SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Rom 6:19-23; Ps 1:1-4,6; Lk 12:49-53 ]
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already!” What is this fire that Jesus has come to bring to the earth? Fire is a symbol of judgement. It was believed that when the Day of Judgment comes, it would be accompanied by fire to burn up all that is evil and not worthy. But that is to see this fire negatively. When the Holy Spirit came, we saw tongues of fire resting on the heads of the disciples. This is a fire of love that inspired them to proclaim the Good News with zeal to the world. So it is Jesus’ wish that with His coming, the world would be purified in truth and love so that, filled with the fire of love, we would be able to renew the face of the earth.
However, this will not happen without first going through the baptism of purification. That is why Jesus in the same vein also said, “There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!” Jesus knew that His message would bring about contradiction and opposition. “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Jesus knew that His message would cost Him His life. He would be rejected by the Jewish leaders and even His own people that He served and loved. He was aware that His acceptance of sinners would cause Him to be misunderstood. His baptism, as He told James and John, was to drink the cup of God’s wrath. Jesus had to go through His passion and death before His resurrection.
We too must drink the cup of suffering as well. To be baptized in Christ is to die with Him. It means dying to self and to our sinfulness. This is the context of St Paul’s letter to the Romans. Unless we are purified of our selfishness and the fear of death, we cannot give ourselves fully to the new life of love and holiness that the Lord intends for us. Indeed, it is true that in the early Church, the Christians were discriminated, marginalized and ostracized. It was difficult to be a Christian. But that is the price of being a Christian; being misunderstood, opposed, marginalized and even persecuted. Such trials happen all the time and in some places in the world, they are much discriminated and covertly harassed and persecuted.
For that reason, being a Christian is not a decision to be taken lightly. I am afraid that many of us living in lands where there is lesser discrimination, make the choice of being a Christian without much consideration. We do not have to count the cost of discipleship. Our commitment is only an external, nominal commitment. True, we attend some lessons but we are not properly instructed in the faith. We choose to be baptized because our friends are Catholic, or because of convenience. But many of us lack a personal faith and conviction in Christ. I just wonder how many of our Catholics who go through RCIA are truly ready for baptism and understand what baptism entails, its pre-requisites and implications. This is even more true for those young people who receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Are they ready to be confirmed in the faith and be His witnesses, or is it just a ceremony that they simply go through as a sign of graduation from formal catechism classes?
Baptism means a commitment given freely and spontaneously. It cannot come from a spur of the moment. It cannot be merely an emotional response to a God-experience even, if it happens. But it must be a conscientious decision with full knowledge of what it means to be baptized in Christ. It is the choice of living a new life in Him and dying to sin.
To choose this life, we must therefore compare what life is like without Christ. St Paul wrote, “When you were slaves of sin, you felt no obligation to righteousness, and what did you get from this? Nothing but experiences that now make you blush, since that sort of behaviour ends in death. Now, however, you have been set free from sin, you have been made slaves of God, and you get a reward leading to your sanctification and ending in eternal life. For the wage paid by sin is death; the present given by God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Life without Christ is slavery to sin. We can be either slaves of sin or slaves of Christ. “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Lk 16:13) What are the consequences of living a life of sin and slavery? To be slaves to sin is to be under the control of the flesh and our passion. We live on the level of animals, seeking to satisfy our desires. However, such desires cannot fulfill us. Even when we become satiated, it is temporary. We are always seeking for something else. Because our desires are selfish and self-centered, we compete with others and grab from others. This causes competition and division. Sin always bring division with others. It leads to jealousy, anger, revenge and competition. We view each other as threats to our happiness instead of friends. Our whole life is one of restlessness.
Indeed, sin begets sin. Sin grows from strength to strength, like cancer cells. Sin begins with negligence to God. We stop praying and reading the Word of God. We imbibe more information from secular and worldly resources. We begin to miss mass and the sacraments occasionally. The first time, we feel guilty, but after repeated times, we get used to our sins. Eventually, from negligence, we become indifferent to what is right and wrong. This applies to the sin of lust as well. Initially, we feel guilty when we commit the sin of lust. But after a few times, we just sleep around without feeling much guilt as our conscience becomes numb. This is true too for greed, dishonesty and stealing. That is why Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” (Lk 16:10)
Finally, from indifference, we become hostile towards God and goodness. We begin to be angry with those who speak the truth and expose our sins. Instead of fighting against evil, we fight against God. We seek to vindicate ourselves and to prove to the world that what we are doing is right. This is what the secularists are doing, attacking the moral values of the Church and of believers. They want to shut down the voice of the moral conscience of humanity. They seek to perpetuate their evil designs and to spread to the whole world.
That is why sin leads to death. It is not just physical death but eternal death. It is the death of love, life and truth. It makes a person miserable and without true friends. It leads to self-hatred because the person never finds himself. He never becomes what he is meant to be. He does not become the glory of God for all men to see. By not being faithful to his calling and identity, he cannot find fulfilment in life. Unless we live for others and for God, life has no real purpose or meaning, except to eat and die.
However, life without Christ leads to death. “For the wage paid by sin is death; the present given by God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Life with Christ is slavery to righteousness. It is to live in service to the truth. Living a life of Christ brings us eternal life as a gift from God because we begin to think and act like him. St Paul urges us, “as once you put your bodies at the service of vice and immorality, so now you must put them at the service of righteousness for your sanctification.” Sharing in His life, we find true joy, peace and happiness. This is what the psalmist says, “Happy the man who has placed his trust in the Lord. Happy indeed is the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked; nor lingers in the way of sinners nor sits in the company of scorners, but whose delight is the law of the Lord and who ponders his law day and night. He is like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves shall never fade; and all that he does shall prosper. Not so are the wicked, not so! For they like winnowed chaff shall be driven away by the wind for the Lord guards the way of the just but the way of the wicked leads to doom.”