Up Front and Personal

We Are Called to Set The World on Fire

by Veronica Szczygiel

Although autumn is my favorite season, the one thing I don’t love is how dark it is by the time I leave work to go home. It feels a bit eerie to see night ushered in so early, and I often long for the long light of summer days.

I think I’m not the only one who feels this way, because in human consciousness, darkness signifies the unknown, and the unknown can be scary. We naturally prefer light because light chases that fear away and gives us clear vision. It symbolizes happiness, warmth and safety. Light for us means hope.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus talks about light in the form of fire. He says to His disciples: “I have come to set the Earth on fire.” Here, Jesus doesn’t mean that He literally wants to start a raging fire that will consume the whole Earth. Rather, He speaks of a metaphorical fire. Jesus is talking about the fire within each of us: about that spark of life, the passion that excites us, the light that shines from deep within us for all to see. He is talking about the fire of love. Jesus wants “to set the Earth on fire” by setting us ablaze with His love. He came to earth as a human being to show us exactly how to do so.

We can help Jesus “set the Earth on fire” by igniting those around us with the light we have within us. All of us are capable of friendship, honesty and love. The way to set the Earth on fire is to shine our light so brightly that others see it; we must pour forth the rays of our love. In caring for others, we light them on fire.

A priest friend of mine recently told me this story. One little girl asked: “What would happen if the sun didn’t rise tomorrow?” Her friend responded: “Nothing much. I would sit down next to you, and everything would be brighter.”

This is what I mean by igniting someone with our love. When you care and show your love to someone, you can make everything brighter, no matter how stormy that person feels or how dark his or her world is at that moment. You can ignite someone and start the fire, and all it takes is one kind word or action to get the fire started.

Which brings me to Jesus’ next statement. He says: “How I wish the Earth was already blazing!” Here, Jesus is telling us that we haven’t succeeded in “setting the Earth on fire” with our love.

The fire of love that Jesus is asking for us to give and spread hasn’t quite lived up to his expectations yet. But we can set it in motion, and that’s Jesus’ challenge to us.

And this is my challenge to you: Especially in the darkness of these autumn – and almost winter – days, be someone’s light. Have the courage to care. Set the world on fire.[hr] Szczygiel, who resides in Greenpoint, is an English teacher in the upper middle school at Marymount School of New York. 

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