The Flames of Divine Love
The Fire Kindled:
In Exodus 3:2-4, we read of Moses’ miraculous encounter with the burning bush:
“The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
The bush, while being the mechanism by which God used to reveal himself to Moses, can also symbolize God’s burning love for all of mankind and the manifestation of that love through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Mary, the Mother of God, conceived Christ while keeping her virginity intact, just as the burning bush was kindled with the Holy Spirit yet was not consumed. Just as God revealed himself through the burning bush, he would later reveal himself in the person of Jesus Christ through a woman, making Mary the “new” burning bush. This divine fire, first enveloping the bush and later inflaming the heart of Mary, is a symbol of the holy spirit, of the love that led Christ to the cross, and of the sacred heart of Jesus that blazes with a fire that cannot be quenched without the love of souls. A fire not unlike this descended upon the apostles at Pentecost. We too, are sealed with this gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation. But the fire will only stay ablaze if we allow it. The acceptance of divine love is an acceptance of divine fire. This may seem frightening, as it implies sacrifice. After all, what does a fire do? It burns. Indeed, the price of accepting the divine fire is purification. It applies a sanctification through suffering. But what else does fire do? It illuminates. It gives warmth. It gives comfort. Just as the bush was aflame but not consumed, the heart of the one who has accepted Christ is not razed, but fulfilled. Once the soul has learned to suffer through love, it can now enjoy the mercy of God that burns as an immense furnace of charity unfathomable in its perfection. And so we should not be afraid of the fire of divine love. Our Lord said to St. Faustina:
“Let the sinner not be afraid to approach Me. The flames of mercy are burning Me – clamoring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon these souls. Gather all sinners from the entire word and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. I want to give Myself to souls; I yearn for the souls.”
The Fire of the Saints
Of course, all of the saints discovered this love of Christ to some degree. Some, however, experienced the flames of divine love in a remarkable way. Here, I would like to highlight three of them.
St. Gemma Galgani:
St. Gemma Galgani had an extraordinary love for God. During the course of her short life, she had visions, received the stigmata, took communion from Christ himself, and suffered terrible attacks from the devil. The flames of divine love were manifested in her physically, as she explained to her spiritual director:
“For the last eight days I have felt something mysterious in the area of my heart that I cannot understand. The first couple of days I disregarded it, because it gave me only a little trouble. But today is the third day, and this fire has increased, oh so much, as to be almost unbearable. I should need ice to put it out, and it hinders my eating and sleeping. It is a mysterious fire that comes from within, then goes to the outside. It is, however, a fire that does not torment me, rather it delights me, but it also exhausts and consumes me……Jesus, Father, will make you understand everything about it. Great God, how I love You! Oh, how love You!”
While in ecstasy, Gemma was heard to say:
“You are on fire Oh Lord, and I burn. Oh pain, oh infinitely happy love! Oh sweet fire! Oh sweet flames! And would You wish my heart to become a flame? Oh, I have found the flame that destroys and reduces to ashes! Cease, cease, I cannot withdraw my heart from so much fire. What am I saying…No; rather come Jesus! I will open my heart to You; put Thy Divine fire into it. You are a flame, and let my heart be turned into a flame!….Come then, Oh Jesus! Your heart is a flame and you wish mine to be turned into a flame as well….Jesus, I feel I must die when you are throbbing so in my heart.”
This fire caused her great suffering but also the greatest joy. On another occasion, she writes:
“My heart, Father, is the victim of Love, and I shall soon die of love. These flames of love consume my body, as well as my heart, and I shall be reduced to ashes. Yesterday, as I drew near to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I felt myself burning so violently, that I was obliged to move away. I was burning all over; it rose even to my face. Viva Gesu! How does it happen that so many who are standing so close to Jesus do not burn to ashes?”
St. Padre Pio:
St. Pio gives us a description of the fires of divine love acting primarily as a source of consolation:
“I no sooner began to pray than my heart is filled with a fire of love. This fire does not resemble any fire of this lowly earth. It is a delicate and very gentle flame which consumes without causing any pain…This is a wonderful thing for me, something I will perhaps never understand until I get to Heaven.”
It is important to note that the aspiration of the Christian should not solely be in consolations such as those granted to St. Pio and St. Gemma. They are a gift from God, and if we receive them we should remember that the gift can never be greater than the giver (naturally). Thus, St. Pio offers this piece of wisdom to remind us that the fires of divine love do not come without struggle:
“In order to attract us, the Lord grants us many graces that we believe can easily obtain us Heaven. We do not know, however, that in order to grow, we need hard bread: the cross, humiliation, trials and denials.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux:
St. Thérèse is known for her simplicity in her “little way” to Christ. In her life, she experienced no visions or locutions, received no stigmata or extraordinary divine revelations. She did, however, put all of her trust in God, even as she suffered immensely through a time of spiritual dryness. At times, she felt that God was very far away, but still, the fires of divine love burned in this little child of Jesus through her simplicity, innocence, and heroic virtue. Her trust in God’s love is expressed by her as such:
“In times of aridity when I am incapable of praying, of practicing virtue, I seek little opportunities, mere trifles, to give pleasure to Jesus; for instance a smile, a pleasant word when inclined to be silent and to show weariness. If I find no opportunities, I at least tell Him again and again that I love Him; that is not difficult and it keeps alive the fire in my heart. Even though this fire of love might seem extinct I would still throw little straws upon the embers and I am certain it would rekindle.”
A different translation of the last sentiment above reads:
“Even if the fire of love seemed to have gone out, I would keep on throwing fuel in it and Jesus would take care to light it up again.”
St. Thérèse knew that God would provide. As long as she made an effort, she knew that Jesus would be there to meet her, and this is why the flames of love were never extinguished in the heart of this holy saint. Even as she lay suffering during the last months of her short life, she did not fear death, as she writes:
“No, I cannot fear Purgatory; I know that I do not merit even to enter with the Holy Souls into that place of expiation, but I know too that the fire of Love is more sanctifying than the fire of Purgatory, I know that Jesus cannot will needless suffering for us, and that He would not inspire me with the desires I feel if He were unwilling to fulfill them.”
Thus we see that the flames of divine love inspire within the soul great trust in He who bestows them.
“Kindle In Them The Fire of Your Love”
Although the saints offer compelling testimonies to the love of God that can sometimes seem out of our reach, we should remember that this love is not for a select few. Jesus desires to bestow the flames of divine love unto all people: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49) Yet men continue to reject the infinite charity of Our Lord, because the acceptance of divine love also implies the acceptance of the Cross. If only it were known that the Cross in turn implies Joy! As St. Ignatius said,
“Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ.”
The flames of divine love must blaze in the night as a testimony to the eternal Truth in a world of darkness. For this reason, the prayer that should be continually on the lips of all Catholics in these times is this:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
While on earth, this fire must be fed. Through the sacraments, prayer, and earnest devotion we can keep the holy fire of the faith alive.
My Lord, grant that your Flame of Love may burn in me and, growing into a single flame, may it burn constantly on the altar of my heart. May your Flame of Love burn through my soul and consume it, so that the last day of my life may be a day of union with you forever…Amen.
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, fountain of eternal life, Your Heart is a glowing furnace of Love. You are my refuge and my sanctuary. O my adorable and loving Savior, consume my heart with the burning fire with which Yours is aflame. Pour down on my soul those graces which flow from Your love. Let my heart be united with Yours. Let my will be conformed to Yours in all things. May Your Will be the rule of all my desires and actions. Amen.