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A nine-alarm world

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Fire is a terrible thing. It starts unexpectedly and consumes everything in an instant. It is unrelenting, powerful, and fierce. I was a bit jarred when I realized that two of our kids were only a block away from the building on Beacon Street as it became completely engulfed in smoke and flame. But I can't begin to imagine what it is like to know that someone you love isn't merely in the vicinity, but has gone into the blaze and isn't coming out.

I don't understand how firefighters and their families live with the risks that come with such a noble calling. My own life experience doesn't include anything that could help me grasp what it takes to muster up the courage and composure to walk into a burning building or know that on any day my father, husband, or son may not come home from work alive. I am both awed and put to shame by those who routinely risk their own lives for the sake of someone else's -- someone they probably don't even know.

It doesn't get any worse than nine alarms. But what amazes me most is that the alarms I've been trained to hear as the signal to leave and leave fast are heard by others as a call to action. And act they do: not half-heartedly, but in a fully committed, no-turning-back, stake-your-life-on-it way that is worthy of both admiration and emulation.

I don't want last week's self-sacrificing loss of two Boston firefighters to be lost on me. Instead, I want their example to inspire how I respond to the alarms I hear around me on a daily basis. God knows there are plenty of them.

We live in a nine-alarm world. Humanity as God created it is burning. People are trapped by sin and addiction. Many have lost faith. The human spirit is unable to breathe. Rational thinking has succumbed to the smoke of relativism. All around the fires of hell lap at our feet. And not all of us will escape.

But in the chaos and confusion of our world, those of us who belong to Christ must stop focusing on forensics and start stepping up to take our place as first responders. Despite the fear and uncertainty, we've got to find the strength to go in after the brothers and sisters we may lose if we do otherwise. We've also got to come to grips with the reality that rescuing others may indeed claim our lives. If it does, it is because we all have a claim on each other's lives.

Following Jesus means learning how to lay our lives down the way he did. It means hanging on a cross in order to promise paradise to whoever is hanging next to us. It means taking the ridicule, insults, and derision without hating those who direct it toward us. And, it means suspending judgment long enough to approach a sinner with the mercy that flows from knowing the depths of our own sinfulness.

The alarms are ringing and have been. Everyone has heard them. The destruction has spread from one soul, one family, one neighborhood, one city, one nation, to another. The safe places to be found are few and far between. They are marked by kindness and hope.

Lord, fill your Church with people who want to save the world you created. Inspire us to answer the call for help; to go where souls are endangered. Help us to withstand the flames; to experience your presence with us in the furnace of human suffering. Give us love strong enough to put others before ourselves. Show us the way out. Rescue us, O God, and guide us all to safety in your arms.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.

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