Whoever is close to me is close to the fire

And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. (Jn 3:20-21)
As I read this, I thought about an article I had read yesterday in Commonweal. The fact that the Pope has used non-canonical sources showed me another side of Benedict: Commenting on the Easter fire and Pascal Candle in his Easter Vigil homily, Benedict said:
Dear friends, as I conclude, I would like to add one more thought about light and illumination. On Easter night, the night of the new creation, the Church presents the mystery of light using a unique and very humble symbol: the Paschal candle. This is a light that lives from sacrifice. The candle shines inasmuch as it is burnt up. It gives light, inasmuch as it gives itself. Thus the Church presents most beautifully the paschal mystery of Christ, who gives himself and so bestows the great light. Secondly, we should remember that the light of the candle is a fire. Fire is the power that shapes the world, the force of transformation. And fire gives warmth. Here too the mystery of Christ is made newly visible. Christ, the light, is fire, flame, burning up evil and so reshaping both the world and ourselves. “Whoever is close to me is close to the fire,” as Jesus is reported by Origen to have said. And this fire is both heat and light: not a cold light, but one through which God’s warmth and goodness reach down to us. (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20120407_veglia-pasquale_en.html)
In the Commonweal article on this, we gain further insight:
But another true way of reporting the quote would be: “‘Whoever is close to me is close to the fire,’ as Jesus is reported by the Gospel of Thomas to have said.” (It’s logion #82, for those interested.) When the Nag Hammadi hoard was discovered in 1945, and the Gospel of Thomas came to light in full for the first time, this agraphon of Jesus was thus corroborated by a text, albeit a noncanonical one. It also appears (in a probable textual reconstruction) in the recently published and obscure Gospel of the Savior of unknown date and provenance (line 71, published by Stephen Emmel).
What impresses me is the openness of the Pope to noncanonical influences on his view of Jesus, even at the summit of the liturgical year! The Pope is a scholar of the highest order, and he certainly knows that this agraphon was corroborated by the Gospel of Thomas. Even Origen himself is not necessarily a “canonical” figure, his memory and ideas having been controversial in Christian history (see the Second Council of Constantinople, 553). And lest we think the quotation of this noncanonical agraphon is anomalous, let’s recall that in the first volume of the Pope’s Jesus of Nazareth, he uses both the Gospel of Thomas (logion #108) and the noncanonical Didache to illuminate aspects of the Gospel of John. In short, then — and if I may quote myself — despite the Pope’s championing of “canonical exegesis” (“reading the individual texts of the Bible in the context of the whole”), he does not in practice treat the canonical boundary as an impermeable wall. It is a barrier, to be sure, but more like a fence, through whose gaps the Spirit can still blow insightful seeds — or sparks of illumination — from outside. (http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=18565)
The Easter Vigil is so earthy and so elemental—water, fire, light, even the sexual symbolism of dipping the Pascal Candle into the Baptismal waters. The primary elements provide the elemental raw material for the poetry which describes our experiences of the Living One.
The Christ is the Light of the world. Light dispels the darkness that hides our path to ever new life in the Holy One.
Being near the Risen Christ is like being near fire. Fire provides light for seeing and heat for cooking. The Holy Spirit is fire—tongues of fire. We are wont to say, “I am on fire with love for the Living One.”
Then there is water–a primal element composed of the most basic element—hydrogen which flared forth at creation. Water gives life and sustenance. We cannot do without it for long.
The poetry of water, fire, light and Pascal Candles. In our mechanized and technological world we have lost touch with the elements which provide the poetry for our understanding of our life in and with the Living One. Earth Day reminds us to re-sink our roots in the earth, in the primal dirt.
My Celtic forbears clung tenaciously to the earthly elements in their original religion—sacred mountains, sacred streams and wells, and fire. In a little town in Wals an older woman with a heart condition walked us to the sacred well. We happened to be on the island of Inis Oirr off the west coast of Ireland twice on June 24—the feast of St. John the Baptist who was a firebrand in his own right. We saw tractors with carts hauling junk to a high place on the island.  Tractors are everywhere and it is not unusual to see them parked at the pubs! When dark descends on the feast day, the islanders turn out to celebrate around a huge flaring bonfire. Curiosity got the best of me. The Celts literally threw holy water on a very “pagan” and ancient practice. You see June 24 is that time of the year when the sun begins it’s descent into winter darkness and the cold. The purpose of the fires is to give back warmth to the sun so that it will continue to provide light and heat. Try as they might the officials of Roman Christianity could not douse this fiery, nature-bound ritual. They christianized the ritual by associating it with the celebration of the feast of the precursor of the Christ who is the Light of the World.
The pope’s comments about being close to the fire that is the Risen Christ should remind us to look behind the externals of rituals to discover the deeper meaning of cosmic elements.
The fact that the pope specifically mentioned “illumination” is an acknowledgment of  contemplative or mystical practice. Teresa of Avila was introducing her reforms to the Spanish church at the time of the Inquisition. Teresa was denounced  before the Inquisition because she held firm to her convictions regarding interior religious practices like contemplation and meditation. Teresa knew that illumination is essential to spiritual practice even though its very personal nature can pose a threat to the institutional church. The pope’s acknowledgment of illumination is even more significant when we realize that the institutional church has always played down individual experience of the divine. It is hard to maintain control over a person’s experience of the Living One—it cannot be easily codified and made into doctrine. May the Light of the World illuminate our experience of the Holy One as it did for Teresa and John of the Cross. May the heat of the Risen Christ inflame our hearts.

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