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8/14/22 Homily: Fire and Family

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]

In our gospel passage today, Jesus speaks of fire and the family. And so, today, I’d like to say a brief word about both. We’ll begin with fire.

An interesting note about fire is that it's not so much a thing, as it is an event. When something that’s capable of being burned, in combination with an oxidizer like oxygen, is exposed to heat above a certain flash point, a chain reaction occurs that consumes both oxygen and that thing being burned, which creates even more heat; heat that sustains itself, so long as both oxygen and fuel continue to be present.

This event that we call fire has the power to transform things that experience it. It can consume some things completely and make other things malleable. Imagine a golden object, for example. When put through fire, that object will eventually melt. Any impurities in the gold will either be consumed completely, or at least become separable from the gold. And the previous shape of that object is destroyed, and a new form becomes possible. In short, fire both destroys what once was, and opens the door to new possibilities.

In our gospel passage, Jesus speaks of his desire that the world be set aflame. “I have come to set the earth on fire,” says the Lord, “and how I wish it were already blazing!”

Jesus desires that we experience that event of fire, spiritually. He desires that we be put through the purifying flame of his grace: grace that destroys any impurities in our golden souls; grace that separates worldly alloys from the goodness that belongs to God; grace that makes our souls truly malleable before the Lord, so that we can be reshaped anew into true images and likenesses of our God.

In our gospel passage, our Lord also mentions the family: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother…” and so on.

Even our families must be put through the flame. Does our Lord have anything against peace or the family? Of course not. After all, God is the author of the human family. Our One God is a family of Divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he created us in the image of this family. God commanded us to “honor your father and your mother” (the 4th Commandment), and there are many laws that uphold the integrity of the family in the Old Testament.

And in the New Testament, Saint Paul writes about the family: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:1-4).

But the family that our Lord considers noble is the one that centers on faith. Even in his own earthly relations, Jesus considered them blessed not by any worldly connection to him, but rather because to their faith. You remember the scenes.

When someone from the crowd cried out, "Blessed is the womb that bore you...", Jesus responded: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (cf. Lk. 11:27-28). At another place, when the mother and brethren of Jesus stood outside, asking to speak to him, he replied: “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brethren! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, my sister, and my mother” (cf. Mt. 12:46-50).

Again, the purifying flame of Christ’s grace both destroys and refines. It destroys our worldly expectations of the family, and refines what is good into a metal worthy of God’s hand. You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, as the saying goes. Even our families must be broken apart, two against three and three against two, or to any degree necessary, so that it can be remade after any essential goodness is refined. When we surrender that raw material to the Lord, our God shapes it into something pleasing to him. He shapes it into his own home.

The family—the Christian family—is and is meant to be the domestic Church. Look around us here. This is the Church, where we all gather, celebrate the sacraments together, confess our sins, are forgiven of our sins, are redeemed, and made whole, with Christ as our head and great intercessor before the eternal Father.

The home is meant to be a microcosm of that. The Christian home ought to be a holy place of gathering and blessing, a place where neither apology nor forgiveness are withheld, but rather freely given and received, in union with Christ, the head of the family, and the One in whom we dare to call God our Father.

The home is the first school of prayer, where children learn the words of prayer long before they share them inside these walls, where children come to appreciate gathering together at the family meal, long before they themselves receive the body of Christ at this altar. The good providence of God the Father is first understood through the example of their earthly father. Children learn to how to receive the Church’s nurturing and formation first by receiving their own mother’s care for them. Their relationship with their fellow Christian disciples is first cultivated among their siblings.

I invite you to take some time to meditate on the Christian family—your family—and how the purifying flame of Christ’s grace can both burn away the bad, and refine the good. And if you have the time, there is a beautiful document that you can read from the late Great Pope Saint John Paul the Second, called, Familiaris Consortio; otherwise known as The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World. A straight read-through would take about three hours; longer, of course, if one takes time to meditate on the various parts.

Through the grace of the Mass—the purifying grace of our Lord's celebration—may the family event that we experience here transform our homes into true images of the Church. May God bless you.

Michelangelo’s, The Last Judgement. 1535 – 1541. Fresco. Sistine Chapel, Vatican City


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