‘A Burning Furnace of Charity’
4/1/2017Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
The saving power of Christ’s love is shared with the world in and through the Church
SOME YEARS AGO, I offered Sunday Mass at an old urban parish. The day was cold, and the church was colder. “Be mercifully brief!” my guardian angel told me as I climbed the stairs to the pulpit. In fact, as I preached I could see my breath.
After Mass, I asked the pastor why the church was so cold. “Was it the boiler?” I wanted to know. “No,” he said, “the boiler is fairly new. I had it checked and it’s working efficiently.”
He went on to explain that the real problem was the distribution system. The pipes and valves that were supposed to carry the hot water from the boiler to the radiators and distribute the heat evenly throughout the building were not in working order. As you might imagine, the cost of fixing that system was pretty steep.
I recently remembered that conversation while I was sitting in my chapel, and it occurred to me that this old story might have a deeper meaning. It’s this deeper meaning I would like to share with you, especially in these days when we most solemnly celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE BODY OF CHRIST
As we take part in the beautiful liturgies of Holy Week, the truth and reality of God’s saving love should resonate in our hearts. We celebrate the immense love of Jesus who was sent by the Father to redeem us from our sins. Jesus took our sins upon himself and laid down his life on the cross. He then rose from the dead, overcoming our sins and opening for us the way to everlasting life. So ardent is the love of the Savior’s heart that it is sometimes described as “a burning furnace of charity.” This means that his heart is perpetually on fire with merciful love for you and me. He offers himself continually and totally, and his love is stronger than our sins and more powerful than death itself.
As baptized Catholics, we rejoice in this saving love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Truly his heart is “a burning furnace of charity” for the entire world. But how does the ardent love of Jesus, poured out upon the cross and revealed in its power by the resurrection, make its way to our own hearts? To put it another way, what is the “distribution system” by which Jesus’ love circulates throughout the Church and warms the world around her?
It might be said that the Church herself is that distribution system. The fire of love burning in the heart of Christ reaches us principally in and through the Church. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The Church is born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation” (766). The redeeming presence and love of Christ circulates through all the members of the Church gathered from every race and nation. The Church is so closely joined to Christ that it is called the Body of Christ, and it is described as the “wondrous sacrament” that came forth from Jesus’ side as he hung on the cross.
And through the seven sacraments, Christ’s love is extended all over the world and in every era of history. Scripture tells us that blood and water flowed from the side of Christ when it was pierced by the soldier’s lance. Water represents the sacraments of baptism and penance. Blood preeminently represents the sacrament and sacrifice of the Eucharist we share in at holy Mass.
In his design for the Church, the Lord willed to use frail and fallible human beings as part of his distribution system. He entrusted his mission to the Apostles and to their successors, and every Christian, whatever his or her state of life or vocation, is called to circulate the love of Christ in a world where there is so much suffering and indifference. What a privilege to be a part of this living mystery!
It is also the human element in this distribution system that often breaks down. Those of us charged with preaching the Gospel and celebrating the sacraments can lose our zeal. Those charged with maintaining the domestic church and transmitting the faith from one generation to the next can succumb to temptation and discouragement. Believers sometimes give scandal, causing people to lose or abandon their faith. Yet nothing is lacking in the furnace of charity that burns for our salvation. Breakdowns, when they occur, are due to our lack of connection to Christ.
We should think of the Knights of Columbus as an important part of the Church’s distribution system. Our first principle is charity — an extension of that burning love which Christ has for each person, without exception. The strength and beauty of the charity we are called to practice lie not merely in its massive scope or in the many forms it takes. Rather, our charity is a way of extending and circulating the love of Christ, especially for the poor, the needy, the widow, the orphan and the vulnerable.
So as you engage in the charitable works of the Order, consider yourself part of the Church’s “distribution system.” By our zeal and enthusiasm for charity and service, let us help keep that system in good repair!