Fire mesmerizes man. It dances, moves, fixes our gaze, and attracts us to its warmth and security. Why are we so drawn to fire?
Ancient cultures adored fire, holding it to be the purest and lightest of elements. Early charts of the cosmos had fire surrounding the outermost sphere of the heavens. Celts, Greeks, and Hindus even worshiped fire with its almost animate qualities. But pagans are not the only ones to connect fire with divine things. Psalm 50 recounts how the presence of God is heralded by flames:
Our God comes,
he keeps silence no longer,
before him fire devours,
around him tempest rages. (Ps 50:3)
Elsewhere in the Old Testament, fire signals God’s presence to man. A bush alight with flames yet unburnt drew Moses to the place where God revealed his name. And a pillar of fire drew Israel out of Egypt to Sinai, where the people received the words of God from amidst the flames wreathing his presence at the top of the mountain.
Like fire, the presence of God inspires awe and amazement, but it also purifies and cleanses whatever is brought near him. Zechariah says that God is one who refines with fire:
And I will put [them] into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call on my name, and I will answer them.
I will say, “They are my people”;
and they will say, “The Lord is my God.” (Zech 13:9)
God indeed is a consuming fire who burns away our iniquities and perfects what he has created in us (Deut 4:24). Christ, spoken by the Father, and the Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son, are the Purifier and the Sanctifier who come to cleanse our souls from our sin. John the Baptist, in heralding the age of the Spirit of God, foretold of this purification when he proclaimed that Christ was coming “to baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Mt 3:11).
Coming from the Father, who is goodness and love itself, the fire which Christ brings to the world is the same love he has received from the Father. Coming from the Father and the Son, the Spirit is a fire that is poured out upon mankind. When Christ speaks of the Holy Spirit’s consolation to the world, he speaks of the burning charity that makes its home in every believer.
Fire warms our body with an intensity dependent upon the source of its fuel. The charity of God, given through Christ and in the Spirit, is the radiant gift of grace which enflames our hearts and has as its source the infinite love of God. Like the burning bush that remained unharmed, Christ’s love in the Spirit burns in our soul, not by damaging, but by perfecting our human nature.
As it burns, the fuel of a fire comes to be like the fire which it feeds. In feeding our souls with divine charity, we come to participate in the divine nature as adopted sons of the Father in union with Christ. Christ came to give us the Gospel of salvation, and this Gospel is meant to enliven our hearts to burn with charity that begins and ends in God. May the whole world be caught up in this divine fire, fulfilling the ardent desire of Christ, who said,
I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already ablaze! (Lk 12:49)
Image: Dave Hogg, Fire! Fire!