Twentieth Sunday: Casting Fire Upon the Earth!

I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed (Lk. 12: 49-50). ⧾
By means of a familiar substance and image, fire, Our Lord speaks to us about His Sacred Passion. St. Bede the Venerable paraphrases Our Lord’s words and writes: ‘I have a baptism to be baptized with’, that is, I have first to be sprinkled with the drops of My own Blood, and then to inflame the hearts of believers by the fire of the Spirit (Catena Aurea in Lucam, p.468). It is to His Passion that each one of us must conform our own
life. Our Lord’s Passion is the Mystery that we celebrate at every Mass and through grace, imitation and love, we endeavour to conform ourselves to the truth and power of this Mystery.

The sacred author of the Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts us today with these words: Brothers and sisters: since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (12:1-2).We are encouraged to gaze upon the Crucified Saviour as the model of what we ourselves are to become. Christian discipleship is the embrace of the Cross, leading to a participation in its Mystery. We who endeavour to be disciples of Jesus can indeed participate in His sacrifice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the ‘one mediator between God and men.’ But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, ‘the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery’ is offered to all men. He calls his disciples to ‘take up [their] cross and follow [him],’ for Christ also suffered for [us] leaving [us] an example so that [we] should follow in his steps’ (618). We endeavour to respond to Love
Crucified with a crucified love, a sacrificial love.

This takes us to the very heart of our faith and the appropriation of this truth marks a point of transition or maturity and we go from a mechanical observance of religion to a life of deep devotion. Such a life produces fruits of holiness in great abundance and these benefit the world at large. Those who do so heroically, the saints, thus become lights for the world in their several generations. This is undeniable; despite contemporary efforts to delegitimise the Church’s history and specifically to denigrate her missionary work as an expression of cultural chauvinism or imperialism. What has always been at work in the life of the Church is the Mystery of the Lord’s Passion, perpetuated through the ages in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and this is the source and summit of the Church’s life. No temporal or spiritual power can deprive us of this Mystery without incurring the
wrath of God.

Though the media are for the most part silent about this, the Church is undergoing great suffering in different countries, especially in Nigeria. The faithful there are murdered along with their priests and unbelievable as it sounds, the cause of this violence has been attributed to climate change. Is there anything that climate change doesn’t affect? Similarly, despite the charitable work of the Church which makes no distinctions in the exercise of her charity, in our part of the world the Church is undergoing a different kind of persecution, a more insidious moral violence that seeks to undermine the very nature of the Church as mother and teacher (mater et magistra); and which must atone for
alleged historical wrongs. We must oppose this false concept of reality especially by appealing to the record of history; not to a narrative concocted by a leftist autocracy that seeks to impose its dystopian world view on a people who are for the most part afflicted by historical illiteracy.

We must never underestimate what the Mystery of the Lord’s Passion has effected for the greater good in our world; and what it can effect in us, provided of course that we allow this Mystery to transform our hearts and minds. By its power, as the faithful witnesses to the faith have done before us, we too can overcome opposition and persecution through prayer, penance and an unwavering trust in God’s Providence. By virtue of our discipleship all of us are called to share in Our Lord’s redemptive suffering. To some however, it is given to be conformed to Our Lord’s Passion and to share in the sprinkling of Our Lord’s Precious Blood.

Writing during a period of near universal persecution, St. Cyprian, an African bishop and martyr provides us with words both to inspire and guide us in this unsettled time:

How blessed is this Church of ours, so honoured and illuminated by God and ennobled in these our days by the glorious blood of the martyrs! In earlier times it shone white with the good deeds of our brethren, and now it is adorned with the red blood of the martyrs. It counts both lilies and roses among its garlands. Let each of us, then, strive for the highest degree of glory, whichever be the honour for which he is destined; may all Christians be found worthy of either the pure white crown of a holy life or the royal red crown of martyrdom. May we conform ourselves to the Mystery of the Lord’s Passion soon to be re-presented on our Altar; that we in our turn may also be lights for the world in this our generation.