To burn with love is to really experience life as it should be lived.
I was at the scene of a large house fire once where I saw a dog run back into the building and come out a few minutes later carrying the cat by the scruff of the neck. True story. I guess that the cat and the dog were buddies. In my time as a priest I have attended emergency rooms to anoint fire victims and then the funerals of several people who died as a result of fires. I celebrated the funeral Mass of a brave firefighter, Bill Ellison, who died fighting a fire while trying to save those who were trapped inside a burning building. A fire is a dangerous thing and those who enter them to help save others are the bravest of people for it takes guts, heroism and sheer courage to enter a fire. Fire is a dangerous thing but, in my experience, I know firefighters who will walk through fire to save people they don’t know, have never met, in order to save their lives. Although we don’t say it this way, but the truth is - that’s love!
It is interesting that fire is the preeminent image of Jesus and the Christian. At Easter we light the Easter Fire which marks the presence of Christ in the world. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit descents in the form of fire. At baptism this flame is given to each person to be kept burning brightly. Maybe our Gospel, our faith, and maybe even we, are supposed to be dangerous. St. Patrick lit a fire to announce the coming of the Gospel to Ireland.
It is the image of fire that Jesus uses to describe His hope for the Gospel and its impact on our hearts, our lives and in our world. It’s the type of fire that consumes everything and consumes it completely. It is the type of fire that we speak about when we feel passionate about something or when we fall in love with someone and we just can’t help ourselves. Everything we have, everything we own, every ounce of our lives we would gladly give over in order to possess and be possessed by the one we love. It is the love that demands everything and to which we give our whole lives. It is a dangerous love. It burns deep and it burns bright. It is the fire that we have for a vision of life, a vision for society, and an ideal we share. It drives us, it consumes us, it burns us so deeply we are marked by it, sealed by it, and it lights our way. It is the sort of passion that leads a nation to fight an all-consuming war to lead a people out of slavery, lead a people to overcome injustice, refuses to accept unjust and immoral laws. It is the sort of passion that drives us to do better and do more.
It is this sort of faith, this sort of love, this sort of acceptance and commitment to the Gospel that Jesus asks for from those who follow Him. Jesus says that even the whole world isn’t worth anything compared to the treasure of believing in the Gospel. Jesus Himself is absolutely committed to this sort of love in His love for God the Father. He is also committed to this sort of love for God children. Jesus will go to His death in Jerusalem, and He won’t allow anything to get in His way, He won’t allow anything to stop Him. Jesus loves us that much! This is what love looks like! It is only this sort of all-consuming fire and love for the Gospel that will radically change lives and change our world. Are we brave enough, do we have the conviction and courage necessary, to run into this fire and set the world ablaze? Do you love enough to change the world for those you love? You can change your life, your marriage, your family, your parish, our nation – all it takes is the courage to set the world on fire.