Churchgoing Catholics heard Jesus speak to them from the Gospel of Luke on a mid-August Sunday this year. He said, “I have come to set the earth on fire” (Lk. 12:49).
He was speaking metaphorically, of course, when he said he came to light a fire on the earth. He had no scorched-earth policy. He did not want to destroy the earth by fire. But he surely did want to “fire us up” with enthusiasm for his Gospel, to “ignite” our zeal for the spread of his Gospel and the salvation of our brothers and sisters in the human community.
He wanted to spread a fire of love and concern for the poor in our world. He was something of a firebrand for justice and he surely wanted his followers to be enthusiasts for justice, too.
He may even have thought of the faith that was his gift to us as something like a bed of embers that required fanning from time to time, fanning that would raise the flame of faith to a higher intensity through prayer. I can’t say for sure. I just want to call attention to the firelike enthusiasm Jesus had for the spread of the Gospel.
And I’m wondering about the degree of intensity of our personal enthusiasm for the cause of Christianity in our world, for the spread of the word and way of life that Christ brought to our world. He chose to establish a church as the vehicle for his mission. What is our enthusiasm for that church today?
And it is fair to ask, what is our church’s enthusiasm for the cause of Christ? That may sound strange, but we have to wonder if we are getting too comfortable, too detached from the urgent problems of hunger, poverty and human need that were real concerns to the heart of Christ.
How fired up is our church today to continue the work Jesus began — preaching the good news to the poor, healing the sick, saving sinners, sanctifying all? Is the fire going out in Catholic education, Catholic health care, Catholic social services? Are there seats on governing boards of Catholic hospitals, schools, colleges and service agencies waiting to be filled by people with the needed skills and resources if only they were sufficiently enthusiastic to want to serve in this capacity?
Are volunteer service opportunities failing to attract Catholic hands and hearts because Catholic ears no longer hear Jesus saying, “I have come to set the earth on fire”?
Where is the fire today? Where are the Catholics who want to be priests for parishes, nuns and brothers for schools, nurses for Catholic hospitals and assisted living communities, trained professionals for Catholic social service agencies?
In an altogether different and quite secular setting, I remember that when then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan dismissed the first chancellor and 12th president of the University of California, Clark Kerr, Kerr said he left the university just as he came into it — “fired with enthusiasm.”
Football coach Vince Lombardi was famous for saying, “You’ve got to come to this team fired with enthusiasm or you’re going to find yourself leaving this team fired with enthusiasm.”
That message has to get through today to contented Catholics who seem not to be noticing that the quality of Catholic service is declining and the level of commitment to Catholic institutions needs to be shored up with both professional and volunteer Catholic commitment.
Jesuit Father William J. Byron is professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Email: email@example.com.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
PREVIOUS: The gift of empathy moves us to action
NEXT: An albatross of nostalgia, hanging on the Church of Philadelphia
Does Fr. Byron bellieve there is presently in the Catholic community a looking for issues in their traditonal political party that justify their vote rather than being open to the issues affecting Cathollicism in a different party/
Father Byron, we met many years ago at an accrediting session. Let me say you are absolutely right: WHERE IS THE FIRE IN THE BELLY for our faith! One just wonders. I see it at mass oftentimes as a lector with the lack of participation and almost a mumbling of response. And in so far as the good news that Our Lord preached, we do not always see it all the time practiced…we do hear it, but not being activated. Keep us on the right track with your messages and let us pray that someday we will be EXCITED about our faith, for I know I am.