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The Fire which Burns and Saves

Posted by on Feb 28, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Today marks the end of Pope Benedict’s papacy. I am sad. There are many things written and said by Pope Benedict for which I am grateful to God. Here is one.

This is a paragraph from Spe Salvi, his encyclical from November 30, 2007, on the topic of the meaning of Christian hope. When words become separated from their origin, they loose their meaning and their effect. We have to relearn Christian words and concepts. Hope is one of those words.
This encyclical is powerful and especially for me personally for several reasons. First, written just over a year after my dad’s death, hope and judgment were still heavy on my heart. Second, he published this encyclical on November 30th, the feast of St. Andrew. I try to pay attention to such things as patron saints. Third, portions of this encyclical have popped up into my prayer life on several occasions.
This is one of those passages. This passage, paragraph 47, makes me think about my own efforts in this world. Are they good enough for Jesus Christ? Was my homily prepared? My counsel in confession clear? Am I making full use of my gifts to be a priest? I entrust all of these efforts to Jesus Christ, the “fire which burns and saves.”

Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy…The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

Thank you Lord, for Pope Benedict XVI!

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