Christ Came to Set the World on Fire

Homily for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) (75th anniv of death of Maximilian Kolbe)
August 14, 2016
St. Joseph’s, RLF – 10:00 AM

Focus:              Christ came to set the world on fire.
Function:        Go, set the world on fire!


kolbeI have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!

75 years ago, in late July of 1941, a prisoner escaped from a bunker in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. He had nothing to lose.  The conditions were horrendous.  He knew he was going to die.

The guards had a rule. If anyone escaped, 10 men would be killed in his place.  So, the guards lined up all 600 prisoners.  The prisoners stood in the hot sun all day while the guards searched for the escapee.

They didn’t find him.

The commander walked up and down the line of prisoners and slowly began to select 10…10 men who would be sent to a starvation bunker with no food, no water, where they would die a horrible death.

 “You.”  “You.”  “You…”

The heart of Franciszek Gajowniczek (Francis Guy oh KNEE check) pounded as the commander approached.

“You.”  “You.”  “You.”

As the commander drew nearer, he looked at Francis, pointed, and said it: “You.”

Francis wasn’t able to control himself. “Please!  My wife!  My children!  Who will care for them?!”

Then another prisoner stepped out of line. He walked up to the commander.

“What do you want?!”

“I want to take that man’s place.”

“Who are you?”

“I am a Catholic priest from Poland, and I want to take his place, because he has a wife and children.”

The commander paused for a moment and stared the prisoner down. “Fine, switch ‘em out!”

The guards sent Fr. Maximilian Kolbe and the prisoners to the underground starvation bunker, where they remained for two weeks. Fr. Kolbe kept his eyes fixed on Christ and gave the men in the bunker hope and encouragement, helping them to meditate on the Passion of Christ, the very passion in which they were now sharing.  At the end of two weeks, four men were still alive.  The guards needed the starvation bunker for more men, so they injected the men with carbolic acid.

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe died on August 14, 1941 – 75 years ago on this date.

Franciszek Gajowniczek remained in Auschwitz for 3 years before he was transferred to another concentration camp. He was then freed by the Allied forces and, 6 months after the War ended, he was reunited with his wife, although his two sons had been killed in the war.

He died in 1995, at the age of 93. Thirteen years before his death, he was present at the canonization Mass where Saint John Paul II proclaimed Fr. Kolbe as Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a martyr of charity.

In speaking of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Francis said: “I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on.  The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me – a stranger…

“He didn’t just die for me but for all of us – to give us a witness of heroic charity.”

Jesus said to his disciples, I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!

Christ had set the fire ablaze in the heart of Maximilian Kolbe, and Kolbe in turn set that fire ablaze in those he came into contact with. Saint Maximilian Kolbe was on fire with the love of God.  The fire of Divine Love consumed him – it blazed within him, and God used that heavenly fire to draw Francis out of the pit of destruction and to draw the other men in the bunker out of the pit of hopelessness and despair.  Even though their time in the starvation bunker would end in death, Kolbe kept them focused on the joy they would soon attain – the joy of eternal life.

And when Kolbe died, his flame did not go out. No, it exploded through Auschwitz as other prisoners learned of his heroic deed.  In a cold place of horror, hate, and despair, where the fire of God’s love seemed to have been extinguished, Kolbe lit the torch of hope.  And beyond Auschwitz, the fire that consumed him comes to us today and lights a fire within us.

A fire that cannot be controlled
A fire that cannot be contained
A fire that captivates the hearts of those who see it

A fire that burns deep within our hearts, consuming them and providing the fuel for a life poured out in service…

A fire that burns through our fears and keeps our eyes fixed on the One who came to set the earth on fire with the love of God.

I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!

Brothers and sisters, the fire has been lit. It has been passed down through the centuries.  Sometimes it blazes and sometimes it seems to lay dormant, smoldering in the coals of indifference and lukewarmness.  But Christ desires it to be blazing.  Is your heart ablaze?  Is your heart raging with the uncontrollable fire of divine love?

Fan the flame, don’t let it go out!

Pokemon Go will not set the fire ablaze…
Facebook will not set the fire ablaze…
Soundbites will not set the fire ablaze…
Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton will not set the fire ablaze…

But…Virtuous friendships and real relationships will set the fire ablaze
Pursuing a life of virtue will set the fire ablaze
Prayer – real, fervent prayer will set the fire ablaze

A life transformed by the living Word of God will set the fire ablaze because “The Lord’s voice flashes flames of fire”

Reading the Lives of the Saints, Saints like Maximilian Kolbe, will set the fire ablaze as we encounter the love of God in the example that they set for us.

A life poured out in service, a life spent using the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we have been given, will set the fire ablaze.

A life of charity, devotion, fervor, and zeal will set the world on fire. Saint Catherine of Siena once said, “Become who you were meant to be, and you will set the world on fire.”

Brothers and sisters, we were made for greatness. We were made to be saints.  We were made to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who came to cast a fire on the earth.

Remember who you are.
Go, set the world on fire!