The other day something truly amazing happened to me. I sat down to pray in my usual spot, a room in which there is a lamp that is on a timer. The timer makes a bit of a racket, like a ticking noise. It has done so for quite a while and I usually tune it out. But on this particular day, within 30 seconds of beginning my prayer, I reached over, with hardly a thought, to pull the timer out of the wall. When I touched it, I found it to be so hot that I realized it was a fire waiting to happen...and it seemed like it was not going to wait too much longer! I felt the outlet, and it was warm to the touch. Being the daughter of a firefighter, I knew to feel the wall also, because if it was warm it was time to call 911. This is because a hot wire can spark a fire if there is even a bit of sawdust back there. It can smolder and then the walls can act as a flue, a sure way for a house to go up in flames in a matter of minutes. Thankfully, the wall was cool to the touch and a disaster was averted. Given that I just sat down to pray, I attribute what happened to my guardian angel who acted as a messenger of the Holy Spirit and poked me interiorly to act. I have no other explanation. There was no voice telling me to pull the timer out; it was simply something I did. Believe me, the rest of my prayer consisted of prayers of thanksgiving and praise.
I grew up on the stories my dad told concerning fire safety. There were tragic tales of disastrous fires as well as stories of homes, businesses, and lives that were saved. He told of what it was like to be in a fire. Being a firefighter is not glamorous; it is dangerous and uncomfortable. In summer it is already quite hot and yet they have to don many pounds of gear and run into an inferno. Often there is nothing but smoke and they cannot see, so it is as if they are blind. In winter it can be unbearably cold. Can you imagine water freezing all around you and you are running around with a hose? The spray is painful. Nonetheless, there are men and women in every city and town who put their lives in jeopardy on a daily basis to help you and me to stay safe.
Ironically, I am continually attracted to the image of fire in spirituality. In the Bible the glory of God was depicted as a fiery presence. For example, Moses encountered God in the Burning Bush; God was also in the pillar of fire that led the Israelites around the Sinai desert and then to the Promised Land. Pentecost is the best example of God’s presence through fire: there appeared tongues of fire which settled over the heads of the apostles as they were filled with the Spirit. The Church, you could say, was born of fire and water: the fire of the Spirit and the waters of baptism.
Saints are often artistically portrayed with a halo (or nimbus) which is to illustrate the brightness of God which emanated from them. St. Charbel of Lebanon, for example, is said to have had light like fire emanate from him when he prayed. St. Philip Neri is said to have had a ball of fiery light come from Heaven and enter into his chest, such that he exuded so much heat that he never had to wear a coat, even in winter. And there are the patron saints of firefighters, such as St. Barbara, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Nicholas of Myra, - (yes, that St. Nick!) - St. John of God, and St. Florian, the saint most associated with firefighters. St. Florian lived in the third century and was said to have saved an entire town from burning down, miraculously extinguishing the blaze by throwing a single bucket of water. He was eventually martyred by being scourged, flayed alive, and then drowned in a river.
I cannot be sure why I experienced the urging of the Spirit the other day, but maybe it was because God was letting me know that there was a connection between the timer incident at my house and something that happened earlier in the day. I was near one of the firehouses where firefighters died at the end of May when the roof of a burning hotel collapsed on them, and felt the desire to walk over. After talking with the captain for about 5 minutes he invited me to address all the firefighters in their common room. The experience was very moving. We talked for a few minutes, and I came away more inspired than I could have imagined. They let me into their lives for that brief encounter and it was a touching of hearts. Going there was not premeditated, so I had no planned speeches or expectations. It was one of those moments where I saw the station and went over without much thought. My intention was simply to let them know they were remembered and were being prayed for. What followed between us was pure gift of the Spirit, the fire of His love, maybe.
Firefighters are heroes, though they say they are only doing their job. That may be true, but it takes a special person to have to courage to choose that as a career. There are other special folks who are also heroes such as all first responders, those in medical professions, teachers, clergy, and parents who sacrifice for their children every single day. However, what is most important in all this is to remember that the Holy Spirit does work through all of us. If we open ourselves to God through prayer, He does make a home in our heart. He does help us in doing what seem to be spontaneous acts of kindness and goodwill which not only touch the people to whom these acts are directed, but will also touch those who do them. By spending time in prayer each day, we open our heart to God and open our will to His, such that more and more they become as one. That is the path of any disciple: to become more like the Master.
Random acts of kindness are really not very random. They may seem so to the one who does the act, but really we are responding to the urging of the Holy Spirit who nudges us in hidden ways sometimes. That is, it is not an obvious feeling. We get what seems like a spontaneous thought or urge and we go with the flow of it. St. Ignatius of Loyola teaches that we need to learn how to discern which movements are of the Holy Spirit and which are movements from the evil spirit. The more we learn to discern, the more we can go with the flow in the seemingly small actions, such as the one I described. Discernment is about getting into the stream of “God consciousness." The more time we spend with the Lord, the more we become attuned to the smallest of His urgings and therefore we chose to act on them. We learn to recognize His presence and how He operates within each of us uniquely.
Yes, the firefighters I met touched my heart and therefore I was sitting down to pray in gratitude for them when the incident with the heated-up timer took place. I really don’t know if there was a connection between the two events or if it was just my day for fire related issues. But I have no doubt that it was the Spirit who prompted me to touch that little box and to avert a fire. I believe that God acts this way with all of us. Maybe we should be praying for the fire of God's presence to replace the fire of destruction in our lives and in our world. Given how much happens every day that is clearly not of God and which brings strife, violence, and division rather than peace, justice, and healing, maybe this can be a message to ask ourselves which fire is present in our hearts. I will be praying that the fire of love is what is present in our world, and I will be asking, no, begging, that it begins with me.
May we be safe from all destructive fire, be it the fire which burns buildings or the fire which destroys lives from within! May we have gratitude for those who protect and save us from earthly fires! May we let God's fire be the fire that refines our hearts! And may we all burn with the fire of God's love! Let us continue to meet in the very Heart of God, where His love burns bright! Peace!!
The first photo is of my father's firefighters patch which he wore on his uniform.
The second is an image of St. Florian. It can be found along with a prayer at http://www.2heartsnetwork.org/firefighters.htm
(I have no connection with the above website, but I thought the prayer was appropriate.)
Finally is an image called Holy Passion Bearer Mychal Judge. Mychal Judge was a Franciscan priest who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11/01. The image was painted by Rev. William Hart McNichols and can be found at
Heart Speaks to Heart