Then something happens: our disciplines become ordinary. They become such a part of who we are that we can do them in our sleep. The holy fire that used to fill our hearts becomes a distant memory. We don’t really expect much to happen. We just do them. I once heard a story about two of the desert fathers. Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame."
The first reading is about Moses’ final days. Although he could not enter the promised land because of sin, the Lord knew Moses face to face. He was a man of terrifying power and might, yet a man who also had a spirit of wisdom. He lived to be a hundred and twenty yet “his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.” He had become all flame. In fact, his relationship with God was so intense that he had to cover his face so that the people could look at him. The holy fire made his face glow.
The psalmist blesses the God who fills his soul with fire. How does God do that? There is a time to say one’s little prayers and do one’s little disciplines but there is also a time to stand in the midst of the congregation and shout joyfully to God, sing praise to his name, and loudly sound his praise. The Holy Spirit does as he pleases but is it any surprise that he uses periods of intense praise and worship to set our souls on fire? When was the last time you “shouted” joyfully to God and “loudly” sounded his praise? Worship does not always have to be loud and include shouts but praise has a way of breaking through the ordinary humdrum of even solid spiritual practices. Every now and then we need to be filled with fire.
The gospel reading envisions a time when brothers and sisters in the Church do not listen to each other and will not receive correction. Jesus sets forth a process for winning them back. The Church receives the power to bind and loose in heaven and on earth. She can pray to God and know that God will listen. How can this be? Why can two or three agree in prayer and expect the heavens to open and the earth to move beneath their feet? Because Jesus is in the midst of them. The fire of God is the soul of the Church and through Jesus, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church becomes all flame.
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