Shaped by Fire

Deep in each of us there exists a concept, a personal image of what Jesus looks like. That image was created by a lot of things. It comes from what we have heard, what others have modeled what people have said, holy writings and our own personal encounters with God Himself. Maybe you have thought deeply about that image or maybe you never even considered the idea before. Yet it’s still there.

When I think of my own personal image of Jesus I am very uncertain about some things like the color of his eyes or the exact length of his hair and very certain about other things like the kind of stature he had; muscular, powerful, not a body builders body but a fit man, tall, trim, strong arms and shoulders, a laborer’s body, confident and definitive in his movement and speech, no matter the circumstance. As far as his public image goes I am equally certain of what he is not!

I must say that I even get annoyed by the image some people portray of him that strikes me as totally wrong. It’s an image that contradicts everything that he taught and flies in the face of descriptions as he moved through the most visible three years of his ministry. The bible does tell us that he was not “comely”. It also tells us, though, that people were riveted to him and the way he spoke, like Herod. Somehow, though, Jesus has gotten this misguided characterization of being soft spoken, non-challenging, sweet, non-confrontational and neutral no matter what the sin. In other words, in many places, he is being portrayed as no one to worry about really and someone who will pick up our dirty laundry when we ask. No strings attached!

If we are serious about growing our spirit to a place where we can be effective for God in the world we need to completely understand what a false picture the “fluffy Jesus” is! One of the best ways to do that is to pay attention to Jesus’ own words as he prepares to exercise his ministry. He gives every clue we will need to be clear about his character and what he expects of his followers. “I have come to set the earth on fire and how I wish it were already blazing! …Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No I tell you, but rather division.” (Lk 12:49, 51)

It’s all here in this one quote, the beyond serious implications of the work that Jesus is bringing to the human race. Note that the image He himself uses is a violent image! Fire in its very nature is destructive, consuming everything in its path and leaving everything changed, ravaged. In the aftermath of a fire there is no choice but to start completely over because all of the old no longer exists.

Many saints understood the fire Jesus spoke about but St. Catherine of Sienna knew that the fire was a real directive for the work in the world that Christ wants us to do. She is clear that the fire itself is a good thing. That its power to change and make new is one of our most potent weapons to shape us individually as well as influence the world. “These are the desires I want you to pour out on the body of the Church for God’s honor and every person’s salvation. If you do, your words and actions will become like an arrow drawn red-hot out of the fire, that whenever it is shot sets on fire everything it strikes since it can’t help sharing what it has. So think of your soul as entering the fiery furnace of divine charity, and love’s power will make you shoot out and share what you have drawn from the fire. … In him all the dampness of selfishness is dried up and we take on the likeness of the Holy Spirit’s fire. (St. Catherine of Sienna)” Fire good! Don’t be afraid of the burn!

Copyright© 2016, Kathryn M. Cunningham

Kathryn M. Cunningham

Kathryn M. Cunningham

Kathryn holds a Master’s in Education from Saint Xavier University. Most recently she completed Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies from The Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. This recent degree was part of a “retirement project” after teaching for 35 years. She has also worked as a spiritual director, music minister,council member and prayer team warrior. Kathryn has a deep interest in catechesis for the people in the pews. As a “sort of” convert she finds the wisdom of the Church a source for encouragement, joy and survival in a world not sure of anything. Her writing has appeared in diocesan publications and on-line sites, most recently for Zenit. To learn more about Kathryn check out her thinking at:">

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