The state of the Catholic Church is western society is currently less than desirable. While many good things are happening in many communities, generally speaking, most dioceses are dealing with decline in attendance and donations. Thus, priest shortages resulting in churches and parishes closing is widely the narrative. While these quantifiable numbers show the symptoms of shrinkage in a time of purification for the Church, business or even social strategies which have been implemented to directly combat the declining numbers will ultimately prove unsuccessful in the long run to revive the Church, even if these strategies do find some short term success. 

What then is the solution to a shrinking Church? Fire. Jesus states in the Gospel of Luke, I have come to set the world on fire and how I wish it was already burning (Luke 12:49).  The power and dynamism of the Church is not found in the numbers that attend mass (although that can help). The power and dynamism of the Church is found in a radical fiery love that Catholics should have for God which stems from sacramental communion with Jesus who became human to show how much God loves us. Through His death on the cross He reveals this love and in the same action shows us how we are to love the Father; with total abandonment to His will.  We are to be a Church on fire who knows the story of salvation history and God’s love for us.

The whole of salvation history can be seen as a movement from water to fire. When sin came into the world, God purged sin from the earth through the mighty flood waters. Yet, from that moment on, God focused on forming a people into which His Son would be born into, and to whom He could send the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire. The Church, first prefigured in the safety of the Ark, is now a fire tasked with setting the world ablaze with God’s love. 

The formula for the life of a Christian mimics salvation history. We are immersed in the cleansing waters of baptism and then receive the power of the Holy Spirit, all while being sustained by the fiery love of Jesus in the Eucharist. It is this formula that empowers the Catholic to carry out Jesus’ wish of a fiery Earth. 

But the world is not ablaze, and one could argue that even the western Catholic Church is not ablaze. Why is this? Because, many in the Church do not make the transition from water to fire. We are content with the cleansing waters of baptism to wash away our sin, but do not enter into the purification of God’s fiery love. This is evident in the hyper focus on confession in today’s Church and lack of focus on Confirmation. To be clear: there is nothing wrong with going to confession frequently. But often we go to confession, just to feel the cleansing of our soul (which is good). But if we are not going to confession for the additional and more important purpose of using our freedom from sin to show radical love to God and others, then we are not actualizing our truest purpose of baptism, reconciliation and Confirmation.

If the Church wants to see a revival within its members, it does not need the latest business or social strategies (these can be supplemental agents). It needs to return to a fiery love that the Son has for the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to move past our hyper fixation of the personal cleansing of Baptism and reconciliation, and focus on the dynamism of the power of the Son and Holy Spirit in the Eucharist and Confirmation. We will find that when we do, it will not be to the detriment of Baptism and Reconciliation, but rather it will enhance the graces we receive in them. Peter tells us, love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). It is time for us to embrace the call to radically love others, and move from water to fire.