Go Set the World on Fire

fireIgnatius often ended his letters to Jesuits going to the missions with the expression ite, inflammate omnia—“go, set the world on fire.” What did he mean by that? Maybe it was just a rah-rah expression, the kind of thing a football coach says when he tells the team to go out on the field and “kick butt.” But I don’t think so. I don’t think Ignatius had a cheerleader’s personality. He was a serious man who used words carefully.

“Set the world on fire” is a curious expression. Fire destroys; the world is already on fire with hatred, resentment, greed, lust, and other passions that consume individuals and whole societies. But fire purifies too; in the Bible, flames burn up the weeds and the refiner’s fire purifies gold. Then there are the tongues of fire that that descend on the Apostles at Pentecost, bringing the power of the Holy Spirit. I think this image might have been in Ignatius’s mind when he told his Jesuits to set the world on fire. He wanted everyone to be set afire with passion and zeal for the Kingdom of God.

No wonder “set the world on fire” has become something of a motto of Jesuit ministries. The book of Jesuit/Ignatian prayer that Loyola Press publishes is called Hearts on Fire. The Jesuit General Congregation’s decree on the Jesuit charism is called “A Fire That Kindles Other Fires.” That’s the kind of fire that’s worth spreading.

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Jim Manney
Jim Manney is the author of highly praised popular books on Ignatian spirituality, including A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer (about the Daily Examen) and God Finds Us (about the Spiritual Exercises). He is the compiler/editor of An Ignatian Book of Days. His latest book is What Matters Most and Why. He and his wife live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


  1. “Fire destroys?” Yes it does, but it is also life giving… It cooks food, provides light in the darkness to see and can become a means of drawing people together to share community and stories. This is why I see Fire as two different ways of seeing the same symbol. Fire that destroys is a form of “conditional love.” It separates and tears down. Life giving fire is Unconditional Love, which builds up and bestows life.

  2. Charging their batteries Ignatius would deploy his men to serve the needy, the poor, the marginalized, the victimized, the oppressed, the outcasts, and the exploited.

  3. Think of the two on the road from Jerusalem. Once Jesus joined them, taught them and revealed His presences in the breaking of bread, they said, “Our hearts were burning.”
    Maybe this is the fire St. Ignatius wished to be shared.

    • Thanks russ. To the point. Our hearts do burn within us. Even if we don’t notice, initially. Looking back at the day just passed, that’s when it dawns. My heart did burn within me when I remember what I felt most grateful for like when i wrote and shared my impact filter with my team of entrepreneurs. My heart burned within me in gratitude.

  4. Replacing the fuel that comes from a puffed up ego versus the energy that comes from humility is an ongoing challenge in my life. Humility and power is a mysterious concept for a person new to a spiritual relationship. I have to “work” on it every day hoping for the fire Ignatius refers to. Posts like yours help. Thanks.

  5. Hi there, St. Ignatius was quite obviously tapping into Jesus’s words: “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!” (Lk 12:49). The fire denotes love for God.

  6. I wonder if there is an element of disruption in play here too.
    The world should be set ablaze and disrupted and changed anytime injustice rears it ugly head because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.


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