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The True Fire From Heaven

by Father Brian Mullady, OP Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014

In the Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus "steadfastly set his face to go to Je
rusalem" (9:51). He sends messengers ahead of him to prepare his way, and they a
rrive at a Samaritan town. The Samaritans will not receive him precisely because
he is going to Jerusalem, and they do not believe in the worship that occurs th
James and John recall a similar incident in the Old Testament, in which Elijah r
eproved the messengers of the successor of King Ahab, King Ahaziah, from seeking
advice from the foreign god Beelzebub while he was recovering from a fall. The
king sends 100 soldiers to attack Elijah, who calls down a fire from heaven that
kills them all. The disciples ask Our Lord if he will do as Elijah did and dest
roy those who rejected him by calling down fire from heaven.
Jesus reproves them for not understanding how he fulfills the Old Testament. Som
e ancient authorities add a verse to this one, in which Jesus says: "For the Son
of Man came not to destroy mens lives, but to save them" (Luke 9:55).
The human race had wandered for centuries in ignorance of mind and hardness of h
eart after the Original Sin. God, who had promised redemption in Genesis 3:15, b
egan the progressive preparation of the human race to receive the Redeemer by fo
unding the People of God, Israel. He did this by giving the Law on Mount Sinai t
o Moses. But the Law commanded an interior union with God, which it did not in i
tself convey by its works.
Paul says that the Law multiplied sin not in itself, but precisely because the p
ractices of the Old Testament were insufficient to give grace. It is true that t
he people of Israel were the chosen people, because, from them, the Messiah woul
d come. However, they had to progressively be prepared for this. They began as m
aterialists, like all those who suffer from the Original Sin. They were spiritua
l children, not spiritually mature.
As a result, in the Old Testament, they had to be encouraged to pursue the good
like children. This was done by a multitude of commands and by application of ma
terial rewards and punishments. The idea of the afterlife was certainly present,
but its character was obscure.
For example, Job loses all his material possessions, but after he survives the t
emptation to curse God for this and basically argues that these are not proper r
ewards for virtues or punishments for sin, he is given back twice what he lost.
Elijah destroys those sent against him unjustly as a testimony to his divine cal
l as a prophet in order to prove the truth of his teaching and his God with an i
mage of the destruction of the power of the devil through physical fire from hea
In the New Testament, the Law of Christ is not primarily a written law and, real
ly, contains no material rewards or punishments. Riches or poverty are not a sig
n of spiritual maturity. Though there are works commanded, the true reward for l
iving the Gospel is heaven. The new Law of Christ is primarily the Holy Spirit l
iving in the heart of the Christian and inspiring his actions. The primary empha
sis on the commandments in the New Testament is not on the letter of the Law, bu
t on developing the spirit or right intention with which these commandments are
lived. This can only be from the love of God and neighbor wrought in our souls b
y grace.
Since this is true, one is commanded by Christ not to pray for the destruction o
f ones enemies, but to forgive them. The merciful charity of the heart of Christ
is the image for the Christian who experiences the movement of the Holy Spirit o
f divine love in his heart. This does not mean being a doormat to other peoples i
njustice. One can certainly resist evil, and evil should make one angry. Such an
ger is good and supports ones desire to resist and correct evil.
But if a Christian finds himself in a situation (and we all do) in which all rea
sonable means to redress evil done have been exhausted and still the evil persis
ts, he has two choices: He can nurture anger and resentment, in which case he me
rely harms himself, or he can rely on spiritual fire from heaven.
This is the fire of charity, in which a person is so transformed by Christ as to
see others from the eyes of faith and love them with the merciful heart of Chri
st. He can choose to forgive the injury. This is not because he is afraid of fee
ling angry, afraid others will think he is not a saint or afraid of reprisals fr
om the evildoer. The Christian does this because Christ came to save mens souls,
not to destroy their lives. When the Christian sincerely forgives, he participat
es in the salvation of the souls of others.
The spiritual value of the act of forgiveness is immense when done from the righ
t motives. The fire of charity both consumes our pride and makes our virtuous de
sires more loving. What we do from love we do more readily. When the love of the
Holy Spirit motivates ones virtues, this is the fire of Christ.
The prophet Malachi says: "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and
he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they
present right offerings to the Lord" (3:3). A refiner of metal heats the metal i
n a crucible. As the metal becomes liquid, the impurities are lighter than the m
etal, and they float to the top. The refiner scrapes the impurities away. The re
finer will say that the metal is ready to be fashioned into the beautiful vessel
when he can look into the crucible and see his image in the metal.
By his divine fire of grace within our souls, Christ purifies souls and motivate
s us to love as God loves. He wants to see the mirror of his eternal image refle
cted in our souls, refined by the eternal fire of his divine love.
Dominican Father Brian Mullady is a mission preacher and adjunct professor at Ho
ly Apostles Seminary in
Cromwell, Connecticut.
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