Does anyone want their family divided? Who wants the members of their family falling out with one another, not speaking, saying hurtful things? It is a sad thing to see and I have seen it. I have seen funerals here in Cork where one part of the family sat at one end of the front seats and the other part at the other end. I have seen funerals where some members of a family stood at the back of the church or did not even show up for their own Mother’s funeral! I know of families where members have not spoken in years. The pain that such conflicts inflict is immeasurable. We should make every effort to forgive and be reconciled. But that is not the topic of my sermon.
Our Lord says He has come to divide. He says that the fire He will send upon the Earth through His baptism will bring this division, this conflict. Is not the Lord the Lord of Peace and Love, Mercy and Forgiveness? How can He talk of conflict and division? Are we not supposed to be kind and merciful to one another, tolerate one another and be nice?
Actually I have come to hate that last word ‘nice’! Originally the word ‘nice’ meant ignorant and later it meant ‘stupid’. Nowhere in the Gospels are we called to be ignorant or stupid or even ‘nice’ in the modern sense of the word. We are called to stand up for Christ and the Truth. We are called not to be afraid but to be willing to risk everything for Him and His Kingdom.
This Fire that our Lord speaks about is above all the Fire of the Holy Spirit which through His Baptism, His passion, death and resurrection is now cast upon the world in the form of the Church. In receiving Baptism and Confirmation we are immersed in that Fire so that it dwells in our souls and we are commanded to spread it. Why does He call it Fire? Fire burns, of course, it consumes. This Fire from Heaven consumes evil and sin, purifying humanity and the world. Fire brings about change and the Fire of the Spirit empower us to confront and overcome evil and to do good. Fire warms and, if we let it, the Fire of Christ warms our hearts with Divine Love, enlivening us and giving us zeal for good and for the Gospel. Fire gives light and the Fire of Christ gives light to the world, showing us the Truth and driving out error, so that we do not remain ignorant or stupid. Fire is a symbol of love and the greatest love is the Love of God. God wants to soak the world in His Love for us and restore us not just to what we were before the Fall but to lift us up into the very Heart of the Most Holy Trinity. He wants to place us in the very heart of the furnace of Divine Love.
But we must choose. God has too much love for us to force His love upon us. We must choose and choose in the Truth, choose the Gospel of Christ. Choice divides. Every position is a choice and so it is divisive. This division exists first of all in our own hearts. We are divided within ourselves because we are fallen and are uncertain about the right path to follow. We can only be whole by letting Christ fuse us with Himself. Only in union with Christ can we know real peace and happiness and the right way to go. This division runs from our hearts and out through the world. So it is no surprise that modern secular society struggles with the question of Truth and of right and wrong. They have a home in their society for everyone but Christ and those who side with Him.
Choosing therefore also demands rejecting and being rejected. If we choose Christ then we choose His Church, His Truth, His Authority and we reject that of the world, of immorality, false freedom and ignorance. To choose Christ is to choose Eternal Life but it is also to choose to suffer rejection and conflict in this life. That conflict is firstly in our own hearts as we struggle to keep to the Truth but it is also in our families and homes. There will be members of our families who will not choose Christ, who will resist or who will even side with the world. I know how painful this is. Here I made reference to family situations that I will not put on the Internet! That’s not the way my parent’s and their generation brought us up. What are we to do?
Long ago a monk living in the desert of Egypt went to his abbot and asked him how he could make progress. The abbot told him to live their rule of life and pray continually doing all and enduring all for the love of God. The monk said he did all this. Then the abbot stood up and his hands became like flames. He said to the monk “Then become all fire.” The answer then is ‘Fire’! Become afire for God by doing everything and enduring everything for the love of God. Fan into a flame the faith God has given you! When you are ablaze for Christ others will catch fire from you and the blaze will spread. The faith is dying in Ireland because of lukewarm Christians and our Lord has promised to spit them out of His mouth. Fan this flame of faith and protect it from the icy winds of our present time. Feed it and make it grow, brighter, hotter, stronger. If we take our faith seriously and put it into practice it we will not be lukewarm but on flame for Him and we will bring others to the faith. This fire will demand that we allow it to purify us not just of all that is sinful and wrong in our lives but even what is unnecessary too. If we would love God as He wishes to be loved, as He deserves to be loved, then we must let go of any love that is incompatible with that love. In return we have been promised that if even one person in a family practices their faith wholeheartedly and trusts in our Lord and His Blessed Mother then the rest will be saved. As one Russian saint said “Become a saint and you will save a thousand souls.”
How do we do this? First, pray! Here I recommend the book “The Practice of the Presence of God”, it’s short, easy to read and costs less than €5 on Book Depository. Secondly know your Faith, read a piece of the Catechism each day or use EWTN or other sources on the net to get to know your Faith better. Thirdly put it into practice especially by charity to the poor which covers a multitude of sins. Fourthly attend the Sacraments especially Confession. Examine your conscience daily and go to Confession regularly. Fifthly do the duties of your state of life, avoiding evil and doing good, enduring what comes your way for the love of God. This is the way to become a saint, on fire for God.
We cannot sit on the fence if we are followers of Christ. We cannot run with hares and hunt with the hounds. The price of Eternal Life with God is total commitment to Him in this world according to our state of life. We cannot remain ignorant , still less must we be stupid. We must face up to this battle, this war within ourselves, our families and our society and enflamed with the Love of Christ set our world on fire with love for Him. Be on fire with love for Christ and others will catch fire from you.