“The world is always burning—burning with the fires of greed, anger, and foolishness,” taught the Buddha in his great Fire Sermon. “One should flee from such dangers as soon as possible.”
Known as Siddhartha Gautama before his teaching ministry, the Buddha knew well mankind’s propensity for selfishness and sin. He had grown up in the lap of luxury, and he had seen firsthand how the Hindu caste system viciously oppressed the poor. In his days, massive social and political upheaval rocked the Indian subcontinent. Morally and religiously, it seemed like the world was coming to an end. This period of rapid change and widespread disillusionment led the Budda to proclaim, “All conditioned things are impermanent—when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.”
In our own days, the Buddha’s sentiments are again especially relevant. Even though Christians like myself disagree with his metaphysics, I can certainly agree with his diagnosis of what feeds the flames of conflict. The litanies of our world’s ills could fill libraries. Pride and selfishness dominate our global society. Without scruple, corrupt governments and corporations abuse people and despoil the natural resources and beauty of our God-given planet. Wars and rumors of wars blaze across various nations. Terror, slavery, and famine plague large segments of the population. Meanwhile, news reporters, instead of confronting us with the truth about our world and inspiring us to become better human beings, tend only to spread lies and repeat petty celebrity gossip. Thus, what we hear deadens us to reality. Popular entertainment also lulls us into a false sense of complacency and all too often reduces men, women, and children to mere objects of sex and ridicule. Perversion twists and distorts the image of God within people everywhere, making practices once considered unthinkable—infanticide, murder, rape, suicide, no-fault divorce, oppression of the poor, theft, and sexual sin of all kinds—not only acceptable, but commonplace.
Indeed, the whole world is on fire. What are we Christians to do? I believe Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who was martyred at the hands of Nazi Germany, wrote these instructions for our times:
The world is in flames. The struggle between Christ and Antichrist rages openly, and so if you decide for Christ you can even be asked to sacrifice your life…
The world is in flames: the fire can spread even to our house, but above all the flames the Cross stands on high, and it cannot be burnt. The Cross is the way which leads from earth to heaven. Those who embrace it with faith, love, and hope are taken up, right into the heart of the Trinity.
The world is in flames: do you wish to put them out? Contemplate the Cross: from the open Heart the blood of the Redeemer pours, blood which can put out even the flames of hell. Through the faithful observance of the vows, you make your heart free and open; and then the floods of that divine love will be able to flow into it, making it overflow and bear fruit to the furthest reaches of the earth.
Through the power of the Cross you can be present wherever there is pain, carried there by your compassionate charity, by that very charity which you draw from the Divine Heart. That charity enables you to spread everywhere the Most Precious Blood in order to ease pain, save, and redeem.
The eyes of the Crucified gaze upon you. They question you and appeal to you. Do you wish seriously to renew your alliance with Him? What will your response be? ‘Lord, where shall I go? You alone have the words of life.’ Ave Crux Spes Unica!
Let us then cling to the words of our Lord and Savior, who has said to us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mt. 24:35). Jesus, there’s just something about that name…it brings inner peace to the soul. But make no mistake—we live in a burning house, troubled times are coming, and the faith of many will be tested. I shall leave you to meditate on Jesus’ words concerning the fire sweeping our fragile world:
“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
He also said to the multitudes, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know how to interpret the present time” (Lk. 49-56)?