Jesus said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Lk. 12:49). What kind of fire is Jesus talking about? Is he thinking of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:23-25)? Fire certainly conjures up terrifying images of punishment for sins, such as the very real “eternal fire” about which St. Jude warns his readers (Jude 7).
Think instead about Pentecost: “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:3-4). That’s not punishment. That’s being on fire with the Holy Spirit. Mary is a beautiful example of this life in the Spirit. Dominican author Father Marie Vincent Bernadot hails her, “O Mary, Temple of the Trinity! Hearth of the divine fire!” She is a dwelling place for God, holding within and emanating forth the great love of the Trinity. Being on fire with the Holy Spirit is not reserved to Mary or to the apostles at Pentecost. God worked in their lives to raise up brilliant examples of what other human beings are destined to share in.
St. Paul exhorts us: “be aglow with the Spirit” (Rm 12:11). As a burning brand is one with a fire, so we can be one with God. The brand is not the fire, yet it is nearly indistinguishable from the fire because it has the same fiery redness, emanating an intense heat that is its own yet is received from and sustained by another. In the Holy Spirit, we are ablaze with the same fire of love that is at the heart of the Trinity itself. In a certain way we can share in the great outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.
Dominicans, it seems, have a kind of personal calling to be on fire. Blessed Jane of Aza, St. Dominic’s mother, had a vision of a dog with a torch in its mouth, setting fire to the whole world. This vocation is beautifully captured in I’m a Dog on our new album:
I’m a dog with a torch in my mouth for my Lord
Making noise while I got time
Spreading fire while I got earth
How you wish it was already lit
Give me your fire I’ll do your work
I’m just a dog for my Lord
Dominican or not, as Christians we are called to satisfy the Lord’s desire and set the world ablaze. As we cannot do this without his Holy Spirit, we can pray with St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, “O consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, ‘come upon me,’ and create in my soul a kind of incarnation of the Word: that I may be another humanity for Him in which He can renew His whole Mystery.” By offering our entire self, we are asking to be consumed by the fire of divine love, and for this fire to remain alive in our souls, we must be preserved from sin. The Eucharist, St. Thomas Aquinas explains, acts precisely to this end. Quoting St. John Chrysostom, he writes, “Like lions breathing forth fire, thus do we depart from that table, being made terrible to the devil.”
In the end, the fire with which Jesus wishes the world to be ablaze is a fire from God that springs up within each of us, enkindled by his own gifts of his Holy Spirit and the Holy Eucharist. What a great fire this is, St. Thomas affirms, quoting St. John Damascene: “The fire of that desire which is within us, being kindled by the burning coal [the Eucharist], will consume our sins, and enlighten our hearts, so that we shall be inflamed and made Godlike.” This is what Jesus yearns to do: to meet us in the intimacy of our hearts and set them on fire with the very same love that he himself enjoys.
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission).