Lk 12: 49-53

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.

Casting fire into our hearts

In The Divine Comedy, Satan is frozen solid at the bottommost pit of hell, which Dante envisions as the iciest place in the cosmos. And in The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis depicts the reign of the White Witch as one of endless winter. If in the popular imagination, hell is closely associated with fire and heat, these literary giants propose exactly the opposite view, for reasons that help make sense of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel. “I came to cast fire on the earth!”

Heat is what gets things moving. It is the kinetic energy that enables molecules fixed solidly in place to become fluid again and thus able to take on new and different forms. In one sense, hell is the precise opposite: it is a refusal to budge, a remaining locked in place. There is a kind of “peace” in such a state, as anyone who has experienced the tranquility of a snow-covered landscape knows. But it is ultimately a lifeless one, as the austerity of the arctic tundra makes clear.

Jesus seeks to cast fire in our hearts to melt away our disordered attachments, the things we cling to that freeze us in place. What are those icy areas of my own life?

—Fr. Matthew Baugh, SJ, is a member of the USA Central and Southern Province and serves as the associate pastor of St. Francis Xavier (College) Church in St. Louis.


I believe, O Lord; but strengthen my faith…
Heart of Jesus, I love Thee; but increase my love.
Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee; but give greater vigor to my confidence.
Heart of Jesus, I give my heart to Thee; but so enclose it in Thee that it may never be separated from Thee.
Heart of Jesus, I am all Thine; but take care of my promise so that I may be able to put it in practice even unto the complete sacrifice of my life.

—Blessed Miguel Pro, SJ