This reflection was delivered for my seminary community during Morning Prayer. The reading it is referring to is Judith 8:25-27.

Nobody comes out of a crucible alive.

It is a white-hot furnace designed to melt down the hardest metals. And yet our reading today says point blank: “Not for vengeance did the Lord put them in the crucible to try their hearts.”

What then is this crucible?

If I may suggest one image for us to reflect on: The crucible God wants to put each of us in is the burning Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Think about the image of the Sacred Heart: It is an inextinguishable furnace erupting with the fires of zeal and mercy and peace. If that’s the crucible that God puts us in — if all our sufferings are joined with the flames of the Sacred Heart, then the words from the book of Judith make sense: This fire is certainly not for vengeance. Rather, the intense heat we feel is God’s unconditional, crucified love doing its deadly work in each one of us.

St. John Vianney put it this way:

“Let us open the door of the Sacred Heart and shut ourselves in for a moment amidst the divine flames. We shall then realize what God’s love means.”

If our difficulties put us right in the center of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, then instead of complaining about the heat, instead of moaning about the flames… we can take refuge there. The flames become victory. They become freedom.

As our reading just said: “God chastises those who are close to him.” If we want to be close to God, then we must willingly go inside this furnace.

How close are we willing to come to this crucible that is Jesus’ fiery Heart?

Maybe we find ourselves outside saying: I’m warm enough right where I’m at. I don’t need to come any closer… certainly not inside! It’s just too hot.

We can’t afford to keep our distance any longer, however comfortable that may be. We can’t just warm our hands from afar. Especially as men discerning the priesthood, we are being drawn into the absolute core of this furnace. We are being given the privilege of one day representing Him on the altar — In a way, we are to BECOME the burning fire ourselves — OTHER sacred hearts, united to the One Sacred Heart. And all this, not for ourselves — but that others may encounter the same furnace of mercy that first transformed us.

That’s why we’re here in seminary… which, as we all know, can be a crucible sometimes. But it’s worth it. Right now, the Church desperately needs priests who are on fire… and the only place to catch fire is in the Crucible, in the Heart of God’s Only Son.