Hearts on Fire – Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2019
I recall a visit to Sacré-Coeur Basilica in the Montmartre region of Paris. That basilica is on a hill overlooking Paris, with a breathtaking view of that beautiful city. The chapel of Saint-Denis is on the site. It was here on August 15, 1534 that Ignatius Loyola and his earliest companions pronounced the vows that lead to the founding of the Society of Jesus.
The stained glass window commemorating St. Ignatius includes the quote from Luke 12 that we find in today’s Gospel: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.”
This verse was supposedly a personal favourite of the founder of the Jesuits. It’s actually occasionally mistakenly attributed to St. Ignatius. One account has it that it was with these words that he sent Francis Xavier to head to Asia for missionary activity.
Others say that it was a verse that he often used at the end of letters assigning early Jesuits to missions. He wanted people to be set afire with passion and zeal.
Among the opening words in the Jesuit Constitutions (in what is termed the Formula of the Institute), is Ignatius’ statement about the Jesuit being a “soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross.” He had a strong and unrelenting desire for setting hearts on fire with intimate love for Christ and a zeal for serving our sisters and brothers.
After offering this significant image of fire for the earth, Jesus says, “what stress I am under until it is completed!” For Jesus, bringing that fire to the earth was important. He was driven by his desire for that zeal and energy. As was Ignatius! Hearts on fire! Such images are common in contemporary Ignatian spirituality.
What did Jesus intend when he spoke about bringing fire and division to the earth? His words evoke reminders of Luke 3:16, where John the Baptist announces that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, whereas John baptized with water.
The image of fire is a reference to the purifying actions of Jesus, whereby he is helping his followers to distinguish between dross and the real thing. He refers to division, basically stating that he will be resolute in the face of opposition, setting his sights for Jerusalem and what awaits him. He knows that there are those who are not with him. Jesus is passionate about his mission and will not rest until it is accomplished.
There is a tendency among some people to make Ignatian spirituality nice. We can water it down to be palatable to everyone. There’s a good reminder from Irish Jesuit Brian O’Leary about the power of Ignatian spirituality.
“The spirit of Ignatius is like a suppressed coil of steel, and its verbal expression demands the use of the comparative again and again. Complacency is a feeling unknown to him. There is always that higher mountain to be climbed, that faster race to be run, that more loving service to be offered.”