Our dangerous game. It took place during those drought weeks at the end of summer. We were middle school boys. Restless. Adventurous. In need of reprieve from daylong sports under the watchful eye of our parents. Bonded by a penchant for the mildly reprehensible, we’d venture deep into Wisconsin backwoods. We’d bring dry paper and lighter fluid. On a dry bed of pine needles, we’d set it ablaze. Explosive. Thrilling. Terrifying. The power of one, small flame took on a life of its own. The power to set an entire city on fire.
We were playing with fire.
The remarkable story is that you never read about the year Oshkosh burned to the ground. While the match ignited a contest of male hubris, fortunately it was not without some virtue. Just before hell broke loose, we’d scramble to stamp it out.
We were overwhelmed by this extraordinary power of the Universe. Even more, we were overwhelmed that it was placed in our hands.
Of course we were stupid. Of course it was dangerous. But had Jesus been born into our hood, I wonder if He would have been there with us… in awe of this Power. I wonder if He would not have connected with it in a very personal way. I wonder if it would have been the backstory to His later words: “I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already ablaze!” (Luke 12:49)
Are we not living in a parched land? Do we not feel it in our own souls? In our marriages, families and parishes? Have we not experienced the extraordinary Power of the Universe? Has the match not been placed in our hands? Given Jesus’ words, why are we not on Fire? Why is the Fire not spreading and taking territory? Why does it seem increasingly that territory is being taken?
It’s time for us to pray with Fire.
It is in our hearts to set our world ablaze. Three years ago hundreds were drawn together on a Pentecost evening to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We called it IGNITE. After moving testimonials pronouncing God’s real presence and power among us, families processed with their candles to a pyramidical structure called a Burning Bush. Collectively these candles were a “fire,” illuminating Jesus Christ whom we worshiped in Adoration. Uplifting worship and reverent silence. Long lines for Reconciliation. These pronounced our singular purpose: Deeper encounter with Jesus Christ. To be ignited. To set the world ablaze.
The Fire has spread to thousands. Over 20,000. But the real story is in the testimony of those who report a deepening love for Jesus Christ. Renewed marriages. Reconciliation with friends and family members. Returning to the Faith. Conversions to the Faith. And even a number who experienced major, physical and emotional healing in the Presence of Our Savior.
Why talk about Pentecost at the outset of Lent?
Because Pentecost is the purpose of Lent. Jesus came out of His desert fast “in the power of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:14). Our self-emptying has the purpose of our being filled by the Holy Spirit, not just for ourselves, but so much that He overflows. Put another way, Lent is a God-given means for us to be on Fire so that we can set the world on Fire.
Contrary to our childhood danger of setting the city on fire, events such as IGNITE have the danger of being reduced to just a flickering flame. A fleeting moment. This is the result of a culture inclined to reduce faith to a feeling. Reducing life-engagement to spiritual entertainment. Accordingly, many are beleaguered, ever searching for the next, spiritual high. Or sadly, they’ve just given up.
Here’s the good news. Jesus didn’t come to simply ignite so many matches. He came to set the world on Fire. He showed us how with the Apostles. Setting the world on Fire requires building and igniting a holy bonfire. This means the assembly of a few, parched logs. Our families. Our groups.
For the Apostles this was not simply responding to the call. It was awakening to their fundamental identity, their relationship with the Caller. In Jesus Christ they discovered themselves as a kind of puzzle piece that only He could complete. In Jesus Christ they were no longer alienated, but in union. No longer splintered, but holy. In Jesus Christ they discovered themselves in Holy Communion.
Pressed with every obstacle, the Apostles found themselves proclaiming, “Where are we to go? You have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68) Their response wasn’t simply on Sundays. It wasn’t penciled in activity. It wasn’t simply when it felt good. It wasn’t individualistic or "private." It wasn’t what it “did” for them. It wasn’t based upon a calculation for success. It wasn’t even contingent upon whether or not they understood.
Responding to Jesus Christ, they left everything. They gave everything. Everything. We’re called to do the same. The world will not be set ablaze if we do not.
Our call and priority must be to build and ignite holy bonfire pits. These are our homes and parish teams. This can not be stated strongly enough.
Recently after mass a man approached me, enthusiastically inviting me to participate in “That Man is You.” He had been committing a couple hours every Sunday for over two years. Of course this is great, to devote time to get together with other men and discuss what it means to be a man of God. Offering affirmation, I had to inquire: “What concrete difference has this made? Has it translated into you committing time to talking and praying in your home?”
Taken aback, he paused a moment and then replied sincerely, “It never occurred to me.”
For “That Man Is You” substitute Cursillo, TEC, CRHP, ACTS, Alpha or IGNITE. Substitute that awesome parish mission, the engaging bible study, the compelling book, the men’s group, the women’s group, the youth group. My similar question to participants of each of these has predominantly resulted in the same answer.
Our church activities can be like matches. We like to light them. They give us a flickering moment of warmth. But are they igniting Fire within our homes?
God’s design and desire for family resounds in revelation. Family is the first and most fundamental place God is encountered and lived. Family is a school for eternal life. Family is an icon of the Holy Trinity. “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” (Pope Saint John Paul II)
Family must be our priority.
Regardless of where we’re at in this journey, we're given a destination worthy of pursuit: If we’re spending an hour for any parish activity without similar time dedicated to talking and praying as a family, we’re robbing our families. If we’re more interested in meaningful connection with others than with our families, we have misguided priorities. Even more, we’re denying God the gift He wants to give us.
If encounters with Jesus in events such as IGNITE are not born of Fire, do not result in spreading Fire, IGNITE will become IG-fizzle.
Those around us are hungry for more than flickering flames. They hunger to be on Fire. We can not give what we do not have. Practically this means that every team leading an IGNITE needs itself to be a missioned community. They need to come from the Fire. They need to be forged in Fire. They need to be on Fire.
It’s time to acquire the Fire.
The Holy Spirit comes alive when we really commit to one another, to gathering weekly to talk and pray in our homes and as parish teams. While there are many forms and variations "out there," we offer an easy and accessible model called LIT Groups. LIT is short for Live IT. IT is our fundamental identity and mission: Image the Trinity. Get IT?
When families or groups gather, they light their candle. They use the free, downloadable LIT Gathering Guide (LIT Family | LIT Group) to guide their conversation, based upon subsequent Sunday readings. Thus, increasingly the candles brought before the Burning Bush are an authentic witness. The Fire corresponds to these real bonfire pits.
Much like the dangerous game of my childhood, real Fire touching parched land spreads quickly. Explosively. Newcomers who participate in an IGNITE are invited to experience the power of God alive in relationships in an ongoing way through LIT Groups.
Jesus is inviting us to a dangerous game. He’s inviting us to set the world ablaze. Build the holy bonfire pit in your home, group and core teams. Here’s the match.
Commit to talking and praying an hour a week for the next seven weeks. Discover God’s power alive in your relationships. Discover what He can do with the parched kindling in your own soul, your marriage, family and parish. Accept the Live IT Challenge. Following Jesus, let’s go into Lent with a view towards coming out “in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 4:14)
“Oh most Holy Spirit, come and IGNITE the great Fire of your Love! Set it ablaze in our minds and hearts!”