Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire …”
As I write these words forest fires are destroying thousands of acres of land in California. But even as the old wood burns, its ash enriches the soil and soon there will be new and stronger trees where the old ones stood. Unfortunately, people who have homes among the old trees now face the possibility of losing those homes because, while fire creates, it also destroys.
Mary’s brother is an alcoholic, ill and out of work, so Mary has invited him to stay with her until he can get back on his feet. Mary’s sister, Sally, on the other hand, has made it known that he is not welcome in her home, even for family celebrations. Mary and Sally are divided on this. Sally accuses Mary of enabling her brother; Mary accuses Sally of being selfish and uncaring. And the fire of their anger continues to build — destroying their relationship even as it creates new opportunities for their brother.
At the national level members on both sides of the political aisle refuse to acknowledge that the partisan fires that divide them could, if approached differently, create opportunities for something new. On the international level good people continue to cast fire on the earth, killing one another rather than accepting that there might be more than one way to worship. And every day we see the fire of war destroying lives and any hope of building them up again, with households divided, fathers against sons and sons against fathers.
But there are also other fires. The fire set by Dorothy Day, burning in the hearts of people who work to build up those destroyed by poverty and oppression, and the fire in Pope Francis’ eyes as he bent to wash the feet of the marginalized, bringing new life to those previously excluded from our communities. This is the fire to which our baptism calls us. Are we willing to tend this fire, even if it might mean being divided against those we love?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.