Fire of Love

Lectio Divina: XX Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

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XX Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – August 14, 2016
Roman rite
Jer 38, 4-6.8-10; Ps 40; B 12.1 to 4; Lk 12.49 to 53
Ambrosian Rite
Ne 1, 1-4; 2.1 to 8; Ps 83; Rm 15.25 to 32; Mt 21.10 to 16
XIII Sunday after Pentecost
1) Desire.
In today’s Gospel Jesus, the Word of God made man for the salvation of all, talks about his intense and agonizing desire to realize the mission that the Father has entrusted to him. With fiery words Christ shows an unending love that has as goal to get us into Love.
Before commenting on these words, I’d like to invite you to reread them: “ Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. “(Lk 12: 49-53).
Of course, when the Redeemer speaks of division and “hate”, he does not mean it in the sense that we give to these words, namely a perverse sentiment against someone. He means the total detachment from self to make room for Love: a Love that in Jesus was indeed a “baptism”, a “fire” of love that burned inside.
The Son of God has the desire to light the fire of love on earth. It is a focus of light and love, because:
it is the fire of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost;
it is the fire that makes sure that the truth will become mercy. Mercy, like fire, kindles those next to us because love is like fire, if it is not kindled it dies out;
it is the purifying fire of God’s judgment, the fire of merciful love that saves the world.
Therefore, Jesus has this great desire to start a fire that
is Love that shapes the world;
is love which purifies and transforms;
is the powerful Love that gives light and heat.
If we walk by a fire, we feel the heat. Christ is a burning fire that warms, renews, and makes us capable of loving and serving man with divine love. Jesus is the fire to take in the land of our heart.
Until all the hearts and minds of men will burn with this fire, the word of the gospel is an ineffective sound and the Kingdom will still be far away. To renew the frail and sick human family, a fire of pain and passion is needed. The filth that disfigures the body, closes the ears and stifles the hearts must be incinerated by the spiritual fire that Jesus came to light. This fire is not the destruction of evil but the salvation of good. It is the holy fire.
Christ gives us the fire that is not extinguished and comes from heaven. It is the fire of the Spirit of Christ. A fire of the Spirit that renews the face of the earth and makes it the bright and warm expression of God’s presence among us. It is the fire of his Spirit, the baptism of love, the baptism of Spirit and fire.
2) Anguish.
In today’s Gospel, Christ speaks of his desire to light the fire of love on earth. At the same time, he speaks also of the anguish that this fire must suffer through the water of his death. Even our present is a struggle between the desire for good and the anguish of evil and between peace and difficult choices. It is a conflict that we are called to live with discernment, knowing that always, in every day of our lives, we are called to choose what is right, even if there are costs to be paid.
Why does Jesus speak of anguish? Jesus says to be in anguish because he knows that this fire will be lit and shared through his death on the Cross. This holy Wood is the cradle of the new Bethlehem (which means the city of bread), the new manger of the Bread consumed, the new inn of Emmaus of the Bread broken, and the new Bethany, home of the fragrant bread offered to men forever. It was at Bethany that Mary washed the feet of Christ with nard balm, symbol of mercy.
Jesus is in anguish, because he knows that this fire comes from a baptism, from a water which flows from Him on the cross. The Cross is the crucible that can turn us into witnesses (martyrs in Greek) followers of Christ, the Martyr par excellence. In the heart of the Church throbs the heart of Christ: the anguish and longing that drove him in the urgency of witnessing the Truth are pushing the apostles and all Christians to proclaim the Gospel.
3) Division or peace?
The fire of Christ is able to expand without doing damage like a blaze. It creates warm ties of lively exchange. It is a lively and peaceful fire. The peace of Jesus is based on unselfish and unlimited love, given for free.
At this point, a spontaneous question arises: “If Christ is the Prince of Peace, why is he saying that he came to bring division and not peace?”.
This contradiction arises not because Jesus came into the world to bring division and war, but because division and contrast arise inevitably from his coming because he puts people in front of a decision. Confronted with the need to decide, the human freedom will react differently and contradictorily. The word of the Redeemer and his very person bring to the surface what is hidden in the depths of the human heart. The elderly Simeon, taking the baby Jesus in his arms, had predicted it: “He is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2, 34). The first victim of this contradiction, the first to suffer from the “sword” that he came to bring on earth, will be indeed he, who in this conflict will lose his life to give us Life.
4) The Virgins consecrated in the world and the division.
The expectation of the good things opens the heart to joy, while the waiting for the sad and bad things puts in front of the drama of fear and of the unknown. In this case it is really a leap in the dark. Jesus, however, is light, hope, happiness, serenity: he is Everything.
At this Everything the consecrated Virgins in the world offered themselves without reserve. For that they too experience the division that Christ brings. It is a division that creates separation from the flesh, but that is a prelude to eternal communion. Indeed, virginity implies this radical departure in order to be in complete and exclusive communion with Christ.
It is not only a separation from something but for Someone who loves to give life.
In this way, with their virginal offering, the consecrated virgins testify that being Disciples of Christ means to be his. We do not belong to us anymore. This is the deepest meaning of the hard and difficult words of today’s Gospel: we must “dare” hate, division, even the hardest, without looking back to bury the death or say goodbye. For the love of our dearest, often we are called to radically cut ties with them because “the cunning opponent, when he sees himself banished from the hearts of good, looks for the dearest to them, and speaks through them with caressing words: so that, having penetrated the heart with the power of love, the sword of his persuasion may easily come into the fortress of inner righteousness “(St. Gregory the Great).

Patristic Reading
Golden Chain
On Lk 12,47 – 53
THEOPHYL. Our Lord here points to something still greater and more terrible, for the unfaithful steward shall not only be deprived of the grace he had, so that it should profit him nothing in escaping punishment, but the greatness of his dignity shall the rather become a cause of his condemnation. Hence it is said, And that servant who knew his lord’s will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.
CHRYS. For all things are not judged alike in all, but greater knowledge is an occasion of greater punishment. Therefore shall the Priest, committing the same sin with the people, suffer a far heavier penalty.
CYRIL; For the man of understanding who has given up his will to baser things will shamelessly implore pardon, because he has committed an inexcusable sin, departing as it were maliciously from the will of God, but the rude or unlearned man will more reasonably ask for pardon of the avenger. Hence it is added, But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes
THEOPHYL. Here some object, saying, He is deservedly punished who, knowing the will of His Lord, pursues it not; but why is the ignorant punished? Because when he might have known, he would not, but being himself slothful, was the cause of his own ignorance.
BASIL; But you will say, If the one indeed received many stripes, and the other few, how do some say He assigns no end to punishments? But we must know, that what is here said assigns neither measure nor end of punishments, but their differences. For a man may deserve unquenchable fire, to either a slight or more intense degree of heat, and the worm that dies not with greater or more violent gnawings.
THEOPHYL. But he goes on to show why teachers and learned men deserve a severer punishment, as it is said, For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required. Teachers indeed are given the grace to perform miracles, but entrusted the grace of speech and learning. But not in that which is given, He says, is any thing more to be sought, but in that which is entrusted or deposited; for the grace of the word needs increase. But from a teacher more is required, for he should not lie idle, but improve the talent of the word.
BEDE; Or else, much is often given also to certain individuals, upon whom is bestowed the knowledge of God’s will, and the means of performing what they know; much also is given to him to whom, together with his own salvation, is committed the care also of feeding our Lord’s flock. Upon those then who are gifted with more abundant grace a heavier penalty falls; but the mildest punishment of all will be theirs, who, beyond the guilt they originally contracted, have added none besides; and in all who have added, theirs will be the more tolerable who have committed fewest iniquities.
On Lc 12,49-53
AMBROSE; To stewards, that is, to Priests, the preceding words seem to have been addressed, that they may thereby know that hereafter a heavier punishment awaits them, if, intent upon the world’s pleasures, they have neglected the charge of their Lord’s household, and the people entrusted to their care. But as it profits little to be recalled from error by the fear of punishment, and far greater is the privilege of charity and love, our Lord therefore kindles in men the desire of acquiring the divine nature, saying, I came to send fire on earth, not indeed that He is the Consumer of good men, but the Author of good will, who purifies the golden vessels of the Lord’s house, but burns up the straw and stubble.
CYRIL; Now it is the way of holy Scripture to use sometimes the term fire, of holy and divine words. For as they who know how to purify gold and silver, destroy the dross by fire, so the Savior by the teaching of the Gospel in the power of the Spirit cleanses the minds of those who believe in Him. This then is that wholesome and useful fire by which the inhabitants of earth, in a manner cold and dead through sin, revive to a life of piety.
CHRYS. For by the earth He now means not that which we tread under our feet, but that which was fashioned by His hands, namely, man, upon whom the Lord pours out fire for the consuming of sins, and the renewing of souls.
TIT. BOST. And we must here believe that Christ came down from heaven. For if He had come from earth to earth, He would not say, I came to send fire upon the earth.
CYRIL; But our Lord was hastening the kindling of the fire, and hence it follows, And what will I, save that it be kindled? For already some of the Jews believed, of whom the first were the holy Apostles, but the fire once lighted in Judea was about to take possession of the whole world, yet not till after the dispensation of His Passion had been accomplished. Hence it follows, But I have a baptism to be baptized with. For before the holy cross and His resurrection from the dead, in Judea only was the news told of His preaching and miracles; but after that the Jews in their rage had slain the Prince of life, then commanded He His Apostles, saying, Go and teach all nations.
GREG. Or else, fire is sent upon the earth, when by the fiery breath of the Holy Spirit, the earthly mind has all its carnal desires burnt up, but inflamed with spiritual love, bewails the evil it has done; and so the earth is burnt, when the conscience accusing itself, the heart of the sinner is consumed in the sorrow of repentance.
BEDE; But He adds, 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.
AMBROSE; But so greet was our Lord’s condescension, that He tells us He has a desire of inspiring us with devotion, of accomplishing perfection in us, and of hastening His passion for us; as it follows, And how am I straightened till it be accomplished
BEDE; Some manuscripts have, “And how am I anguished,” that is, grieved. For though He had in Himself nothing to grieve Him, yet was as He afflicted by our woes, and at the time of death He betrayed the anguish which He underwent not from the fear of His death, but from the delay of our redemption. For he who is troubled until he reaches perfection, is secure of perfection, for the condition of bodily affections not the dread of death offends him. For he who has put on the body must suffer all things which are of the body, hunger, thirst, vexation, sorrow; but the Divine nature knows no change from such feelings. At the same time He also shows, that in the conflict of suffering consists the death of the body, peace of mind has no struggle with grief.
BEDE; But the manner in which after the baptism of His passion and the coming of the spiritual fire the earth will be burnt, He declares as follows, Suppose you that I am to give peace, &c.
CYRIL; What say you, O Lord? Did you not come to give peace, Who art made peace for us? making peace by your cross with things in earth and things in heaven; Who said, My peace I give to you. But it is plain that peace is indeed a good, but sometimes hurtful, and separating us from the love of God, that is, when by it we unite with those who keep away from God. And for this reason we e teach the faithful to avoid earthly bonds. Hence it follows, For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, &c.
AMBROSE; Though the connection would seem to be of six persons, father and son, mother and daughter, mother in law and daughter in law, yet are they five, for the mother and the mother in law may be taken as the same, since she who is the mother of the son, is the mother in law of his wife.
CHRYS. Now hereby He declared a future event, for it so happened in the same house that there have been believers whose fathers wished to bring them to unbelief; but the power of Christ’s doctrines has so prevailed, that fathers were left by sons, mothers by daughters, and children by parents. For the faithful in Christ were content not only to despise their own, but at the same time also to suffer all things as long as they were not without the worship of their faith. But if He were mere man, how would it have occurred to Him to conceive it possible that He should be more loved by fathers than their children were, by children than their fathers, by husbands than their wives, and they too not in one house or a hundred, but throughout the world? And not only did he predict this, but accomplish it in deed.
AMBROSE; Now in a mystical sense the one house is one man, but by two we often mean the soul and the body. But if two things meet together, each one has its part; there is one which obeys, another which rules. But there are three conditions of the soul, one concerned with reason, another with desire, the third with anger. Two then are divided against three, and three against two. For by the coming of Christ, man who was material became rational. We were carnal and earthly, God sent His Spirit into our hearts, and we became spiritual children. We may also say, that in the house there are five others, that is, smell, touch, taste, sight, and hearing. If then with respect to those things which we hear or see, separating the sense of sight and hearing, we shut out the worthless pleasures of the body which we take in by our taste, touch, and smell, we divide two against three, because the mind is not carried away by the allurements of vice. Or if we understand the five bodily senses, already are the vices and sins of the body divided among themselves. The flesh and the soul may also seem separated from the smell, touch, and taste of pleasure, for while the stronger sex of reason is impelled, as it were, to manly affections, the flesh strives to keep the reason more effeminate. Out of these then there spring up the motions of different desires, but when the soul returns to itself it renounces the degenerate offspring. The flesh also bewails that it is fastened down by its desires (which it has borne to itself,) as by the thorns of the world. But pleasure is a kind of daughter in law of the body and soul, and is wedded to the motions of foul desire. As long then as there remained in one house the vices conspiring together with one consent, there seemed to be no division; but when Christ sent fire upon the earth which should burn out the offenses of the heart, or the sword which should pierce the very secrets of the heart, then the flesh and the soul renewed by the mysteries of regeneration cast off the bond of connection with their offspring. So that parents are divided against their children, while the intemperate man gets rid of his intemperate desires, and the soul has no more fellowship with crime. Children also are divided against parents when men having become regenerate renounce their old vices, and younger pleasure flies from the rule of piety, as from the discipline of a strict house.
BEDE; Or in another way. By three are signified those who have faith in the Trinity, by two the unbelievers who depart from the unity of the faith. But the father is the devil, whose children we were by following him, but when that heavenly fire came down, it separated us from one another, and showed us another Father who is in heaven The mother is the Synagogue, the daughter is the Primitive Church, who had to bear the persecution of that same synagogue, from whom she derived her birth, and whom she did herself in the truth of the faith contradict. The mother in law is the Synagogue, the daughter in law the Gentile Church, for Christ the husband of the Church is the son of the Synagogue, according to the flesh. The Synagogue then was divided both against its daughter in law, and its daughter, persecuting believers of each people. But they also were divided against their mother in law and mother, because they wished to abolish the circumcision of the flesh.

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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