St Ignatius of Loyola loved the missions. He would have loved to go to the missions himself, but since he was not allowed to, he personally sent some of his first members to the Far East. Amongst them was St Francis Xavier, a good friend of his, who was to eventually become one of the patron saints of the missions. It is said that, when St Ignatius sent this first group of missionaries, he told them “Go, set the world on fire”. Ignatius also often used this phrase at the end of his letters to his missionaries.
I suppose we can safely say that, in using this expression, St Ignatius was thinking of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Another biblical image that comes to mind is the tongues of fire which descended on the apostles on Pentecost, giving them the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the fire which the Apostles were to take with them as they went throughout the world, obeying Jesus’ command, to proclaim Jesus’ Good News. It is also the fire which we receive, and which we pass on to our children on the day of baptism. Fire implies light, warmth, passion. It can also burn, destroy and purify.
As we journey with Jesus being his disciples, we are invited to share in his mission of spreading this fire. So, the first question that comes to mind is: “Do I have the fire burning inside me?” Because, the simple truth is that, unless I have it, I cannot share it with others! Perhaps a better question would be, “What kind of fire do I have burning inside me?” Because we all have something we are very passionate about in our lives.
The fire which Jesus brought to the world is the fire of Love. Everything he did was a living expression of this Love. He did not hesitate to say that Love is the greatest commandment of all the laws that the Jews had to adhere to. When he was about to leave this world, the instruction he gave to his disciples was to love one another as he had loved them.
Unfortunately, not everybody is willing or ready to accept the message of Jesus. Some people tend to put their own interests before anything else. This can cause divisions, as people who do not share the same values might not approve of some our decisions. Sometimes, these people can be our own friends or family members. Jesus spoke openly about this, so that we will not be taken by surprise when such things happen in our lives.
As Christians, as followers of Jesus, all we have to do is to keep walking on the footsteps of our Master. Often, a small good action can have great effects. It is like a small spark, which can spread into a huge fire. To share in the mission of Jesus we might not be asked to do great things. As St Catherine of Siena reminds us: “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”