Homily October 26th – Fr. Nathaniel Dreyer – From the Pulpit

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time – Option 2 – Lk 12:49-53

            There is a story, found in the writings of the Desert Fathers, about two monks, Abba (Father) Joseph and Father Lot. Lot went to go see Joseph and told him, “Father, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.” Another time he told him, “You cannot be a monk unless you become like a consuming fire.”[1]

            In today’s Gospel, in the midst of telling His listeners about the need to be prepared for God’s coming, Christ seems to suddenly change topics, announcing: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” That reference to fire reminds us of three things: first, that our service to Christ must be all-consuming and completely sacrificial. Sometimes we speak of offering ourselves as a living holocaust. That the word holocaust, comes from the Greek holokauston, from holos ‘whole’ and kaustos ‘burned,’ and is what the Greek translation of the Bible would use to refer to the burnt offerings of the Old Testament, the greatest ones in which the victims were entirely consumed. When we talk about making our life an offering, we mean it must be all consuming, and be complete, without reservations or hesitations.

            Secondly, fire is also transformative. We can think of the tongues of fire that came upon the Apostles and Mary at Pentecost. When we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ and to the Holy Spirit, our lives are transformed. From being weak men with problems, we can become strong missionaries who are vessels to bring salvation to others. This, however, requires a dying to self.

            Thirdly, fire is also purifying. Many times the Bible uses the imagery of fire to represent God’s purifying action in our souls, and oftentimes it does so referring to metals, particularly silver. The process of refining uses high temperatures to burn off all the impurities present in a piece of metal. However, the process for silver is particularly involved and delicate, and too much time in the fire ruins the metal. So, how does the refiner know exactly when the silver is ready? As one Catholic Biblical scholar writes [A. Robinson, CBQ, 11 (1949), 189f.], “there is a dramatic moment when [the silversmith] knows that all dross has gone from it. Peering over it, the silver suddenly becomes a liquid mirror in which the image of the refiner is reflected [in other words, when the refiner can see his face in it]. Then he knows that his task is done.” In a similar way, God allows us to be tested by fire, that is, by the trials and temptations of this life. Rather than destroy us, which would happen if we were not held in the hands of an all-powerful, all-loving God, the trials slowly burn away all that is not God. That process of purification is complete when we bear the image of God, when we become a perfect reflection of His likeness.

            Today, through the intercession of Our Lady, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, let us ask for the grace to be transformed into fire by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

[1] Christine Valters Paintner, Desert Fathers and Mothers, 137. Cardinal Collins recently cited this story in a talk for Vocations Directors.



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