Holy Conflagrations

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Holy Conflagrations

Sometimes comments made by Christians give the impression that one of the joys they look forward to in heaven is seeing enemies receive their “just due.” Always, the implication is, of course, that the punishments meted out will compensate for the injustices done against themselves, not the other way around.  One picks up, in addition, the picture of a kind of ringside seat where the goats, having been separated from their sheeply selves, will someday enjoy a burning spectacle of the sheep.  Aside from the sadistic overtones of such views, one wonders what kind of god these Christians worship.  Just the bookkeeping involved in recording accurate accounts of good and bad behaviors is overwhelming.  Would we not wish, rather, that our God be preoccupied in thinking of us with tenderness and mercy?            

One of the liturgical prayers for the “ordinary time” of the year opens with the words, “Father in heaven, the perfection of justice is found in your love.”  The crossbar on our crucifixes signifies the paradoxical problem this kind of love poses for those who would like to see God’s justice operate vindictively.  Jesus, whose fire within is signified by a heart, was consumed by this love;  he died on the cross for us while we were still enemies!  Those who have been brought to their knees by his loving mercy have come to know there is nothing more devastating than this kind of love.  At such times, literally, “kindness and truth meet; justice and peace embrace.”  Distinctions between the two vanish.  God’s love is God’s justice.            

In Romans (12:20), St. Paul recommends that we take revenge on enemies by heaping fiery coals of love upon their heads. Is there anything more embarrassing than to have someone be kind to us when we have been just the reverse to them?  Could it be that Jesus, too, even now, sweetly revenges likely candidates for hell at the last moment by showing them a love so tender that they are unable to resist?  I would like to think so.  What fire could be more terrible—or transforming?

–Sister Mary E. Penrose, OSB



Sister Mary E. Penrose, OSB

Sister Mary E. Penrose is a Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. She edits readings for the liturgical Hours and writes reflections for the Community. And she is a tutor for the African Sisters attending The College of St. Scholastica. She was editor of a journal, Spirit & Life, for 18 years.


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“Listen carefully, my child, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart. Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father's advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.”
–St. Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of Saint Benedict