“When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”
You’ve probably heard the story from the desert fathers about the monk who came to his superior for counsel in the holy way. The junior monk described how he kept the rule, prayed, fasted, and observed the silence. His heart was stripped clean of worldly thoughts. Was there more he could do? The older monk stood and stretched his hands to Heaven. His fingers became like 10 flaming lamps. He said: “Why not become fire?”
The power in this tale derives from how it convicts us: we who manage to follow the rules and meet our obligations and feel pretty good about all that. Then we encounter the example of a truly holy person, and our efforts at being religious fall away like ash. Without knitting passion to faith, we hardly do more than playact religious activities. In the presence of genuine holiness, we can’t help but feel like frauds.
We don’t mean to be phony. We just need a reminder that saying our prayers and going to church isn’t the point of Christianity. Jesus is our way. Follow him in the way of fire!
The image of the monk with 10 fingers blazing fills me with longing for a more authentic faith. But it’s also intimidating. To live that kind of passion means surrendering the modest but satisfying route I’ve taken this far. It’s much less demanding to be the sort of Christian who goes to church, makes charitable contributions, prays for peace, and then returns to the real world to do my chores and watch Netflix. I was bred to be a law-abiding citizen and a good Catholic, but not a hero or a saint.
Ten fingers blazing is what Frances Cabrini had when she took perilous ocean voyages to minister to unwelcome Italian Americans consigned to urban slums and rural coal mines.
Hands-on-fire describes Francis Xavier Seelos, who remained in New Orleans to care for yellow fever victims long after most citizens abandoned the city. Katharine Drexel was a human flame when she insisted black lives matter and Native American lives matter, in a nation just a few steps beyond the Civil War and the Trail of Tears. Who will embrace the vocation of fire in this generation?
The defense of the good-enough Christian crumbles every Pentecost. Where do you see passionate living and faith on fire? What will you do to set the world ablaze with truth?
LET US PRAY…
Come Holy Spirit, to refresh your Church with gifts of life.
Breathe on your people once more
the blessings of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel,
courage, reverence, and wonder in the presence of God.
Make us hunger for the word that saves, the sacrament that heals,
and the truth that lights our way to the Kingdom.
Image credit: Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons