Isaiah 42:3
“a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench…”
Have you ever heard the phrase “where there is smoke, there is fire”? It is kind of hard for people to see this example in a church this size, so I will not try, but if you blow out a candle, and touch a flame to the smoke, the flame appears to jump down to the smoldering wick and relight the fire.
I think the point made by this example, connected with the quote from Isaiah, gives us a great example of the mercy of God. How many people do you know who you would say their faith is less active than it should be? How many people do you know that would be called lukewarm in their faith?
This is what Isaiah is referring to. God is not going to snuff out even a small part of faith. He is going to do everything he can to help people regain the fire of faith. Regaining that fire of faith is the number one job for the church today. Far too many people have said they have “had enough,” or they have said they don’t need that “religious stuff”. But without the fire of faith in our hearts, we actually run the risk of losing heaven.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus says that he would rather we be hot or cold, on fire for the faith, or rejecting the faith. But it is those people who are lukewarm they make Jesus sick to his stomach. But even there, with a lukewarm heart, there is still the possibility of rekindling a fire. This is the hopefulness of God himself.
What does this fire look like? I can tell you what it looked like for me. The fire turned into a blaze on my retreat that I went on just before I was ordained a deacon.
We had an all-night exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I chose to go from 2 to 3 in the morning. I sat in the chapel and had things to pray about that lasted about 40 minutes, but then I run out of things to say. So I just said “Lord, here I am. I said I would be here for an hour, so here I am.”
All of a sudden, I was overwhelmed with a sense of calm, contentment, peace, the feeling that where I was right then was the only place I needed to be and I never wanted to leave there. I had only experienced that before when I was being held in the arms of the woman that I almost married before going to the seminary. Those of you who have felt the kind of love know what I’m talking about.
But I knew it was God who held me. There were no words spoken from my heart, or anything I heard from God. There was just the knowledge that I was so close to God. That experience lasted for 30 minutes. My hour was well past, I got up and went to bed, saying “thanks, God.”
But, here is where it gets interesting. I knew then, and I am still convinced, that I did not experience the full power of God’s love for me. If he had poured out the fullness of his love for me to experience, I would not have continued to live here on earth. The reason is very simple: I would not want to be anyplace else but that magnificent sense of God’s love!
I ran from that experience. I would not go back to that level of prayer for years into my priesthood. I was afraid of what else God was going to teach me about his love. What if he showed me something that I could not understand? What if he showed me something… So far beyond my ability to understand that I would not be able to continue living here for him? What if… His love overwhelmed me? What if the fire of his love consumed me?
I kept that flame close to my heart, but I would not feed it for many years. Much to my loss. As I have come to understand his love in recent years, I realize how much I wasted in not choosing to trust fully in his ability to love me, but not consume me. What helped to break through that block in me, was using the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. But, I am still leery of this power in God’s love.
Only remaining open to the Holy Spirit can help any of us to overcome the natural fear of this overpowering, Magnificent Love of God. I haven’t doubted his love, though I have many times questioned my love for him. But when I encounter that Magnificent Love, it makes me long for more, and makes me sad that I did not pursue it from the moment I first experienced it.
The rays of light that come from the Divine Mercy image are meant to indicate Blood and Water: the Blood and Water that flowed from Jesus’ side on the cross; the Blood that we drink at Mass, and the Waters of Baptism.
This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It is the conclusion of the Christmas Season. It reminds us that Jesus made the Waters of Baptism holy by his Baptism. It reminds us that we have all been called into a relationship with God as his children. But we’ve also been called into a relationship with the Church, which is the Bride of Christ. So we should expect a sense of love for God to do more than just touch our lives. It should invade our very beings.
I have heard some warn against too emotional of a faith. I agree that can be a risk. But I think the greater risk in today’s church is that we are not emotional enough; that we do not experience this love relationship that Jesus came to reveal. My prayer is that everyone… EVERYONE would experience the same kind of ecstasy of love that I had on that retreat.
It may not be the same kind of experience. But God wants us to be in love with him. And that is an emotional experience. My New Year’s prayer for all of you is that you would make a New Year’s resolution to find that love with God. Learn what it means to really fall in love with God. It won’t mean that you love anyone else less. In fact I believe it would help you to love your spouse and your family more than you do now.
If you feel your faith is only a smoldering wick, ask God to reignite the fire of your love, the fire of your faith. Don’t worry that you would be consumed by that fire, that you would disappear. It will only make you stronger, more fully alive. It will only make you more of what you are meant to be. Being a man of God, a woman of God, means being on fire for the faith.
Lord Jesus, release the power of Baptism in the hearts of these your people. Let them know the Fire of the Spirit. Let it be a transformation for them. Make this new year a year for the release of your Spirit among this parish. Let every heart be kindled. Let there be no smoldering wick. Let there be an blaze of grace that lights the way for people to return to this parish.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. On this feast of the Baptism of Jesus, baptize us in the fire of your love. Help us to burn brightly, that others may see the light, and draw near to you again. Amen.