Gotta Let It Burn…

wood_burning_fire_closeupQuestion: What does a fire do?

Most people don’t ever see a real fire burning real logs anymore, which is a shame. Besides the obvious niceties, seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling a fire can also teach us a lot about life with the Lord. Like all of creation, fire teaches us. It points us to our Father (it is our Father in a certain sense) and speaks of what lies behind the thin material veil before us. Look at a fire and you will glimpse what God is about.

Answer: a fire purifies and it transforms. Listen to St. John of the Cross:

Fire, when applied to wood, first dehumidifies it, dispelling all moisture and making it give off any water it contains. Then it gradually turns the wood black, makes it dark and ugly, and even causes it to emit a bad odor. By drying out the wood, the fire brings to light and expels all those ugly and dark accidents that are contrary to fire. Finally, by heating and enkindling it from without, the fire transforms the wood into itself and makes it as beautiful as itself. (The Dark Night)

A fire does not tolerate the impurities of a piece of wood. It puts it through a period of cleansing and refinement. It changes it; makes it pure by making it purely wood, without any of its original imperfections. This is not simply an end in itself but so that the fire can transfigure this dead piece of wood into itself – something it could never have done for itself.

Is this not what God does for us?

Our God comes, he does not keep silence, / before him is a devouring fire, / round about him a mighty tempest. / He calls to the heavens above / and to the earth, that he may judge his people: / “Gather to me my faithful ones, / who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” (Psalm 50:3-5)

Though as dead as a piece of wood in our sins (Eph. 2:5), mixed through with soot and covered in barnacles, the living flame of the Lord engulfs and mercifully purifies us. He doesn’t tolerate the evil that sullies us. He wants to destroy it, annihilate it, burn it away. This simple fact should blow our minds: if we stick close to Him, He promises to make us 100% pure and whole – free from all that clings to us and steals our happiness.

It will hurt. It will come through suffering. It will involve a painful detachment and uprooting. For this reason, it is only with a great deal of either naivety or courage (hopefully the latter) we can pray one of those highly consequential prayers, “Lord, kindle in me the fire of your love.” His love is a fire – and it burns.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:28-29)

What is this purification for? Transformation.

We bear a tremendous inner poverty akin to a dead piece of wood, but once purified of all that keeps us from accepting the life (the flame) of God, we can be ignited by the spark of His Love and transfigured into an amazing, heat-giving, light-giving fire! We are transformed into a royal priesthood: able to offer ourselves up as living sacrifices billowing up to Him. And in this sacrifice – in this gift of self – we find abundant life, joy, happiness, peace and glory.

In this context do St. Paul’s words blaze and combust:

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)

Now the coup de grâce: this purification (i.e. deeper conversion) and transformation wrought by the fire of God inevitably and inescapably leads to mission. A fire that is really aflame is always felt and seen by others. In fact, if left to its natural course and habitat, a fire that is really burning will pass its heat along – it will ignite others as well! A flaming log doesn’t keep to itself, but shares what it has received with others. It is set aglow with dazzling light. And what is set aglow is meant to be seen.

Seqouia_Forest_Fire

Thus, disciples burn. They burn with the holy, engulfing, beautiful fire of God. They are purified, made whole, transformed and then sent like wildfire to bathe the whole world in this vibrant glow.

Brothers and sisters, let’s be disciples. Let’s look into the fire of God’s love with trust! We must understand that it comes to purify, to heal, to enlighten and to transform. And then, let us not be afraid of the flame we have been given, but instead go forth into the world in the confidence of God’s power.

For this we pray, “Come Holy Spirit and kindle in us the fire of your love!”

Now go make a fire.

Scriptural Postscript: pray with 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6, 5:10; Titus 2:14; Romans 12:1; Psalm 119:4; Hebrews 12:28. Also, pray with this song Fuego De Dios by Hillsong United.

St. Francis the Preacher

St-Francis

By: Peter Herbeck

“He filled all the earth with Christ’s Gospel, so that often in one day he would make the circuit of four or five villages or even towns preaching to everyone the Gospel of the Kingdom of God: and, edifying his hearers not less by his example than by his words, he had made a tongue of his whole body.” (First Life of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano, IV, 97)

St. Francis of Assisi loved to preach. According to the records of Thomas of Celano and St. Bonaventure, his official biographers, St. Francis was one of the most powerfully anointed preachers in the history of the Church. The Lord gave him extraordinary grace in the Holy Spirit to preach with great clarity, confidence, and apostolic authority.

Like the apostles, his preaching was accompanied by signs and wonders. His biographers provide long lists of amazing miracles, including healing of the blind, deaf, dumb, and lame, raising of the dead, healing of animals afflicted by various diseases, and the driving out of demons.

St. Francis was compelled to preach by a love for Jesus and a zeal for the salvation of souls. Once he had received his commission to preach he demonstrated an unrelenting commitment to seek and save the lost. With single-minded devotion, even while burdened by frequent infirmities and serious sicknesses, he abandoned himself completely to the call Jesus had placed upon him:

“For during the space of eighteen years, which was now completed, his body had little or no rest while he traveled through various very large regions so that that willing spirit, that devoted spirit, that fervent spirit that dwelt within him might scatter everywhere the seeds of the word of God.” (Thomas of Celano, First Life, Chapter IV, no. 97)

Conformed to Christ

The recent election of Pope Francis has brought fresh attention to the life of this great saint. I was delighted when the Holy Father chose the name of St. Francis. It was, to my way of thinking, just the right choice. He’s the ideal model for the Church at this moment of the New Evangelization.

The Second Vatican Council spoke of two fundamental calls given to all the baptized: the universal call to holiness and the universal call to mission. St. Francis provides an astounding example of both. In his extraordinary life, holiness and mission were one.

Has the Church ever seen a saint more conformed to the person of Jesus? For Jesus, he lived radical poverty, embraced the poor and marginalized, was filled with humility, compassion and mercy, lived in almost constant prayer and disciplined his body at an intense level to bring it into submission to Jesus. Christ crucified captured his imagination and his heart. He longed to imitate his Lord, to be united to his passion. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus answered that longing by granting St. Francis the utterly unique, mystical grace of the stigmata.

And it was that same love for Christ crucified that compelled St. Francis to preach:

“Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth spoke, and the spring of enlightened love which filled him inwardly through and through bubbled forth outwardly. Verily, he was much with Jesus; ever did he bear Jesus in his heart, Jesus in his mouth, Jesus in his ears, Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his hands, Jesus in his other members” (Thomas of Celano, First Life, Chapter IX, no. 115)

In the words of St. Bonaventure, St. Francis was:

“ … a sharp sword all on fire, zeal for the salvation of others pierced the depths of Francis’ heart in his burning love…If he saw a soul redeemed with the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ being stained with sin, he would be overcome with sorrow, and weep so compassionately that he seemed to travail over them continually, like a mother in Christ.” (St. Bonaventure, Minor Life, Chapter 3, no. 8)

With special emphasis, Bonaventure makes the point, “this was the reason he was so energetic in prayer, so active in preachingChrist gave himself up to death for the salvation of others, and Francis desired to follow in his footsteps till the last.” (Ibid.)

St. Francis “gave himself up” for the salvation of others: “…he realized he was sent by God to win for Christ the souls which the Devil was trying to snatch away…he became a herald of the Gospel and he went about the towns and villages, preaching the Kingdom of God ‘not in such words as human wisdom teaches, but in words taught him by the Spirit’ (1 Cor 2:13)” (Bonaventure, Minor Life, Chapter 2, no. 5)

Seeing St. Francis Accurately

This understanding of St. Francis, given repeatedly to us by his primary biographers and from those who knew him best, is mostly ignored today. The contemporary picture of St. Francis is either focused on his heroic virtues, particularly his love for the poor, or a more ideologically driven image of Francis as an environmental activist or the patron of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Although preaching played a central role in the life of St. Francis, the only wisdom one hears is the often repeated quote that is falsely attributed to him: “Always preach the Gospel, and, if necessary, use words!” How did this quote ever end up being the standard interpretive key to St. Francis’ attitude toward preaching the Gospel? The quote is not in any of the small number of written documents or letters attributed to St. Francis nor can it be found anywhere in the Omnibus of Sources for the Life of St. Francis.

In defending the quote some people point to a command given by St. Francis in Chapter 17 of the First Rule from the year 1221:

“No friar may preach contrary to Church law or without the permission of his minister. The minister, for his part, must be careful not to grant permission indiscriminately. All the friars, however, should preach by their example.”

He expands on that same command in Chapter 9 from the Rule written in 1223:

“The friars are forbidden to preach in any diocese, if the bishop objects to it. No friar should dare to preach to the people unless he has been examined and approved by the Minister General of the Order and has received from him the commission to preach.”

The point here is that friars are to preach under right authority, whether that be the Bishop of a Diocese or the Minister General who has the authority within the order to commission friars to preach.

In saying that “all friars should preach by their example,” St. Francis is simply stating the obvious, that one’s life is a message, not that the witness of life is to be preferred to preaching or that preaching should only be done on rare occasions.

To miss or ignore the important and nearly constant role that preaching played in the life of St. Francis is to miss who he actually was. In St. Francis the preacher, we find the challenge and inspiration needed to take up the urgent call for a New Evangelization.

Faith Comes Through Hearing

The recent Popes have exhorted all the baptized to take up the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, not just in deeds, but also in words. Pope Benedict Emeritus provides a typical example in his encyclical Verbum Domini:

“Since the entire People of God is a people which has been ‘sent’, the Synod reaffirmed that ‘the mission of proclaiming the word of God is the task of all of the disciples of Jesus Christ based on their Baptism.’ No believer in Christ can feel dispensed from this responsibility which comes from the fact of our sacramentally belonging to the Body of Christ.” (Verbum Domini, no. 94)

How many Catholics know deep down, that they have been personally “sent” by Jesus to proclaim the word of God? How many have ever felt the burden of this “responsibility”? Here Pope Benedict is simply echoing the clear teaching of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity:

“However, an apostolate of this kind does not consist only in the witness of one’s way of life; a true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ by words addressed either to non-believers with a view to leading them to faith, or to the faithful with a view to instructing, strengthening, and encouraging them to a more fervent life.” (Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, no. 6)

To “announce Christ by words,” to believers and non-believers alike, ought to be a normal part of a mature, authentic and integrated Catholic life. Simply put, it’s what followers of Jesus do.

Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangeli Nuntiandi, challenges all of us to examine ourselves on this very point:

“Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the Kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn.” (EN #24)

Has the “unthinkable” become the norm today for most Catholics? How many in our day ever feel it “necessary to use words?” Instead of finding in St. Francis the inspiration to use words, far too many want to find in him a reason not to speak directly to others about the gospel. The “if necessary” emphasis provides an excuse to avoid speaking about Jesus. It lets us off the hook.

If the New Evangelization is going to become more than an effort of a very small minority of Catholics to proclaim the Gospel, we all need to examine our lives in light of Pope Paul VI’s “test of truth.” We need to be honest with ourselves; have I ever made the effort to speak directly with another person about Jesus and the good news of salvation? If not, why not?

We have to overcome what Vittorio Messori described so aptly as a “mutism” that grips the Church in our time:

“Today, precisely today, we may note on the part of many Christians—and, unfortunately many Catholics—a kind of mutism, a kind of reticence of re-proclaiming the faith and its reasons. So many who could alleviate the current lethal claustrophobia of the world, by explicitly re-proclaiming the Word that does not delude and that saves us from despair, seem to want to be merely ‘like others’: devoting themselves indeed, to others, but only as human, extremely human ‘social workers’; devoid of any wish to say that it is Christ who inspires them and that it is he who gives a significance to their actions.” (Vittorio Messori, “Confessors of the Faith in Our Time,” from Laity Today: Rediscovering Confirmation, p. 29)

How many of us stand mute today because the world demands it from us? What is the reason for so few words about Jesus? Is it the fear of men? Do we want to simply be “like others”? What is holding you back from speaking to others about Jesus? Are we embarrassed by the gospel?

St. Paul tells us, that “faith comes through hearing, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) The proclamation of the gospel is an essential and irreplaceable part of evangelization. There is no evangelization without it. Until we understand that and embrace it, the New Evangelization will never get off the ground.

We all must take to heart the words of Pope John Paul II to the Church in America:

“Everyone should keep in mind that the vital core of the new evangelization must be a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ, that is, the preaching of his name, his teaching, his life, his promises and the Kingdom. (Ecclesia in America, no. 66)

“Everything planned in the Church must have Christ and his Gospel as its starting-point. Therefore, the Church in America must speak increasingly of Jesus Christ, the human face of God and the divine face of man. It is this proclamation that truly makes an impact on people, awakens and transforms hearts, in a word, converts.” (Ibid., no. 67)

Unleash the Word

The time has come for all of us to “speak increasingly of Jesus Christ.” The tendency to limit evangelization to the witness of life, as important as it is, is simply not enough. Authentic Christian witness is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Why is proclamation irreplaceable? Because the gospel message about Jesus Christ “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” (Romans 1:16) This is why proclamation “makes an impact,” and “awakens and transforms hearts.” Only the power of God can awaken the human heart. God set it up that way. He has decided to reveal himself and the plan of salvation through the preaching of the gospel:

“For since in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Cor 1:21)

St. Francis understood this. He embraced the folly of the cross with passion in his own life and he “preached Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23) knowing that through the folly of that message God’s power would go forth to win souls for Christ, to snatch them from the clutches of the devil, to free them from sin and the death-directed destiny it produces.

St. Francis shows us the way forward with holiness and mission, witness of life and proclamation. It’s time to break the silence and to unleash the power of the word of God!

Evangelii Gaudium – “The Joy of the Gospel”

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Pope Francis has just released an apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which means “The Joy of the Gospel.”  Over the next few weeks, we will examine the document to pull out the key points and see how they relate particularly to young adults.   In the meantime, we highly encourage everyone to read it since the Holy Father has continued the focus of his predecessors on the New Evangelization.  Here click here to read Evangelii Gaudium in its entirety.

Here are some links for initial commentary.

A Summary of Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel): Pope Francis’ First Apostolic Exhortation by Kevin Cotter

Pope Francis’ new document, Evangelii Gaudium: 9 things to know and share by Jimmy Akin

Intentional Disciple: St. Jean de Brebeuf

In this post I would like to feature St. Jean de Brebeuf, a lesser-known saint whose courage and unwavering allegiance to Christ as a disciple is worth noting and emulating.

Although most of our missions won’t be to foreign countries – each and every one of us is called to a mission. May we all be as radically devoted to it as this man. This excellent video from Chris Stefanek can do all the talking.

You can find more videos and articles by Chris Stefanek here.

Communion in Holy Things

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During his weekly audience on November 6th, Pope Francis elaborated on the purpose and importance of communion.  i.d.916 hopes to foster communion and this teaching succinctly describes an aspect of this pillar.  Below is the first paragraph of the exhortation, click here for the full version.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Last Wednesday I spoke about the communion of saints, understood as a communion among holy people, that is among us believers. Today I would like to go in depth into the other aspect of this reality: you will remember that there were two aspects: one is communion, unity, among us, and the other aspect is communion in holy things, in spiritual goods. These two aspects are closely connected; in fact, communion among Christians grows through the sharing of spiritual goods. In particular we will consider: the Sacraments, charisms and charity (cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 949-953). We grow in unity, in communion, through: the Sacraments, the charisms given to each of us by the Holy Spirit, and charity.

Click here for the rest of the text.

Interesting Interview with Cardinal Dolan and Fr. Barron

Recently, Fr. Robert Barron visited Timothy Cardinal Dolan in New York City.  After celebrating Mass together, the two of them entertained some questions from the media.  The brief interview is worth watching because they both do an excellent job representing the orthodoxy of the Church while maintaining humor and good will.  Additionally, Cardinal Dolan expertly treads the fine line of challenging the media with honest yet loving answers.