20th Sunday in Ordinary Time | August 13/14, 2016
Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click here: Salesian Sermons
PROTIP: You can take a look at the Sunday readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading.
So as a former boy scout, I have always been intrigued by fire.
In fact, I must admit I particularly enjoyed setting things on fire. Whether it was piles of leaves or a giant stack of wood, I loved watching the flames consume the items reducing them to a pile of ash.
But I have also seen the capacity for destruction that fire is capable of.
I have watched people catch article of clothes on fire, reducing those brand new Nikes into a molten pool of plastic.
And my 1st year, I remember watching as our cabin ignited in a blaze that was hurriedly extinguished with a fire extinguisher.
See, I was taught from my earliest years that fire is something that can be beautiful from afar, but one should never step into the flames.
So imagine my discomfort when I entered the Oblates and was told that one of the surest paths to spiritual growth is to stay in the fire.
I must admit I was initially repulsed by the idea. Why would I voluntarily stay in situations in which I was feeling burned?
But then I began teaching.
And my life would become an endless cycles of fires into which I would be plunged.
And each time, I found myself resisting the wisdom of my brother Oblates.
I found myself focusing on the destruction that was occurring. I was clutching to the piles of ash that seemed to be accumulating all around me.
The ash composed of the loss of my own comfort and the doubts in my own abilities.
The ash composed of my failure and my fury at the circumstances that were outside of my control.
The ash composed of my humiliation and my exhaustion.
The ash composed of the fragments of a heart shattered by repeated losses.
But I stand here before you today to admit that my brother Oblates were right.
For as I stayed in those fire, more out of stubbornness than virtue to be sure, I began to see the gold that was being brought to the surface.
I could see an inner strength that allowed me to stand firm even when all seemed in flux.
I could see a compassion that was born out of my own experience of suffering.
I could see a light that allowed me to dispel the darkness in another.
I could see a love that would allow me to overcome so many categories that continue to divide us: categories of race and gender, class and creed, sexuality and age.
And with this new vision, I have come to appreciate this Gospel in a whole new light.
For I believe that Jesus desires to see the world ablaze for this reason.
That in the fire, each of us will find the gold that is buried there. The gold that is who we truly are and who we are destined to become
My friends, this process will not be easy or comfortable. It will be painful.
For the fires we must face will burn us.
Whether they be the fires that come with being misunderstood or attacked for what we believe in, like our brother Jeremiah in the 1st reading.
Or the fires of a million daily stressors that gradually drain our batteries no matter how hard we try to keep them charged.
The fires that come in the form of a sudden loss: of one’s job or one’s home, one’s relationship or one’s dreams.
Or the fires that come in the crucible of an impending diagnosis or in the burial of a beloved spouse or child, parent or relative, colleague or friend.
No matter what fires we are called to stand in, we each have the same choice.
We can allow the fires to consume us: reducing us to ash. A pile of ash that is defined by our failure and regret, our despair and resignation.
Or we can allow the fires to bring out our hidden gold.
The gold that is ours by virtue of our identity as children of God, as members of the body of Christ.
The gold that was revealed to us by Christ when in his choice to accept the cross, in his choice to step into the flames, he revealed just how deep the gold runs in each of our veins.
So be not afraid my friends, even if the world seems already ablaze.
Stay in the fire. Become who you are called to be.
May God be Praised.