Saturday, October 2, 2010

Rekindling Time! (27.C)

Almost everything I know about getting a fire going I learned from my Dad, and most of what he knows came from his uncle Jack.

Uncle Jack's advice was "one log won't burn, two logs might burn, three logs will burn."

I've tested that out over the years, mostly in fireplaces rather than campsites, and it's pretty reliable advice. Still, it's not foolproof, and I have more than once got dizzy blowing on a stubborn fire trying to get some action.

Fanning a fire can produce some fairly dramatic results. Not only does it get a stubborn fire blazing, it can also revive a dying fire from embers.

Small wonder that St. Paul tells Timothy to rekindle the gift of God he received when he was ordained. He wants his friend and protégé to be on fire with love and on fire with power. Paul would like to see Timothy's ministry blazing.

Paul's high hopes for Timothy in his priesthood give us an idea of what God wants for every one of us. We too, priests and lay people alike, received a gift through the laying on of hands—at Confirmation. Isn't that what we talk about at Confirmation—the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of the Spirit Himself?

We received "a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline" in Confirmation no less than Timothy received it in Ordination.

So the question today is "do I need to rekindle the gift of God that is within me"? Does the fire of the Holy Spirit still blaze in my heart, or does it need some fanning to burst into flame?

This is not a minor issue, since Jesus says in the Book of Revelation "how I wish you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm I am going to spit you out." Strong language for sure. Clearly the Lord wants on-fire disciples, but he'd sooner you froze him out rather than living as a tepid and unenthusiastic Christian.

There are two main obstacles to moving beyond such halfhearted Christianity. The first is not recognizing that you've become lukewarm. If you're perfectly satisfied with a faint glow from your campfire you won't be leaning over it and blowing till your blue in the face.

Jesus picks up on this, too, in another passage from Revelation. It's more than a little scary. He starts by saying to the Church at Ephesus: I know hard you work and how much you put up with. .. I know that you have patience, and have suffered for my name tirelessly.

But he goes on: Nevertheless, I have this complaint to make; you have less love now than you used to. Think where you were before you fell; repent, and do as you used to at first.

We need to constantly monitor our progress as Christians. You've all heard the saying "If you're not growing, you're dying." It's used in all kinds of different ways, but it certainly applies to the spiritual life. If we're standing still, the flame is flickering and the fire is cooling down. And this is not what our Lord wants from us—he said "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" [Lk 12:49]

And let's be quite honest: almost all of us need rekindling from time to time. Our Christian lives don't run on a smooth path from cradle to grave. We have spiritual ups and down no less than we have emotional ups and downs, or physical ups and downs. Last night I was reading a book by a monk who wrote that even good monks can spend a lifetime feeling out of their depth, confused, bewildered and even a bit annoyed by the mysterious ways of God!

The second obstacle to rekindled Christian lives is not knowing what we can and should do when our spiritual batteries need to be recharged.

What St. Paul tells Timothy gives us some practical advice on this score. First of all, he says recognize what a great gift you have received: the Spirit of God dwelling in your heart. We are literally homes in which God's Spirit lives, and that's a great starting point if we want our hearts to burn within us.

Second, conquer your fear with the power of God. We don't need to lie awake at night worrying what we're going to say to the bully who mocks our faith in the lunchroom—God has promised not only to honour our suffering but to help us know how best to defend ourselves.

We don't need to feel defeated by our sinful habits when we remember that Confirmation gave us fortitude—the gift of spiritual toughness—and that the Holy Spirit gives us a spirit of self-discipline to help us overcome weakness and weariness.

A third thing St. Paul says is especially important these days: "hold to the standard of sound teaching." In the last homily he gave before his election as Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger said "How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking.

"The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves—flung from one extreme to another."

Fanning a fire helps get it blazing, but blustery winds will blow it out. If we want to rekindle faith that's become weak, we need to reconnect to its sources: to the Scriptures and to the Catechism. I have owned a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church almost since the day it appeared in English, yet I am delighted and even dazzled by it almost every week.

Finally, Paul says "guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit." Here are two key points. First, we must treat the faith as something precious that must be guarded; if we have built no firewall around the gift of God we received in Baptism and Confirmation, we must expect the thief to attack. The movies we see, the friends we choose, the way we surf TV channels and the internet—all these help determine whether or not we're going to fizzle out as Christian men and women.

But catch his last few words: "with the help of the Holy Spirit, living in us." We're not on our own, trying by our own effort to rediscover the enthusiasm for the faith we may have felt when we were younger. We don't need to strain to find the deeper level of contact with God that our heart deeply wants. The Spirit helps us—even from within our souls, since He lives in us.

And that's even more sure than Uncle Jack's advice on how to build a fire.

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