Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!
Prayer for Justice
Father, you have given all peoples one common origin.
It is your will that they be gathered together
as one family in yourself.
Fill the hearts of mankind with the fire of your love
and with the desire to ensure justice for all.
By sharing the good things you give us,
may we secure an equality for all
our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
May there be an end to division, strife and war.
May there be a dawning of a truly human society
built on love and peace.
We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Lord.
O God, who have prepared for those who love you
good things which no eye can see,
fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love,
so that, loving you in all things and above all things,
we may attain your promises,
which surpass every human desire.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Jer 38:4-6, 8-10
In those days, the princes said to the king: “Jeremiah ought to be put to death; he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such things to them; he is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin.” King Zedekiah answered: “He is in your power”; for the king could do nothing with them. And so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah, which was in the quarters of the guard,letting him down with ropes. There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.
Ebed-melech, a court official, went there from the palace and said to him: “My lord king, these men have been at fault in all they have done to the prophet Jeremiah, casting him into the cistern. He will die of famine on the spot, for there is no more food in the city.” Then the king ordered Ebed-melech the Cushite to take three men along with him, and draw the prophet Jeremiah out of the cistern before he should die.
We have in Jeremiah a man of God who suffered all his life for the sake of the true religion. He saw how his compatriots, led by wicked kings, were gradually forgetting their God and their mission in life. God had not made them his Chosen People so that they would become wealthy and politically powerful–he chose them so that they would keep the knowledge of the true God alive until the Messiah, who would bring God’s knowledge to all men, should come on earth. This was Jeremiah’s message. This was his convinced faith. This he preached, completely regardless of the consequences to himself.
He was a thorn in the side of the wicked king and princes, whose ambitions were earthly power and prosperity. These ambitions he roundly and ceaselessly condemned. He could have led a life of relative comfort. He owned property outside of the city and he could have served God faithfully himself and let the others go their sinful ways. But God had given him his prophetic vocation and he was true to that call to the bitter end. He never counted the costs.
Jeremiah, the suffering prophet, was a type of our loving Savior, who suffered torture and the cruel death of the cross in order to call mankind away from the folly of worldly pursuits, and to set their hearts on the one pursuit that really mattered–the attainment of the everlasting happiness which his coming on earth had made possible for them. The princes and leaders of the Chosen People, like their predecessors in the days of Jeremiah, would have none of this talk. They wanted political freedom from their pagan Roman rulers. They had ambitions for a world empire of power and plenty in this life. So they had Jesus put to death. But their scheming was in vain. Like Jeremiah who was taken out of the cistern, the Father raised Jesus from the grave, and the spiritual empire they did not want was established.
We must admire Jeremiah, the courageous prophet of God, who tried to save his fellow-Jews from their own folly. How much greater must be our admiration for the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who “although he was God emptied himself of his divinity” and became like one of us, in order to live, suffer and die for our sake. He suffered and died so that we could have eternal life. He came on earth so that we could get to heaven. He lowered himself to the humble level of man, so that man could be raised up to son-ship with God.
The more we think of this infinite divine love, the more we see ourselves to be unworthy of it. How quickly we grumble when called on to make some small sacrifice for our own salvation. How hard it is to drag us away from the fleeting, passing things of this life even though we know, and are convinced, that nothing really matters but to reach the eternal kingdom. Christ suffered and died for all men. How willing are we to suffer a little inconvenience, to give a little of our wealth or time, to help a neighbor for whom Christ died?
Our world today is like Judah in the days of Jeremiah. It has once known God, but it is daily falling further and further away from him and from his commandments. What it needs is thousands of Jeremiahs who will “demoralize” the advocates of earthly pleasure and a pagan outlook in life. This can be done more effectively by example than by word. If all those who are numbered as Christians would live the Christian life in all sincerity, the drums of the anti-God legion would be silenced by the prayers and the good works of those who know what God has done for them and what he has in store for them.
Ps 40:2, 3, 4, 18
Lord, come to my aid!
I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me.
Lord, come to my aid!
The LORD heard my cry.
He drew me out of the pit of destruction,
out of the mud of the swamp;
he set my feet upon a crag;
he made firm my steps.
Lord, come to my aid!
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.
Many shall look on in awe
and trust in the LORD.
Lord, come to my aid!
Though I am afflicted and poor,
yet the LORD thinks of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
O my God, hold not back!
Lord, come to my aid!
Brothers and sisters:
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.
Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 147 The Old Testament is rich in witnesses to this faith. The Letter to the Hebrews proclaims its eulogy of the exemplary faith of the ancestors who “received divine approval”.1 Yet “God had foreseen something better for us”: the grace of believing in his Son Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”.2
CCC 165 It is then we must turn to the witnesses of faith: to Abraham, who “in hope. .. believed against hope”;3 to the Virgin Mary, who, in “her pilgrimage of faith”, walked into the “night of faith”4 in sharing the darkness of her son’s suffering and death; and to so many others: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”5
CCC 598 In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that “sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured.”6 Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself,7 the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone:
We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt. And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” We, however, profess to know him. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him.8
Nor did demons crucify him; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.9
CCC 1161 All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. They make manifest the “cloud of witnesses”10 who continue to participate in the salvation of the world and to whom we are united, above all in sacramental celebrations. Through their icons, it is man “in the image of God,” finally transfigured “into his likeness,”11 who is revealed to our faith. So too are the angels, who also are recapitulated in Christ:
Following the divinely inspired teaching of our holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church (for we know that this tradition comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in her) we rightly define with full certainty and correctness that, like the figure of the precious and life-giving cross, venerable and holy images of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, our inviolate Lady, the holy Mother of God, and the venerated angels, all the saints and the just, whether painted or made of mosaic or another suitable material, are to be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and vestments, walls and panels, in houses and on streets.12
CCC 2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom,13 especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things.”14 Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.
1 Heb 11:2, 39.
2 Heb 11:40; 12:2.
3 Rom 4:18.
4 LG 58; John Paul II, RMat 18.
5 Heb 12:1-2. Article 2.
6 Roman Catechism I, 5, 11; cf. Heb 12:3.
7 Cf. Mt 25:45; Acts 9:4-5.
8 Roman Catechism I, 5, 11; cf. Heb 6:6; 1 Cor 2:8.
9 St. Francis of Assisi, Admonitio 5, 3.
10 Heb 12:1.
11 Cf. Rom 8:29; 1 Jn 3:2.
12 Council of Nicaea II: DS 600.
13 Cf. Heb 12:1.
14 Cf. Mt 25:21.
We can get so accustomed to looking at a crucifix that it may cease to make any real impression on our minds. We see a brass or ivory model of a man nailed hand and foot to a small wooden cross. We know this represents Christ nailed to the cross for us, but we seldom stop to think of the suffering, the torture this nailing of human hands and feet entailed.
Most of us dread the doctor’s syringe which is pushed quickly through a soft, fleshy part of our body. Think for a moment of a thick nail being hammered through one of your hands. It goes through flesh, nerves, muscle and bone, causing an excruciating pain. Have this repeated for the second hand for your two feet. The very thought would make a strong man shiver and the weaker amongst us faint for fear.
Yet, this is what happened to Christ on Calvary–he did not faint and thus lessen the pain, because he willed not to. He remained fully conscious for three hours while the excruciating pains continued. All this terrible torture was endured for us! We are grateful, of course, to him and when we are feeling devout we would love to make some return to him for all he suffered for our sake. When he sends us a little cross, however, so that we can imitate him in a small little way, how do we react? Do we welcome it and grasp it to our hearts saying: “Thank you, Jesus, for giving me the privilege to do something in return for all you did for me,” or do we ask him immediately to remove it, or worse still, grumble and grouse and show God how displeased we are with him for treating us like that?
The author of Hebrews says that our Lord endured the cross for the sake of the joy which lay before him. A great part of that joy was our resurrection to a glorified existence in the future life which his cross was earning for us. Surely we should be willing and ready to endure our small crosses so that we could, in even a tiny way, cooperate with him in the attainment of that eternal joy which he earned for us.
It is true that human nature does not take gladly to sacrifices. We would all like life on earth to run smoothly and without hardships of any kind. But as Christians we know that bearing the troubles and trials of this life is the means God gives us to cooperate in our salvation. Every athlete knows that to win a race he must train, and train hard. He must cut down on his eating. He must control his bodily desires. He must strain his limbs and muscles again and again, before he can feel fit to enter the contest. We are told today in this Epistle that the Christian life is like running a race. We enter this race in order to win, but unless we are in training, unless we avoid the worldly impediments of sin and selfishness, we’ll find ourselves unable to compete because of the unnecessary and impossible weight of worldliness which we have taken on our shoulders.
Think again, and think deeply today, on the crucifixion of Christ on Calvary for your sake. Look at the crosses which you are asked to carry. Compare them with this. He did all this for you. You are asked to do this for yourself. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and on the reward he has won for you, and the trials and troubles of your earthly life will appear in their true perspective, as a puny price to pay for perpetual happiness in the life to come.
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.”
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 536 The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners; he is already “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.1 Already he is anticipating the “baptism” of his bloody death.2 Already he is coming to “fulfil all righteousness”, that is, he is submitting himself entirely to his Father’s will: out of love he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins.3 The Father’s voice responds to the Son’s acceptance, proclaiming his entire delight in his Son.4 The Spirit whom Jesus possessed in fullness from his conception comes to “rest on him”.5 Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind. At his baptism “the heavens were opened”6 – the heavens that Adam’s sin had closed – and the waters were sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit, a prelude to the new creation.
CCC 607 The desire to embrace his Father’s plan of redeeming love inspired Jesus’ whole life,7 for his redemptive passion was the very reason for his Incarnation. And so he asked, “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.”8 And again, “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?”9 From the cross, just before “It is finished”, he said, “I thirst.”10
CCC 696 Fire. While water signifies birth and the fruitfulness of life given in the Holy Spirit, fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions. The prayer of the prophet Elijah, who “arose like fire” and whose “word burned like a torch,” brought down fire from heaven on the sacrifice on Mount Carmel.11 This event was a “figure” of the fire of the Holy Spirit, who transforms what he touches. John the Baptist, who goes “before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah,” proclaims Christ as the one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”12 Jesus will say of the Spirit: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!”13 In the form of tongues “as of fire,” the Holy Spirit rests on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost and fills them with himself14 The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit’s actions.15 “Do not quench the Spirit.”16
CCC 1225 In his Passover Christ opened to all men the fountain of Baptism. He had already spoken of his Passion, which he was about to suffer in Jerusalem, as a “Baptism” with which he had to be baptized.17 The blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus are types of Baptism and the Eucharist, the sacraments of new life.18 From then on, it is possible “to be born of water and the Spirit”19 in order to enter the Kingdom of God.
See where you are baptized, see where Baptism comes from, if not from the cross of Christ, from his death. There is the whole mystery: he died for you. In him you are redeemed, in him you are saved.20
CCC 2804 The first series of petitions carries us toward him, for his own sake: thy name, thy kingdom, thy will! It is characteristic of love to think first of the one whom we love. In none of the three petitions do we mention ourselves; the burning desire, even anguish, of the beloved Son for his Father’s glory seizes us:21 “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done. .. ” These three supplications were already answered in the saving sacrifice of Christ, but they are henceforth directed in hope toward their final fulfillment, for God is not yet all in all.22
1 Jn 1:29; cf. Is 53:12.
2 Cf. Mk 10:38; Lk 12:50.
3 Mt 3:15; cf. 26:39.
4 Cf. Lk 3:22; Is 42:1.
5 Jn 1:32-33; cf. Is 11:2.
6 Mt 3:16.
7 Cf Lk 12:50; 22:15; Mt 16:21-23.
8 Jn 12:27.
9 Jn 18:11.
10 Jn 19:30; 19:28.
11 Sir 48:1; cf. 1 Kings 18:38-39.
12 Lk 1:17; 3:16.
13 Lk 12:49.
14 Acts 2:3-4.
15 Cf. St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, tr. K. Kavanaugh, OCD, and O. Rodriguez, OCD (Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979), 577 ff.
16 1 Thess 5:1.
17 Mk 10:38; cf. Lk 12:50.
18 Cf. Jn 19:34; 1 Jn 5:6-8.
19 Cf. Jn 3:5.
20 St. Ambrose, De sacr. 2, 2, 6: PL 16, 444; cf. Jn 3:5.
21 Cf. Lk 22:14; 12:50.
22 Cf. 1 Cor 15:28.
Christ foresaw his sufferings in their minutest details, and like any human being this foresight and anticipation caused him anguish of spirit. He also foresaw the result of his sufferings–the elevation of mankind to be sons of God, and heirs presumptive of heaven. This far outweighed the load of sufferings because he loved man with an infinite love.
He came to light a fire on this earth. He lit that fire and it is still burning brightly in the hearts of many. Unfortunately for them, there are far too many in whom it has turned to ashes. That he foresaw also, and it added to his anguish of spirit. The thought that his sufferings and his humiliations would be in vain for so many, added greatly to his grief.
We who appreciate what he has done for us, and who are striving hard against our natural weaknesses to profit by his salvific work, can do something to console him for the desertion of so many that he still loves dearly. God wants no human being lost eternally. He detests sin but he still loves the sinner. He is always ready to grant a full pardon for each and every sin a man commits, if only the sinner has the humility to say “mea culpa.”
Let those of us who have remained faithful never let a day pass without a fervent prayer for the prodigal sons of God, that they will get the humility to return to their father’s home and ask for his pardon. Another grace, too, that we must ask of God is that peace between fellowman will soon be restored. Christ foresaw that this concord would be broken, because of his very gospel of peace. First and foremost we must pray for, and do everything we can to help bring about, a reunion between all Christians who are followers of Christ by their baptism. Thanks to the late saintly Pope John, active steps are now being taken to restore the unity which Christ wished and intended to exist among his followers. We may not be able to solve the theological problems which are preventing this unity, and each of us can do much to make personal contacts between the members of what were once opposing Churches. We are all followers of Christ, we are all on the road to heaven–if we really love God and if we really appreciate what the Son of God has done for us, we must want every one of his followers to be in heaven with him.
Let us put aside all past prejudices and opinions. Neither we nor our separated brethren are responsible for the sins and failings of our ancestors in the eleventh or the sixteenth centuries. We are responsible for our own actions today. We are failing Christ if we do not take a sincere and active interest in the noble and truly Christian work of ecumenism.
To mention our brothers in Christ first, does not mean we forget the children of Abraham whom, in our Mass, we call “our father in faith.” They are still dear to God. We are now the Chosen People of the New Covenant but that New Covenant is for them also. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, Greek or Barbarian in the Church of Christ. It is for all mankind, as St. Paul tells us. The followers of Mohammed also have much in common with us Christians; they believe in one God, the Creator of all, but not yet in the Trinity. They believe in a future life and hope to reach it by keeping the rules laid down by their Prophet. While respecting the beliefs of Jew and Moslem, which correspond with some of those we ourselves hold, let us pray fervently that God will give them the grace to recognize Jesus as the Person he was, the Son of God in human nature, who came on earth to make us fit for heaven.
God speed the day, and let us each give him a helping hand in this work, when not only all Christians will be one but when our Jewish and Muslim fellowman will also be with us, thanking Christ for all that he has done for us. That day may still be a long way off, but every step I take towards bringing it about, is bringing me a step nearer to heaven and making me dearer to God.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission from Franciscan Press.
Making God Present in Society
We all ask ourselves what the Lord expects from us… There is a desire to reduce God to the private sphere, to a sentiment… As a result, everyone makes his or her own plan of life. But this vision, presented as though it were scientific, accepts as valid only what can be proven. With a God who is not available for immediate experimentation, this vision ends by also injuring society. The result is in fact that each one makes his own plan and in the end finds himself opposed to the other. As can be seen, this is definitely an unlivable situation. We must make God present again in our society. This is the first essential element: that God be once again present in our lives, that we do not live as though we were autonomous, authorized to invent that freedom and life are. We must realize that we are creatures, aware that there is a God who has created us and that living in accordance with his will is not dependence but a gift of love that makes us alive. Therefore, the first point is to know God, to know him better and better, to recognize that God is in my life, and that God has a place… The second point, therefore, is recognizing God who has shown us his face in Jesus, who suffered for us, who loved us to the point of dying, and thus overcame violence. It is necessary to make the living God present in our “own” lives first of all… a God only thought of, but a God who has shown himself, who has shown his being and his face. Only in this way do our lives become true, authentically human: hence, the criteria of true humanism emerge in society.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
The Prayer You are Christ (by Saint Augustine of Hippo.)
You are Christ, my Holy Father, my Tender God, my Great King, my Good Shepherd, my Only Master, my Best Helper, my Most Beautiful and my Beloved, my Living Bread, my Priest Forever, my Leader to my Country, my True Light, my Holy Sweetness, my Straight Way, my Excellent Wisdom, my Pure Simplicity, my Peaceful Harmony, my Entire Protection, my Good Portion, my Everlasting Salvation.
Christ Jesus, Sweet Lord, why have I ever loved, why in my whole life have I ever desired anything except You, Jesus my God? Where was I when I was not in spirit with You? Now, from this time forth, do you, all my desires, grow hot, and flow out upon the Lord Jesus: run… you have been tardy until now; hasten where you are going; seek Whom you are seeking. O, Jesus may he who loves You not be an anathema; may he who loves You not be filled with bitterness.
O, Sweet Jesus, may every good feeling that is fitted for Your praise, love You, delight in You, adore You! God of my heart, and my Portion, Christ Jesus, may my heart faint away in spirit, and may You be my Life within me! May the live coal of Your Love grow hot within my spirit and break forth into a perfect fire; may it burn incessantly on the altar of my heart; may it glow in my innermost being; may it blaze in hidden recesses of my soul; and in the days of my consummation may I be found consummated with You!