mckennatThe “Stir Into Flame” is from 2 Timothy 1: 1-8  — plays on Paul’s line here, and also Vincent’s “If love is a fire, then zeal is its flame.”

Stir Into Flame

One of Vincent’s most often quoted lines is a kind of riff on or rephrasing of some words Paul writes to Timothy today. Paul’s says, “Because I count you as my dear child and want to wish you the grace, mercy, and peace of Jesus Christ Our Lord, I’m reminding you to: ‘stir into flame the gift of God that came through my imposing hands on you.'”

Then there’s Vincent’s metaphor for zeal: “If love is a fire, then zeal is its flame.” Vincent is counseling his daughters and sons to keep stirring the fire, to keep doing things to let that ember of charity burst out in new and brighter ways, not just to put a glow on the world, but to light it up.

And so Paul and Vincent raise up the question: how in fact, in the concrete, do I “stir that love and faith into flame”?

And of course, there are many responses to that. What you did this year on retreat, your opening your hearts to The Lord, all the spiritual practices laid out in the Constitutions, kindness and generosity to one another, plain old perseverance and “hanging in, in The Lord.”

But there’s one in our DNA as Christians (but certainly as followers of Vincent and Louise) that I’d hold up this morning. And that is a practice that’s so often singled out for us apostolic types that its familiarity has a way of blunting its force; i.e., the practice/ habit/exercise of seeing Christ in the other, especially when the other is a poor person. For sure this for us is such a key and everyday way of “stirring our gift, love, into flame.”

I know you’ve heard and read this council all your lives. But it’s good, from time to time, to step back and pay some special attention to it –> just how and where I do I practice it. And just as importantly, how and where do I see it; how alert I am to instances of it happening all around me.

Two wake-up calls came to me recently on its happening right around me…

I was with some Daughters of Charity at a shelter and they were going around taking care of the different needs in the hall. I walked up just as one women came up to a Daughter — and I saw this look of delight light up on both their faces as they met. They weren’t old friends but actually client and clinician — but that Sister’s face gave off a clear message that here was someone special coming up to her. Just a quick gesture, her lit up face — but there was no doubting she was greeting somebody special. Did the Daughter say to herself, “this is Jesus?” Who knows. But in substance it didn’t matter — the signal that the other woman was precious and valuable was there.

What I’m suggesting –> this was a moment of someone “stirring up into flame the gift that was handed down to her.”

A second wake-up. Malcom Muggeridge is the writer who spent a good amount of time with Mother Theresa. He describes a time when she came back from one of her fund-raising tours and instead of going right home went to what was known as “the dead house,” a shelter for people in their last days. He followed behind — and watched her come up to this suffering, dying man.

The way he described it: “It was like watching some very devout communicant come up the aisle to receive communion — reverent, intent, bowing down, as if she was expecting she was coming up to The Lord Himself.”

For sure, I should be living this lesson myself, but sometimes I relearn it just as powerfully by noticing who around me is practicing it. That is, my staying alert to others in my vicinity who are doing just this kind of thing — and in them seeing the flame shooting up out of their faith and love and so prodding me to do the same.

Is this only way faith gets stirred into flame? No. But it’s a key way, a hallowed and cherished way, a (if I could so put it) sure-fire way to keep charity alive, and indeed, shining and burning.


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