“Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” (detail) by Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49).  

The Growth and Spread of the Christian Faith

At a time when God’s Chosen People had been living under an oppressive spiritual darkness for well over five-hundred years, He sent His divine light – the light of men and women – that pushed back the darkness and restored hope to a lost and suffering people.

This light is Jesus, the Divine Person of God and the co-eternal Son who took on flesh and dwelt among us.

Jesus did not come to condemn, but to proclaim the Good News of salvation which He would obtain for us by his life, passion, death and resurrection. He laid down His life out of love for us.

The three-year public ministry of Jesus did not span the globe, it took place in a tiny geographic area not much larger than New Jersey. But that ministry was about to expand. At the Lord’s Ascension, Jesus told his apostles, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samar′ia and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

After the crucifixion, there was only a relative handful of disciples and the apostles who followed Christ. But on the day of Pentecost, after St. Peter’s sermon in Jerusalem, some three thousand souls were converted and added to the Church. Today, more than 1 billion people identify as Catholic, nearly 1.5 billion including Orthodox Christians, and over 2 billion including all Christians. Christians are present in nearly every corner of the world.

So, is the Lord’s fire now blazing?

The number of Christians in the world has been relatively stable in recent years, but areas where the Catholic faith has a long and deep history, such as Europe, have seen a catastrophic decline in faith. And some experts predict that the number of Christians will see a net decrease of 50 to 60 million in the next 30 years. And even among those who identify as Catholic, many are not engaged in the faith and do not participate in the sacramental life of the Church.

So, it should be obvious that we – each of us – need to spread the gospel and the love of God to a world that is again experiencing a spiritual darkness. And that needs to begin in our own hearts and within our own families and then move beyond.

A Time of Confusion and Unbelief

The Divine Revelation of God is perfected in the Person of Jesus who said of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Jesus also says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

We live in a time of moral and religious confusion. Our culture increasingly expects Christians to remain silent and to confine the practice of our faith to within the walls of our churches. Far too many today believe the commandments and teachings of the Lord to be outdated, irrelevant, and even immoral.

But Jesus Christ calls each of us to be his witnesses. He promised us the Holy Spirit Who has empowered us. He sends us out from the Eucharistic Liturgy to spread the fire of His Divine Love and Purification within our hearts and families and to all of those he places in our paths. He calls us not to condemn, but to serve in love and in truth.

The Lesson and Example of Jeremiah

Not everyone will appreciate your witness for Christ! Some will not want to hear it. Some might wish to attack or ridicule you; to exclude you from participating in the life and activity of our society.

That is why the example of Jeremiah is such an important lesson for us today. Jeremiah was God’s witness to Judah in the sixth and seventh centuries before Christ. Although it was a different time from our own, there are many similarities. Among the most helpful for us, is that the society and the world’s political powers were undergoing traumatic change. The Northern Kingdom had already been conquered and dispersed by the Assyrians. And now the people of Judah in the South were going to be taken into exile and the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Temple were going to be demolished and destroyed by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar.

God sent Jeremiah to witness for Him and to prepare the people for the chastisement and purification to come that would one day lead them back to their God. But as with most prophets, the people who most needed to hear the message of God rejected both the message and the messenger. For his trouble, Jeremiah ended up thrown into a muddy well to starve. He narrowly escaped with his life.

Do you know what Jeremiah did after he was rescued from the well? He continued to give witness to the love and divine purification of God. He was steadfast. How could he do this? He did this because of his deep trust in God.

Like Jeremiah, God sends us to shine His light in a darkening world. We are to do this by showing our children the love of God within the family and by living moral lives of Christian joy even in the midst of trouble and uncertainty.

There is one certainty in this world – you can always trust in God and His love for you. Yes, people will ridicule you, even family may reject you. But love them with the love of God anyway, no matter the cost. That divine love you share is the fire that Jesus wants you to set blaze across the world.

The readings from the bible for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) are: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalms 40:2, 3, 4, 18; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53.

Into the deep…

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Deacon Bickerstaff is available to speak at your parish or event. Be sure to check out his Speaker Page to learn more. Into the Deep is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.

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