Blaze a Trail to Heaven
Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Preached on August 17-18, 2013 at Saint Mary Catholic Church, Perryville KY, Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY, and Pax Christi Catholic Church, Lexington KY
Readings: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40:2, 3, 4, 18; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53
Legend has it that the evangelist John Wesley was asked how he turned out to be such a powerful preacher. He replied, “I catch myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.”
Wesley was on to something there. After all, nobody ever bothers to watch water freeze; but, everyone gathers by the fire to get warmed up. So it is with preaching the Gospel: a burning faith gets people fired up; a bored believer only invites a cold shoulder. We then can only make our faith in Christ spread like wildfire by letting the flame lit within us at our baptism blaze with fervor.
Unfortunately, before we even get the chance to gather steam, everybody else already has their fire extinguishers out. There always seems to be the fear going around that somebody—especially, someone close to us—might get burned once we have caught fire. But, the Lord already warns us that this is the cost of being a Christian. Because of Him, we will have to stand up against the powers that be and against the pressure from our own families to defend what is right, to promote what is good, and to preach the Gospel even when what is right is unpopular, when what is good is politically incorrect, when what the Gospel has to say is uncomfortable. Because of Him, even households will be divided: a father against his son, a son against his father, a mother against her daughter, a daughter against her mother, in-laws against one another (cf. Lk. 12:52-53).
We see such challenges in the lives of the saints, in the cloud of witnesses who have blazed the trail for us to follow (cf. Heb. 12:1). The martyr Barbara was executed for her faith by her own father. Francis of Assisi, publicly disowned by his family, returned his father’s finery and walked away naked. Thomas Aquinas used a torch to chase away the prostitute whomt his brothers had brought into his bedroom to tempt him from his commitment to chastity. Blessed Franz Jägerstäetter would not give up his conscientious objection, even when his own parish priest tried to convince him to go with the flow and fight for the Third Reich. All of these saints knew too well the Lord’s demand that even our closest relationships be offered at His altar as part of our sacrifice.
In the ancient mind, a sacrifice was not just something that was laid down upon the altar. It was something that had to go up in flames to God. It had to be burned completely, such that the only remnant from this holocaust were its ashes: the stuff from which we came, the stuff to which we all are headed. Everything else was handed over to God.
Perhaps, this is what Christ meant when He said to His disciples, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing” (Lk. 12:49). Christ was not speaking about pyromania; He simply wants all that we have, all that we are, even all to whom we are related, to be caught up in the burning fire of His love.
We usually associate blistering flames with hellfire, scorching heat with the devil’s inferno. Yet, in his Divine Comedy (cf. Inferno, Canto xxxiv), the poet Dante Alighieri describes the floor of hell not as a fiery pit but as a frozen pool. There the devil is trapped waist deep in ice, there the faithless are literally left out in the cold.
Our faith in Christ is not meant to be frigid in any way. It is supposed to blaze a trail to Heaven; it is supposed to light up the path to everlasting life. Our faith is meant to be too hot to handle because only then can it stir up our spirits and make this parish burn to a fever pitch.