THE CLEANSING FIRE
Memorial of Sts. Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church
Reading 1: 1Jn 2:22-28 The man who denies Jesus Christ is the Anti-Christ
Gospel: Jn 1:19-28 John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, gives witness to Jesus.
In today’s gospel we encounter the personal testimony of St John the Baptist. John says that Jesus will come and baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The image of being baptized “with fire” is a good one to reflect upon. It reveals to us the intense purification Jesus desires for our souls.
What does it mean to be purified? For one thing, the purification of the soul hurts. But it hurts in a sweet sort of way. Turning from sin and growing closer to God requires great sacrifice and surrender. It requires that we allow God to do powerful things within us. And the most powerful thing God wants to do is purify us.
Catholic theology teaches us about the reality of Purgatory after we die. Purgatory is said to be a place of much spiritual pain, but again, in a sweet sort of way. It is painful in the sense that we are stripped of all that we hold on to, that God wants us to let go of. It is painful in the sense that we endure a complete transformation of who we are and what we love. We learn to love God and God alone. And in the embrace of our love of God, we come to love all people. It is also sweet, because, as we are purified, we grow infinitely closer to God and advance in holiness. This gradually lightens the burden of sin and frees us to love as we ought.
But our purification ought not start only in Purgatory. We are called to enter into that process of purification here and now. We are called to heed the words of John the Baptist today and repent of all that keeps us from living a holy life. Reflect today, upon the purification to which God may be calling you. What is it that you hold on to that he wants you free of? Commit yourself to the purifying fire of God’s love, that it may cleanse you.
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 98: 1-4 All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
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