Grace to you!
About twenty two hundred years ago ((164-152 B.C.), Leonidas, a runner from Rhodes, broke the Olympic record by winning 12 gold medals. This record, courtesy of the official website of the Olympic games (Olympic.org), was overtaken by Michael Phelps on Thursday, August 11, when he won 13 consecutive gold medals. Phelps ended his Olympic career two days later with 23 gold wreaths, the greatest in Olympic history. Many have wondered, what is the secret of his success?
Analysts have proposed answers. Phelps’ longer upper body, broad shoulder and long hands plus his flexibility, are his advantage. Others believe his work ethic (he spends hours working on his skills) did it. A few think it’s sheer luck, whereas others attribute it to his mental guts.
Four years ago, Amy Shipley of The Washington Post (June 14, 2012), predicted “Phelps's exacting mental standards and preparation propel him beyond other swimmers.” She argued that Phelps has mastered the psychology of speed. Surely, he has.
You can’t watch him without seeing his gut, his zeal, and his discipline – call it the fire for success running though his veins. He has got the passion. A passionate athlete could easily be noticed. Though not always because there are other criteria for success, but many times, passion inspires action. Passion is another way of saying motivation.
If you are a leader or a coach, you know how depressing it can be to see your team not motivated. You wish you had motivated people. When you have them, you feel like you can fly. Motivated people are on fire.
Fire has come to symbolize many things, from the good to the destructive. In Southern California where wild fire has continued to devastate many of the mountainous areas, the symbol of fire is terrifying.
Yet, fire is the key to purification, transforming raw materials and metals into refined products, and warming our menus for a delicious supper. When the fire of love is kindled in the heart, we see how the raw materials of our spiritual growth come alive for God’s glory. We begin to glow just like the face of Moses glowed while he was coming down from the mountain, having encountered the Lord.
But there is something about fire that speaks more than purification. Fire is the symbol of zeal and passion. “There is fire in his words,” means passionate words and enthusiasm.
It was logical that the Lord Jesus would speak of kindling fire upon earth right after his discussion on proper stewardship and the high expectation of one to whom much has been given (see Luke 12:41-48).
Fire also signifies intensity. There could be nothing more intense at the natural level than fire. So when we speak of the fire of love, it shows how intense that love is.
In the Gospel of Luke 12:49, Jesus declares: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!”
Could we get to the mind of Jesus to see how his wish isn’t simply a fantasy, but a prophecy which must be fulfilled? In that one line, Jesus speaks of his mission, as well as his commissioning for the disciples. He promised to set hearts and minds and the world on fire. This took place after what Jesus called “the baptism which I must be baptized,” meaning his crucifixion. Didn’t He set the disciples on fire on Pentecost day as he had promised? Isn’t that fire on for those who receive the Holy Spirit?
Understanding what this fire means is crucial to tapping its promise. It’s the fire of love, God’s burning love (Deuteronomy 4:24, Exodus 13:21-22), inspiring the giving up of Jesus’ life for love of us (John 3:16), “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
For Saints Ambrose, Cyril of Alexandria, and John Chrysostom, it is the fire of purification, purifying the dirt of sin in our hearts. The fire also symbolizes the Holy Spirit (Saint Bede, Acts 2).
A more recent spiritual writer, Saint Josemaría Escrivá, called it “apostolic fire that acquires its strength in prayer…” (Christ Is Passing By, 120). It is the fire of zeal for evangelization.
A heart aflame for love wants to give everything or give her all, like a mother to the most beloved child. If we are not afire for God and the Gospel, we won’t give our all. We won’t buy into God’s mission. The buying in, the passion, the motivation is from the Holy Spirit, “the principal agent of evangelization” (Saint Pope John Paul II).
The Spirit descended on the apostles on Pentecost like a dove, and guess what? They were on fire. No one can contain the fire of love, the fire of the gospel and its purifying grace in the heart of believers.
Get this straight: This fire isn’t simply an easy route or the “feel good” experience. Its consequence in a world cold to the things of God is direct opposition. Though the fire is about peace, love, grace and mercy, and about God’s boundless and burning love, many don’t want it or stand for it.
Opposition to the fire of charity brings persecution, division and conflicts, even within the same family. Jeremiah was on fire, and his prophecies made him Public Enemy No.1 of the political class. The letter to the Hebrews 12:4 speaks of the martyrdom which a faith on fire experiences, crushing the alluring pleasures of sin. It may be what Saint John of the Cross calls, the dark night of the senses.
The Lord Jesus has already warned believers about this scary persecution and the consequences of being on fire for God, so be ready. Hence, if you are a believer, man up. Be not afraid. Keep the fire burning.
Be courageous when faced with oppositions, knowing that extinguishing the fire of love because of the cold blood of hate isn’t the best option. Set the cold world of hate, apathy and evil on fire with the blazing fire of love, grace and righteousness. Amen.
I’m in for it, aren’t you?
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.