BY: Fr Andrew Ekpenyong



1. World on Fire. Thirty-year old Olivia came home from a date, rather sad. She explained to her mother, “Jimmy proposed to me an hour ago.” “Then why are you so sad?” her mother asked. “Because he also told me he is an atheist. Mom, he doesn’t even believe there’s a Hell!” Her mother replied, “Marry him anyway. Between the two of us, we’ll show him what Hell is like!” Jokes aside, our Lord indeed came to preach the Gospel, to reconcile the world and bring everlasting peace through His saving death and resurrection. But the values of the Gospel can lead to disagreements between those who accept those values and those who do not. It is playing out right now: those who protect everyone’s right to life from the moment of conception to a natural death versus those who put their privacy above the right to life of preborn children. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed a purifying fire, dispelling darkness throughout the world, purifying our hearts and minds but bringing apparent disagreements even between relatives. Yes, Christ has set the world on fire. Since He came, the world has been on fire: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Lk 12:49).

2. Purifying Fire. But not every fire purifies. Some fires destroy. Fires of pride, hatred, lust, greed, anger and other passions can destroy individuals and communities. In the 1st reading (Jer 38:4-6, 8-10) some princes tried to destroy Jeremiah out of hatred for the Word of God that Jeremiah preached. But God used Ebed-Melech the Cushite, to rescue Jeremiah. Our responsorial Psalm teaches us how to pray in the midst of destructive fires: “Lord, come to my aid!” (Psalm 40). The 2nd reading (Heb 12:1-4) reminds us of the ways God comes to our aid, including through the good example of others. Yes, “…we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). The purifying fire of Christ kindles other purifying fires in the saints and in us, further lighting up the world. Today’s Gospel reading inspired St Ignatius who often told Jesuits going on mission: ite, inflammate omnia—“go, set the world on fire.”

3. School. Since many students return to school this time of the year, let’s remind ourselves how the Gospel kindles the purifying fire of Divine Love through the process of education. Yes, some parents may be worried at this time: Will my children keep their Christian faith? Will they overcome the temptation to substance abuse? Will they do well in school? Will their education give them the skills they need to succeed in life? Well, whenever education is allowed to embrace truth in all its forms: intellectual truths, mathematical truths, economic truths, scientific truths, spiritual truths; whenever the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are presented in their entirety, the truth of human nature as destined for salvation gets encountered even in our classrooms. Let me mention just one modern day saint who started out as an atheist in high school but received the faith in university. Edith Stein was born a Jew but lost faith in God and became a pronounced atheist at 14, before going to college. Later, as a student at the University of Göttingen, she became fascinated by phenomenology, an approach to philosophy. Edith read widely and deeply and earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1916. But while in college, her search for truth in all its forms led her into reading the autobiography of St Teresa of Avila. That sparked a spiritual journey that led to her baptism in 1922. Her education led her to Christian faith. She became a professor of philosophy and an ardent Christian, teaching men and women both the profoundest philosophies as well as instructing people in the Christian faith. It did not end there. Edith Stein became a nun and took the name Sr Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She is now St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, having received the crown of martyrdom at Auschwitz in 1942. On the way the gas chamber at Auschwitz, she offered her suffering as an offering “for the conversion of atheists…for the Nazi persecutors, and for all who no longer had the love of God in their hearts.” Her attitude reflects what Heaven is like. We don’t need to prove that Hell exists. Our lives should show people what Heaven is like.

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