BY MARY ELLEN JOHNSTON
DIRECTOR, CARE MINISTRIES
Since mid-August, I’ve been paying keen attention to the news about the massive, destructive, wildfires that areimpacting California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah,Arizona and Montana. These large wildfires, many ignited by severethunderstorms, race through parched, wind-blown acres with incredible speed. Thefire spreads easily and the containment becomes very difficult. During the past fewweeks, thousands of people have been forced to evacuate. These risk-prone areasare located in some of the most beautiful parts of our country. As I write thiscolumn, 1,222 active fires are presently burning in the U.S. This past Monday, theNational Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported that 46,148 wildfires have burned8,404,047 acres between January 1,2020, through October 19, 2020, – these statistics are staggering.In today’s gospel (MT 22:34-40), Jesus tells us he has come to ignite a fire – the fire of God’s love. Unlike the ragingwildfires that cause death and destruction, the fire Jesus brought to the world destroys sin. Jesus wants nothingmore than to bring love to the whole world.
In the first part of this reading, Jesus reveals that God loves all of us – and that in return – we shall love God with allof our heart, soul, and mind. By following this great commandment, we can do this in three ways:The first way to show our love to God is through prayer. By taking time out of our day to pray and free ourselvesfrom distractions, we will deepen our friendship and familiarity with God and experience genuine joy.A second way to be on fire with God’s love is by making regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and seekingGod’s forgiveness.
The third way we respond to God’s love is through word and example. If we take our faith seriously and live ourfaith with integrity, we will bear daily witness to the Gospel in our community.In the second part of this reading, Jesus comes to “light a fire” within us and tells us to love our neighbor asourselves.
During the past two months, it’s been incredible to see a “fire burning brightly” within more than 20,000 firefighterswho have responded to scores of major fires in California alone. This is love in action!This is neighbor helping neighbor! Firefighters from across the U.S. are joining inbattling the blazes. Fire engines and crews have arrived from Texas, Montana, Arizona,Nevada and Utah. These firefighters and first responders are to be commended forbraving high heat and firestorms, across difficult terrain, as they defend lives andproperty. It has been especially stressful for firefighters trying to control some of thelargest blazes in California history. They’re working 24/7, they’re running thin, andthey’re exhausted, because of the sheer number of fires occurring all at one time.
I have been inspired by the recent words of Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Diocese of San Jose. He said, “Californiansare not alone. God is with us. He is our refuge and our strength, especially in moments of darkness. His love for usis fiercer than any fire, stronger than any disease, steadier than the unknown.” He asked all Catholics to pray foraffected families and those working to battle the blazes. “God is with us especially in difficult times,” he said. “Ifyou look at Scripture, at the lives of the saints, it’s especially in the darkest moments that we are remindedconstantly that God does not abandon us,” he said.
We know what’s at the heart of our following Jesus. Love – it’s as simple as that. Love is the definition of ourCatholic faith: love for God and love for other people.