By Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR
Ite, omnia incendite et inflammate! Go forth, set the whole world on fire, and inflame all things! (Words of St. Ignatius Loyola for Jesuits going to the foreign missions, 1540-1555.)
In virtually every country I have visited in my many travels over the years you can find in that nation’s capital the equivalent of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which always has next to it something like an “eternal flame” monument commemorating the war dead of that country. Ours is in the Arlington National Cemetery near Washington DC at the tomb of President John F. Kennedy. Why is it that countries and peoples feel the need to memorialize their deceased loved ones with an “eternal flame” of some sort? In fact, there is nothing “eternal” about these man-made flames, but there is something deeply relevant to us about the symbolism of a fire that burns eternally out of love. It is the intuition that we humans have deep in our hearts of an infinite love that cannot be quenched, a love that glows ardently in the very center of all reality which has our salvation as its sole concern. That reality is the love of the Heart of Christ. God thought up the concept of an “eternal flame” long before any nation did!
The fascinating image of the Burning Bush in the Book of Exodus (chapter 3) is the biblical precedent to the loving Heart of Christ. We all remember the bush that “was aflame but not consumed” by the fire. The whole area around the bush was “holy ground” and Moses had to take off his sandals to approach the Lord speaking from the Burning Bush. It is a fire so sacred that it makes everything around it sacred. We remember also that in the dialogue between Moses and Yahweh, God revealed His Name and His desire to save His people from slavery in Egypt. In a sense, this passage is a tremendous expression of God’s devotion—to us. If we could look into the “heart” of the Burning Bush we would be awestruck by the saving love of God for His people. I am reminded here of the words of Jesus to Blessed Angela of Foligno, a 13th Century mystic whose visions of Jesus predate even the visions of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary. Jesus said, “Look closely at my Heart. Is there anything there that is not love?” The Heart of Christ is a “Burning Furnace of Charity” for all souls in all of human history. We are the objects of His immense love!
If you are like me you will not have failed to notice the rather “tepid” spirituality of the people of our day. I speak mostly of the established and institutionalized churches like our own Catholic Church which I sometimes think need to have a fire lit underneath it to get our souls back into a truly devotional mode. We have clearly lost some of the deep-seated reverence that that I remember from my youth when our Church was more of a devotional, praying Church, and I am sure that God will bring that back in time, but in comparison to the ever-burning love of God for us, can we say that we even come close to responding to His love with such devoted and passionate love that we have received?
Now—at this very moment—is the time to ask Jesus to pour out upon our hearts the immense richness of His eternal, burning, intense love for all humanity. Let us repent of any sins we have committed against others since these are the very souls that Christ loves with an infinite burning charity. Let us throw into the “Burning Furnace of Charity” all our intentions for the salvation of others, all our sins, sloth, and tepidity of soul, and ask Him to inflame our hearts to be like His own. We need have no fear of getting burned by getting closer to the “Burning Furnace of Charity.” Our real fear should be not burning hot enough to “inflame” the whole world with Christ’s Love.
Oh burning, consuming, radiant Heart of Christ, font of all love and devotion for men. Immerse our poor hearts in the depths of Your infinite charity, and help us to know all the love with which You have loved the world from the beginning of time. Give us grace to set the whole world on fire for love of You. We ask this in Your most holy Name. Amen.
[Excerpted from: Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Jesus and Mary: In Praise of their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.: Huntington, Indiana, 2012.]