Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2:24 Sr. Carol Dvorak
2 Timothy 1: 6-8; 13-14
Luke 17: 5-10
Looking at all three readings for today’s Eucharist, it’s pretty evident that the theme is faith! As I read and pondered these readings, two things jumped out at me. One was the Gospel’s mustard seed parable. Did you ever think of Jesus as represented by a mustard seed? St. Ambrose wrote a beautiful passage asking if “we would know Christ the seed and Christ the sown?He is the grain of mustard seed because he sets fire to the human heart.” I had to think about this a bit, why would a mustard seed set fire to a human heart? And then it clicked! If you take a bit of mustard to taste, all by itself, it can seem a bit like fire in the mouth, can’t it? Ambrose goes on to say that “Christ is the grain of mustard seed, in that the narrative of the Lord’s passion is most bitter, (also like mustard) and most grievous; most bitter unto tears and grievous unto compunction. And so when we hear and when we read that the Lord fasted, the Lord thirsted, the Lord wept and the Lord cried out, we, (in faith and imitation of Christ), justly moderate the more agreeable delights of our body’s pleasures. Whoever sows the grain of mustard seed sows the Kingdom of heaven.” For me our Friday fast days help us to participate in this moderation of our body’s pleasures in union with Our Lord’s passion.
Now the second phrase that caught my attention was in the letter to Timothy where Paul says, “Beloved, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have.” I relate this to Ambrose’s “Christ, the mustard seed who sets fire to the human heart.” And I also relate it to John of Cross’ imagery of the living flame of love. (The following thoughts come from Martin Laird’s second book on prayer called A Sunlit Absence, Silence, Awareness and Contemplation.) He says that as we advance in the spiritual life “we become acutely aware of just how filled we are with arrogance, envy, preoccupation with our reputation and judgmentalism. Indeed these characteristics were all there within us, but we were at most only vaguely aware of them; now the living flame of love is drawing them out and placing them in our sight. The problem is that this stage of growth in humbling self-knowledge is singularly painful, with the result that we feel we are falling to pieces when in fact, we are becoming one with the living flame of love.” And this in my view is where faith comes in. We must believe in an all loving and merciful God must trust that this is part of a process for our healing. We must believe that the flame remains loving and is only working for our good. And so I encourage all of us, in faith, to follow Paul’s injunction to stir into flame the gift of God that we have received, this compassionate, purifying, living flame of love in imitation of Jesus, the mustard seed, who sets fire to the human heart. And this fire, who is Jesus, leads us to fasting and tears so that we too may sow the Kingdom of heaven.
I think we had a beautiful icon of how God loves his children when M. Rebecca’s sister Mary and baby Aimee were here recently. Each one of us who visited with them loved that baby! It was so evident as Aimee was passed around to each sister to hold and even to feed! I loved Aimee too even though she cried when it was my turn to hold her! So remember this icon if you are ever tempted to doubt God’s love for you, even when the living flame of this love is purifying and leads to humbling self-knowledge, for this flame sets fire to the human heart.
Sr. Carol Dvorak