18 August 2013

Have you come to help our Lord set fire to the world?

20th Sunday in OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP 
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA 

Surrounded as we are by so great a cloud of witnesses, I must ask you all: have you come to help our Lord set fire to the world?! Have you come here to help him destroy the family; to divide the nation; and to conquer the Church? If not, remember: the waters of your baptism did not extinguish the Spirit's fire set ablaze in you; rather those blessed waters feed and spread the fire of the Holy Spirit like gasoline, consuming you, burning you to perfection. And your job, my job, our job together is to run shouting like lunatics—holy priests and prophets—to run shouting through the dry-tinder kindling of this world, setting everything cold and hard and brittle on fire with the Holy Spirit! If you will follow Christ, walk his Way, carrying his Cross as yours, then you will become a Holy Pyromaniac. 

We read in Hebrews, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that cling to us…” Fire burns its fuel first. The fire of the Holy Spirit burns away every burden and sin, releasing the grip of anxiety and freeing body and soul from the sickening weight of disobedience. Essentially, we are lightened for the race before us, unencumbered for navigating the Way and finding our Morningstar. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, “the leader and perfecter of faith,” every burden, every obstacle, every failure is lifted, surmounted, rectified, and we are propelled into the same joy that Christ saw before him through the Cross. Through the Cross. Not around it or under it or above it but through it. Only through the Cross did he and do we come to our long anticipated glory in the presence the Father's throne. 

 But what does “only through the Cross can we find joy” mean day-to-day, minute-to-minute? First, be warned: the race to the Cross is heart-wearying! It’s not a test b/c a test is too easy. You have the help of the Holy Spirit! What’s a test when the H.S. is your cheat sheet? There is no obstacle course, something like a heroic passage from Greek myth—no giants to behead, no mutant spiders to outwit. You don’t even have to memorize any arcane languages or master multiple sets of occult symbols or chase down any wizardly objects. No. What you have to do is actually much, much worse than all these combined; much more difficult and painful: you must release your pride; unclench your self-satisfaction and arrogance, your misplaced sense of duty and control; and you must be weak before the Lord, praying, “I too wish the world were already ablaze for you, Lord! Kindle in me the fire of your righteousness, burn away my burdens and sins, and make me a torch for your purifying love.” To joy through the Cross. . .

Going to the Cross for us, for our example and our benefit, Christ poured himself out, emptied himself in total subjection to the Father, becoming for us our sin. His kenosis, his abandonment to the worst of human depravity and his freely accepted death for our sake, is the spark for a holy fire, the match that pops and flares and sets all creation blazing in sacrifice. Every thing, every person and place, every relationship and bond, every right and wrong, all of it, our peace, our achievements, our grand plans and projects, our deeply held convictions and logical conclusions, our allegiances and sworn wars, our science, theology, philosophy, art, all of it, everything is transfigured, transformed in the perfecting conflagration of the Cross and the Empty Tomb. I tell you, Jesus says, I did not come to bring peace but division; neither comfort nor convenience but ferment and want. I will leave it all in ash and smoke. For I come to reorder, to re-establish, to resurrect and renew every bond, every promise, even life itself. Our Holy Father, Francis, said in his Sunday Angelus message in Rome, “. . .faith is not a decorative, ornamental thing, you do not decorate your life with a little bit of religion. . . Faith is not a decoration, as if it were simply the icing on the cake!” 

A decorative faith, a small religion cannot strike even the tiniest spark much less set the world on fire. A decorative faith, a small religion cannot resist sin nor can they proclaim the Good News. Have we resisted the world to the point of shedding our blood? Our brothers and sisters in the Egypt and Syria have. Those of us in the Sudan have bled and bled. In China, we bleed for the state’s fear of an all-consuming fire. In Louisiana? Probably not today or tomorrow. But it’s not impossible that one of us here or all of us together could be called to resist sin to the point of shedding blood. Is that frightening? Of course. Our faith, or rather our religion, is a comfort to us. We find settled patterns and rhythms here. Familiarity and peace. Should our faith be comforting? I mean, should the fact that we trust a man who willing died on a cross for us be a source of comfort to us? You have vowed to do the same for me, ya know? To die for me. And I for you. That promise of witness is greater than family or friends or neighbors. That promise to stand up and speak up and give witness to a mighty God is greater than the condolences of religion or the temporary excitement of spirituality. For the sake of your joy beg to be emptied of every burden, every sin, and then fix your eyes on Jesus. He is the only leader, the only perfecter of our faith. 

Again: surrounded as we are by so great a cloud of witnesses, I must ask you all: have you come to help our Lord to set fire to the world?! 
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1 comment:

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. The opening grabbed me - though the term Holy Pyromaniac made me laugh . . . and wonder if you'd been mainlining the coffee!! You kept the energy in the 2nd para. and I appreciated your discussion of "the fire of the Holy Spirit." Still smiling through para. 3, along with an "Amen!" Para. 4, I felt the tempo change - wonderful effect- and thought the lists you employed very effective and worked well to drive home your point. Always good when you can slip a "Pope-quote" in there, too. I really liked the thrust of para. 5, but didn't find it as smooth as the rest - there were a couple of places where the rhythm didn't match and it felt somewhat dissonant. But the questions were spot on, and I smiled as you brought it full circle with the final question.