A Flaring Torch

Many years ago, before I became a nun, I went to Toledo and walked up to the town from the railway station. It was a summer’s evening and the scene that unfolded was, quite literally, picturesque. Some muleteers were driving their beasts across the bridge at the foot of the cliff, red tassels swinging as they lurched on their way. Higher up, where the mountain swifts were circling, one could see those famous lines of St John of the Cross, carved into the honeyed stone: En una noche oscura . . . It was another of those paradoxes in which Catholicism in Spain seems to delight: the fleeting intimacy of a moment of prayer emblazoned on a rockface for all the world to see.

I think today’s readings about the prophet Elijah and his New Testament counterpart, John the Baptist, and the feast of the Carmelite, John of the Cross, we celebrate today express another paradox. All three were inflamed with an ardent love of God, at once enormously attractive yet profoundly disturbing to those whose love is less certain. All three were men of deep and powerful silence whose words, when uttered, seared the soul. All three were men of mystery, most at home in the solitude of the desert, whose public lives were anything but obscure. In themselves they personify both the interiority of prayer and the exteriority of action. The source was, of course, one and the same: that passionate, intimate relationship each had with God.

During these days of Advent Elijah, John the Baptist and John of the Cross remind us what it means to be consumed with love of God. It must blaze out from us, shine, like ‘the shining from shook foil’ as Hopkins would say, become a fire that never goes out. And it must do so, that others may take fire, too.


4 thoughts on “A Flaring Torch”

  1. I wonder if we, with our inhibitions and British stiff upper lip could hope to emulate either Elijah, John of the Cross or John the Baptist in allowing the ‘bright flame of God’s love” to shine out enough to bring others to share it. Perhaps if we had the gift for proclamation of a John Wesley and the confidence to proclaim in the market place, we might be able to shine that light into peoples lives?

    Or, perhaps we are called to live our lives within the vocation and context that God places us in, in such a way that the light is shared through our just being the best that we can be, through our compassion, empathy and love for others, loving them as we love ourselves.

    Paul writes of the fruits of the spirit:

    “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” —Galatians 5:22-23

    These are the gifts that we can clothe ourselves in to be disciples and to make new ones.

  2. I recently listened to a Capachuen Father preach on the importance of not becoming too heavenly, it was reality that was important. Its strikes me that these three men had the ability to keep it real.

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