“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish I were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49)
The Christian will always be a symbol of division. In this world where the truth takes a back seat to lies, where we are surrounded by a society that goes totally contrary to what Christ taught us, anyone who speaks the truth of Christ will be seen as a lunatic, as out of touch, as an outcast, as crazy as Christ appeared to many. So when Jesus tells us that he has come to set fire to the earth, what he is proposing is a spiritual flood, a little bit different than the flood of Noah, but he seeks to make all things new. The brush fires that we constantly see in the Everglades are natural, and they clear away the old to make way for the new, for more vibrant vegetation and life. That fire that Jesus desires is meant to purify, to cleanse; to help us, as the second reading tells us, to “rid ourselves of every burden of sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus." That fire should help us detach from the world, and live only for Christ.
If today weren’t Sunday, we’d be celebrating the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Here was a priest of the 20th century who detached from the world with his eyes fixed solely on Jesus and the Blessed Mother. This inclination, this freedom he had is what allowed him to do what he did in probably the darkest and most horrific place in human history: Auschwitz. Freed from everything of this world and living only for Christ, St. Maximilian laid down his life for someone else. Having been arrested in Poland during the Nazi occupation of World War II, St. Max was sent to Auschwitz. One day a prisoner escaped and the Nazis ordered that ten random men be put to death as punishment for the escape. St. Max was not chosen, but there was a man who was a husband and father who was chosen to die. St. Max volunteered to take his place which the Nazis allowed. Even in the darkest of places where God seemed to be absent, this priest brought the love of God and became a sign of division, of hope, of the fire of the Holy Spirit that had consumed his heart. St. Max lived out one of his most famous sayings: “The poison of our times is indifference." He was not indifferent to the suffering around him. He became a martyr and a model for Christian life. He took the gospel literally and laid down his life for a friend. This was a man who was sent to set the earth on fire, and he did so by giving his life.
But how do we set the earth on fire? How do we cause division? The Holy Father this morning said that this gospel serves as a reminder that we need this fire in our Church lest we become cold or lukewarm. People should feel a warm embrace when they come into church. This comes from impassioned missionaries of the gospel and not from once a week, punches the one-hour time clock Catholic. All of us have a responsibility to light this fire and to be the voice for the voiceless. Yes, following Jesus is difficult. It causes division. Many families are already divided this morning because some chose to come to Mass while others chose another priority. What can be more important than worshiping Christ on his day, the Lord's Day? Set the earth on fire even if it’s in your home. Don't be afraid. Be bold. And if it causes division: good! We are doing what the Lord commanded. We are fulfilling our baptismal call to be prophetic. Sure it may get us thrown into a metaphorical cistern like Jeremiah in the first reading, but Jesus is always at our side.
Did you know that St. Max was the last to die in that death chamber? He encouraged his fellow inmates. He prayed. He sang. He had no fear of death. Even "defeated" he was setting the earth on fire until his last breath. May we all learn from his example. We cannot be indifferent. We have to ask ourselves how we are helping our parish grow and how we are setting the earth on fire for this is what our Lord desires. May our parish always be a place of warmth, of welcome, and may we bring the fire of Jesus onto the earth to purify, restore, and give new life.