20th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013
August 18, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
It is one of the great comforts of Christians
to hear the wonderfully consoling words
that the Lord Jesus so often speaks to us in Sacred Scripture.
For example, the words of Christ’s high priestly prayer for unity
at the Last Supper:
“that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you…”
Or words that we hear at every mass:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…”
But today we hear something very different
from the mouth of the one we call the Prince of Peace:
“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.”
The Gospels record Jesus saying things like this on several occasions.
For example, St. Matthew records him saying something very similar, but even more harsh:
“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
How can Christ promise peace and unity,
and also claim that he comes not to bring peace and unity,
but the sword and division?
There’s only one way that makes sense
–a way that is clearly consistent with the rest of Scripture.
Christ does come to bring peace
–but not the peace of the world, rather, his peace.
And he comes to bring unity–but not unity with the world,
rather, unity with him, and his heavenly father.
Jesus knows that just as surely as he brings unity and peace into the world
to those who follow him in love,
he also brings division between himself and his own on the one side,
and those who chose not to follow him on the other.
The division is clear and spectacularly simple;
elsewhere in Scripture he tells his apostles:
“He who is not with me is against me.”
And we shouldn’t be surprised since it was predicted at his birth,
when the prophet Simeon told his mother in the temple:
“This child is destined to be
the downfall and the rise of many in Israel,
a sign that will be opposed.”
It was even promised almost from the beginning of time,
from the very first time man put himself in opposition to God,
as God promised the serpent in the garden of Eden:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed…”
Jesus knew that he was calling for a radical change in his disciples,
that by placing yourself with Him
you will often discover yourself to be in opposition to the world.
And He knew that living this life would be a truly difficult struggle,
and that it would often require great sacrifice:
I remember one time in the seminary when we were discussing
how to preach about some difficult moral teaching;
the guest speaker cautioned us:
“you really can’t preach about this to a congregation;
good Lord, they’d kill you.”
We all looked at each other rather stunned, until a brave voice in the back reminded him: “Like they killed Jesus?”
And then another voice said:
“‘A servant is not greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”
It’s true for priests, and its true for all faithful Christians.
This opposition, sometimes even violent opposition,
means that we are in a battle,
but not a battle in the sense the world normally fights battles,
because this is a battle involving Christ.
So it’s not a war inspired by hatred for the opposition
–but a war inspired by love for those who hate us.
It’s not a war that seeks to bring death to the enemy,
but a struggle to bring life to the entire world.
And unlike any merely human battle,
the promise of peace and unity is still experienced
–even in the heat of conflict—
by all who, as St. Paul says,
“keep their eyes fixed on Jesus.”
We are called to this radical new life in Christ.
He calls us not to be afraid,
but to allow our hearts to be ablaze with the fire he brings into the world:
the fire so vividly seen on Pentecost
as the Holy Spirit descended upon the first disciples–on his Church.
That fire still burns in the Church,
though, unfortunately, not so brightly in all her members.
Ask yourself: does the fire of Christ burn brightly in your life
so that, living in the world, you truly live
“as a sign that will be opposed.”
Do you live and love like you really believe in Christ and his Church?
Or do you live in fear of being seen as being different
or in opposition to the “normal” world?
It’s very hard to do this, to live as a “sign opposed”.
Sometimes you even find yourself opposed by your own family,
as Jesus suggests in today’s gospel.
I know many of you have experience this.
Some of you parents find it difficult to correct your children,
to teach them your values—the values of Christ.
Sometimes it seems you’re fighting a losing battle,
with the media and sometimes even the schools
teaching your kids a completely opposite set of values,
reinforced by the music they listen to and movies or television they see.
You tell your son to respect authority and say “yes sir” and “no ma’am”,
then his favorite athlete is arrested
for trashing his hotel room and resisting arrest.
You try to teach your daughter to dress modestly
with true respect for herself and her body,
but her favorite website tells her if she does she’s a prude,
and besides, all her friends dress like that.
Or you have older children
who’ve stopped going to church,
or who are cohabiting with their boyfriend or girlfriend,
or who have married outside the laws of the church.
Or a son who tells you he’s “gay.”
And kids, you really want to do the right thing,
to live clean and sober and in chastity,
but your friends make fun of you
and pressure to abuse alcohol or drugs or sex.
Sometimes it even comes from your parents:
you want to go to Mass or confession, but your parents are too busy.
Or maybe your interested in being a priest or a nun,
and they look at you like your crazy.
There is a vast division between the life Christ has called us to
and the life of the world we live in.
But the divisions don’t end there:
there’s still another troubling division
that exists in the life of everyday Christians
–the very real state of division that exists
in the separation of Orthodox and Protestant Churches
from fullness of unity with the Catholic Church.
Many of these non-Catholic Christians truly stand for Christ,
opposed by the world,
but at the same time they place themselves in opposition
to the fullness of grace, truth and faith
that Christ gave to his apostles and their successors
to be protected and shared with his people.
And again the division don’t stop here:
Everyday we see painful divisions among Catholics.
Sometimes we suffer more from fellow Catholics
than we do from those who categorically and formally oppose the Church.
Many of you know that I was born and raised and lived most of my life
in San Antonio.
In fact it was it was only 22 years ago tomorrow that I left San Antonio
to move to Arlington to begin my studies for the priesthood.
I firmly believe that it was divine providence—the very hand of God Himself—
that led me here.
But I never would have left San Antonio if the church there
hadn’t been in such a state of division:
priests and laity alike, especially the professors in the seminary,
in open opposition to the Pope and the teachings of the Church.
Divisions exist, not only between the Christian family and the world,
but even in the heart of families and even in the heart of the Church.
And they can be a terrible source of discouragement.
But, remember the admonition of St. Paul in today’s second reading, and
“[do]not grow weary and lose heart.”
Don’t let division’s —either in the family, or with the world or in the faith—
lead you to give up on what you believe,
to compromise God’s eternal truth
for some false and passing unity in or of the world.
Rather, as St. Paul advises us today:
” [let us] keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfecter of faith..”
Do not let opposition dampen your spirits or drown your faith,
but let the fire of Christ blaze and strengthen your zeal.
Don’t let it be a fire of hatred of your enemies, but a fire of love for Christ.
Let his fire purify your intentions,
and spread from you
to warm the hearts of those who are cold or luke-warm to Christ.
My brothers and sisters,
Christ loves us and wants us to live in peace.
But his love is also a sword,
not a sword that kills or wounds,
but a sword that cuts away truth from lies,
dividing good from evil.
Let us pray for ourselves, for one another,
that we may truly live life in union with the Lord Jesus,
and never place ourselves in opposition to him.
Let us pray also for our families, and our friends,
that Christ may heal all divisions,
and enliven the fire of his truth and love in us.
Let us pray for all Catholics,
and for all Christians
who are divided from the full unity with the Catholic faith,
and for those divided from the Church entirely.
Let us pray that the burning fire of the Holy Spirit may well up in his Church,
transforming us into one consuming blaze
that will burn out of control, spreading into all the world,
burning away all walls of that divide us
from the perfect unity and peace of Jesus Christ.