"Lighting Fires and Creating Ashes"
February 14, 2024, 6:00 AM

Franciscan Fractals: “Lighting Fires and Creating Ashes”

Contemplating today’s culture with the wisdom of Jesus and St. Francis.

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Joel 2: 12-13

Lent is a time for remembering the ashes that are placed upon our foreheads. Lent is also a time for remembering the fire that produced those ashes. As fire destroys the palms from which the ashes come, so too, we are called to burn away that which keeps us from moving forward to complete submission to God.

Unlike fires that destroy houses, forests, neighborhoods, and towns, the Fire of Lent has the ability to destroy what we cherish the most – our “false sense-of-self.” Lent is the church’s attempt to allow us time to turn our “false sense-of-self” into ashes. Arrogance, self-centeredness, bias, deception, and even our illusion of independence and freedom are on the line. Our “true-self” is found only when we completely rely on God.

The Fire of Lent is like fire in a steel mill. That fire’s job is to expose impurities, and allow them to rise to the surface to be burned away. The disciplines of Lent (fasting, alms giving, and prayer) act like matches that ignite the fire within us. No discipline . . . no fire.

From Scripture, we are reminded that fires have been used to reveal our distance from God. For instance, the fiery sword of the Angel that kept Adam and Eve from returning to the Garden of Eden after trying to be as wise as God, the fire out of heaven that consumed the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah for their rudeness and inhospitality toward others, and the fire that rained down like hail upon Pharoah because of his uncaring heart that resisted God.

From other parts of Scripture, we are reminded of the positive healing that fires bring: the fire of sacrifice in the temple foreshadowing a person of greater love that was yet to come; the moral fire of the burning bush that illuminated the face of Moses; the searing fire of coal that touched the mouth of Isaiah to make him ready to proclaim the coming of God; the brilliant pillar of fire that guided and protected the Israelites through the desert; and the dancing tongues of fire that bridged all division between people when the Holy Spirit perched on the disciples’ heads at Pentecost.

During this Lenten Season, you and I are encouraged to prayerfully focus on all that which needs purifying in our life, and also that which needs to be made new in our world. May we focus deeply on (1) the fire of our self-centeredness; (2) the fire of our arrogance; (3) the fire of our judgmentalism; (4) the fire of our hostile speech; and (5) the fire of our despair. Moreover, during this season may we gain the warmth and love of Christ from the life-giving fires of (6) confession, and (7) forgiveness.

Allow all of these fires to burn unrestrained in your life during this season of Lent.

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John