many people will be saved, to correct those wrong ideas. He explains that in God's Kingdom there will be people from all four corners of the earth - just as Isaiah had prophesied, and as we heard in the First Reading.
He also explains that many who "ate and drank" with the Lord - in other words, many who followed all the many external rituals that governed Jewish eating and drinking at the time - will be excluded from God's Kingdom. Salvation doesn't depend primarily on external appearances, but on transformative relationship with God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The same letter to the Hebrews also says that Christ, Son though he was, learned obedience through what he suffered, and being made perfect he was made the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
By being incorporated into Christ through Baptism a person becomes a child of God: this is the very basis of the Christian life and it should be a source of serenity and peace in every difficulty we meet in the course of life. In view of the mission of the Church / Christ, about which was prophesied in the first reading, the disciple of Christ is advised and admonished in the second reading to strive for spiritual strength and avoid sin. However, we suffer from the effects of original sin and so as we endeavor to live continually in union with God, the divine life into which we were baptized, we can expect that God will paternally educate and correct us like a father who loves his children.
Jesus is the prime image of a disciple. He is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who endured the cross, for the joy set before Him. Like any athlete putting himself in shape for a contest, the Christian must ready himself by arduous training, the program of which is drawn up by God. Christian life is to be inspired not only by Old Testament men and women of faith, but above all by Jesus, the Architect of Christian faith. Reflection on His suffering should give everyone courage to endure hardship and to continue the struggle for love of God and Neighbor.
And all this leads to peace. Because we are true sons and daughters, God disciplines us as a necessary part of the path to holiness. When the soul is disposed to willingly accept trials the Lord sends or permits, it yields fruit of holiness which fills it with peace.
Disciples of Christ who grow in the love of God and are perfected by His grace and love will increasingly discover that they are able to live peaceably among others. This ‘living in the peace of Christ’ is essential to being free to be humbly obedient to God and in right relationship with others in such a way as to be able to go from inside the family of God to those on the outside and credibly invite them in, giving witness to the truth of God not known or rightly understood.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews uses the term “discipline” less in terms of punishment for doing wrong and more as the educational upbringing of a child by a parent, of pupil by teacher. In ancient times education and instruction always involved the idea of punishment. The second reading reminded us that discipline (or training) seems hard at the time, yet later it brings the peaceful fruits of righteousness, as we become more and more like Christ. God, therefore, as a good father brings up his children in an affectionate yet firm way. Adversity and suffering are a sign that this divine teaching method is at work: God uses them to educate us and discipline us.
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.
Discipuli semper parati
God told the Hebrews to be ready. He also told them when. Jesus tells us to be ready. But says the timing will be unexpected. Christ’s message today is to live each day as a preparation to meet him with joy. Semper Paratus: Always Ready.
Consider the 'getting ready / being ready' in the context of how we order and approach each individual day and how this ought to be similar to how the Priest makes ready the Altar for the Sacrifice. Our lives can and ought to be an altar of praise to God, an altar which is prepared and made holy, daily. Approaching our day in this way requires that we pray as we begin, ensure we are ready for the fullness of graces through an examination and seeking the necessary reconciliation. It requires mindful attentiveness to the presence of God and personal intentionality about entering into today with God. We will need to be reverent as we prepare to live the gift of life today and continue to be reverent as we celebrate the gifts of each moment. Know what it is we are offering to God and have certainty of faith about that which God is offering to us.
Essential to being able to do this everyday with greater love, wisdom, power and strength, is our full and active participation in the celebration of Mass, at least every weekend and the worthy reception of the Eucharist. In the Mass we receive the strength and the courage to live always ready. In the Mass we receive the assurance that God is close to us, and that he wants to help us to truly love. In the Mass we are brought into unity with others, and we recognize that they are worthy of our love and sacrifice.
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.