August 13, 2019

O. T. XX (August 18) Sunday homily

 OT XX [C] Sunday (Aug 18) one-page summary (L/19)

Fr. Geoffrey Plant’s beautiful & scholarly video classes on Sunday gospel, Bible & RCIA topics: Click on  https://www.youtube.com/user/GeoffreyPlant2066

Introduction: The central theme of today’s readings is that we should courageously live out our religious convictions and principles in our lives, as Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus did, even if doing so should result in our martyrdom and turn society upside down. If no one is ever offended by the quality of our commitment to Christ, then perhaps we are practicing “inoffensive Christianity.”

Scripture lessons summarized: Jeremiah, in our first reading, is presented as experiencing the consequences of the burning word of God within him. Jeremiah’s preaching divided the city and incited such opposition that people sought his death. He showed the courage of his prophetic conviction by telling the king that he had to surrender to the mighty army of Babylonian empire to save Israel. The result was that Jeremiah was thrown into a deep, muddy cistern to die for his “treason.” Standing in this prophetic tradition, Paul, in the second reading, challenges the Judeo-Christians to stand firm in their Faith in Jesus, ignoring the ostracism imposed on them by their own former Jewish community. In today’s Gospel, Jesus, too, preaches the word of God which continues to divide families, a word which, he knew, would lead ultimately to his death. The fire Jesus brings is the fire of love and the fire of hope. The disruption, division, and revolution, which Jesus and his true followers cause in society by the fire of sacrificial love and the fire of justice, are necessary to re-set what’s fractured, put right what’s dislocated and cleanse what’s infected. In other words, the curative pain caused by Jesus’ ideas and ideals is necessary for the establishment of real shalom of God. Even though Jesus brings a sword and causes division, he is the bringer of true and lasting peace. In pursuing his mission, Jesus brings division because some follow him, and others oppose him. We must make a decision to follow him or not, to share his “baptism” or not. This choice can result in division, even within families.

Life messages: #1: Let us learn to appreciate the contemporary prophets in the Church: The Jesuit Cardinal Avery Dulles, writing about the role of prophecy in the modern Church communities in his book Models of the Church, remarks: “Christianity is not healthy unless there is room in it for prophetic protest against abuses of authority.” God continues to send such prophets to every parish community, and it is the duty of the bishop, pastor, and parish council to listen to the well-intended and constructive criticisms of such Jeremiahs.

# 2: We should have fire in our hearts: On the day of our Baptism, we received the light of Christ and were instructed to keep that torch burning brightly until the return of Christ Jesus. In addition, the Holy Spirit was sent into our hearts at Confirmation to help set us on fire. “He who is on fire cannot sit on a chair.” So, as Christians on fire, we have to inflame people to care, to serve, and to bless one another with all the gifts of Faith. We should allow that fire to burn off the impurities in us and to bring out the purity of the gold and silver within us.

OT XX [C] (Aug 18) Jer 38:4-6, 8-10; Heb 12:1-4; Lk 12: 49-53

Homily starter anecdotes: # 1: Courage to confront: In the 1920s, an English adventurer named Mallory led an expedition to conquer Mount Everest. His first, second and even his third attempt with an experienced team met with failure. Upon his return to England, the few who had survived held a banquet to salute Mallory and those who had perished. As he stood up to speak, he looked around he saw picture frames of himself and those who had died. Then he turned his back on the crowd and faced a large picture of Mount Everest looming large like an unbeatable giant. With tears streaming down his face, he spoke to the mountain on behalf of his dead friends. “I speak to you Mt. Everest, in the name of all brave men living, and those yet unborn. Mt. Everest, you defeated us once, you defeated us twice; you defeated us three times. But Mt. Everest, we shall someday defeat you, because you can’t get any bigger, but we can.” Today’s Scripture challenges us to confront the world with prophetic courage of our Christian convictions (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies).

# 2: Apathetic Attitude: In 1993, the total attendance at worship services in the United States came to 5.6 billion. The total attendance for all pro-basketball, baseball and football games combined was only 103 million, less than 2 percent of the number who attended worship [“To Verify: Statistics for Christian Communicators,” Leadership 15 (Fall 1994), 50).] We complain about a shrinking Church membership when the numbers actually point to a shrinking sense of excitement and exuberance for Christ’s sake. In the name of sports, those 103 million get stadiums built, get team franchises moved, give local economies a boost and get whole regions of the country stand-up-and-shout excited. In the name of Christ, how much more could 5.6 billion accomplish in this country in the world if they were as “on fire” as the sports fans? (Here is a Forbes Magazine note on Crimson Tide football team of Alabama, U. S. A.. “Not only did Nick Saban (the head football coach) deliver the University of Alabama its 4th national college football title in 7 years, but he also helped subsidize the entire Crimson Tide athletics department by generating an astonishing $95,132,301 (almost 100 million) in revenue, the most ever by any single team in the history of college sports. Nick Saban’s total compensation rose to $7,969,113 (almost 8 million) including bonuses), the highest ever paid to a college football coach. In total, he and his staff of nine assistant coaches and countless support staff and administrators were compensated over $18 million- up by some $3 million from the year before.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonbelzer/2016/02/24/the-university-of-alabama-made-almost-100-million-from-football-in-2015/#205054463b6c)

# 3: “Be God’s prophets and God’s microphones” (St. Oscar Romero, Archbishop and Martyr; canonized October 14, 2018 by Pope Francis). God sends His prophets to give the world His message in every century. Saint Oscar Romero, Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa; canonized October 4, 2016 by Pope Francis), Pope St. John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dom Helder Camara, Maura Clark, Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford, Jeanne Donovan, and Ella Baker were all twentieth century prophets who had the courage of their Christian convictions to follow Jesus and proclaim his undiluted message which cast fire on earth and caused healthy division in the society as today’s Gospel points out. In 1980, in the midst of a U.S.-funded genocidal war against the so-called leftist rebels in El Salvador, Archbishop Saint Oscar Romero who sided with the poor, exploited farm workers, declared: “If they kill all your priests and the bishop too, each one of you must become God’s microphone, each one of you must become a prophet. I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.” Amid overarching violence, Romero wrote to President Jimmy Carter pleading with him to cease sending military aid to the brutal military regime because, he wrote, “it is being used to repress my people.” The U.S. sent $1.5 million in aid every day for 12 years. Archbishop Romero’s letter went unheeded. Two months later, he was assassinated. Ending a long homily addressed to the pro-government landowners and peasants and the military and broadcast throughout the country, his voice rose to breaking, “Brothers, you are from the same people; you kill your fellow peasants . . .. No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God.” There was thunderous applause; he was inviting the army to mutiny. Then his voice burst out, “In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people I ask you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: stop the repression.” Oscar Romero gave his last homily on March 24, 1980, moments before a sharpshooter felled him at the altar of a hospital chapel. Reflecting on the day’s Scripture, he had said, “One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives.” In an interview as he was flying to Brazil in May 2007 Pope Benedict told the reporters, “Romero as a person merits beatification.” In July 2007, the new Salvadoran conservative government said it would formally request the Vatican to beatify Romero although it would not accept responsibility for his slaying. Pope Francis beatified the martyred Archbishop Romero on May 23, 2015. Today’s readings remind us that the Church needs prophets like Romero and they caution contemporary prophets that their course will not be easy. (http://salt.claretianpubs.org/romero/romero.html).

Introduction: The central theme of today’s readings is that we should courageously live out our religious convictions and principles in our lives, as Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus did, even if doing so should result in our martyrdom and turn society upside down. If no one is ever offended by the quality of our commitment to Christ, that commitment may not be authentic, and if our individual and communal living of the Good News casts no fire and causes no division, then perhaps we are practicing “inoffensive Christianity.”

Scripture lessons summarized: Jeremiah, in our first reading, is presented as experiencing the consequences of the burning word of God within him. Jeremiah’s preaching divided the city and incited such opposition that people sought his death. He showed the courage of his prophetic conviction by telling King Zedekiah that the Lord God said he had to surrender to the mighty army of Babylonian empire to save Israel. The result was that Jeremiah was thrown into a deep, muddy cistern to die for his “treason.” The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 40) seems to speak in the voice of Jeremiah sunk into the mud of the dry cistern where his enemies had put him. Standing in this prophetic tradition, Paul, in the second reading, challenges the Judeo-Christians to stand firm in their Faith in Jesus, ignoring the ostracism imposed on them by their own former Jewish community. In today’s Gospel, Jesus, too, preaches the word of God which continues to divide families, a word which, he knew, would ultimately lead to his death. The fire Jesus came to bring is the fire of love and the fire of hope. The disruption, division and revolution, which Jesus and his true followers cause in society by the fire of sacrificial love and the fire of justice, are necessary to re-set what’s fractured, put right what’s dislocated, and cleanse what’s infected. In other words, the curative pain caused by Jesus’ ideas and ideals is necessary for the establishment of real shalom of God. Even though Jesus brings a sword and causes division, he is the bringer of true and lasting peace. In pursuing his mission, Jesus brings division because some follow him and others oppose him. We must make a decision to follow him or not, to share his “baptism” or not. This choice can result in division, even within families.

First reading, Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10 explained: The first reading warms us up to hear today’s Gospel, where Jesus speaks with prophetic bluntness about how his mission will divide those who accept him from those who don’t. The prophet Jeremiah lived from about 650 B.C. to perhaps 580 B.C. It was during this period that Babylon, becoming the supreme power in Mesopotamia, demanded tribute from all the smaller kingdoms, including Judah. While the princes urged King Zedekiah, to seek military help from Egypt against Babylon, the Lord God, through His prophet Jeremiah, told them to pay the tribute to avoid a greater evil. Jeremiah had been predicting the impending destruction of Jerusalem as a judgment from YHWH because most of the kings of Judah had fallen further and further away from God and from their religion and because they had entered into unholy political alliances with neighboring countries, instead of trusting in their God. The prophet’s death sentence described in the first reading occurred during the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians about 587 B.C. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonian army, the Lord God, through Jeremiah, had told the king and the military leaders to surrender and pay tribute to the Babylonians. That way the king might save his life and the lives of his people. But Jeremiah sounded unpatriotic and even seditious, defeatist and treasonable to the military leaders who complained to King Zedekiah. The king turned Jeremiah over to them, and they put him into a dry cistern with fairly deep mud at the bottom to die. Jeremiah was saved by the sympathy of an Ethiopian courtier named Ebed-melech who evidently held a position of considerable authority at the royal court. Since the king did not listen to God’s counsel given by His prophet, Babylon captured and destroyed Jerusalem in 587 and took all the able-bodied citizens to Babylon as prisoners. The cost of following God’s word, experienced by Jeremiah as a life so marked by suffering and opposition that he cursed the day he was born (20:14), points to the division Jesus brings (today’s Gospel).

Second Reading, Hebrews 12:1-4 explained: Paul wrote this letter to the Judeo-Christians who had been rejected by their fellow Jews, kicked out of synagogues and cut off from family and old friends. Separated from the comforting rituals and institutions they had known; these folks needed their Faith bolstered. Hence, Paul praised a long list of faithful Jews from the past, particularly Abraham, detailing some of the difficulties they had faced. Those heroic figures are the great “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in today’s passage. The author wanted his Judeo-Christians (the Hebrews), to think of themselves as athletes in a race in a stadium, where their ancestors in the Faith would be spectators, surrounding them and cheering them on, because their descendants were now running the same race they had run in their day. These ancestors were “witnesses” to the power of Faith to endure against every temptation to apostasy. Paul asked the Hebrew Christians to run the race, keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus the “leader and perfecter of our Faith.” In his earthly life, Jesus was the pioneer because he initiated the way of Faith—the way through suffering to glory (v. 2)—and its perfecter, because he completed his ”course,” thus enabling believers to run the same race, through suffering to glory. We, too, are called to do our best until our great run for the Faith is crowned with victory.

Gospel exegesis: Today’s Gospel passage consists of two sections: in the first section (vv 49-50), Jesus speaks of his Divine destiny to endure suffering, and in the second section (vv 51-53), he prophesies the breakup of families resulting from his message. Jesus explains his Divine destiny by highlighting his role of “setting the earth on fire” and being “baptized” in the waters of suffering. The images of fire and baptism refer to his mission, both in terms of the cost that it will exact from him and the decision it will require of people.

“I have come to ‘set the earth on fire.'” In the Bible, fire is sometimes symbolic of purification (for example, Nm 31:23; Ez 22:19-22), and, more often, is associated with God’s judgment (for example, Jdt 16:17; Is 66:16; Am 7:4; 2 Pt 3:7). The image of fire is also used to symbolize God’s glory (Ez 1:4, 13), His protective presence (2 Kgs 6:17), His holiness (Dt 4:24), His righteous judgment (Zec 13:9), and His wrath against sin (Is 66:15-16).  The image of fire is also used of the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11 and Acts 2:3).  Fire has many characteristics: it warms, purifies, refines, transforms, and burns. As a purifying force, fire burns up what is useless and refines what is impure besides giving warmth and energy. Elijah brought the fire of judgment on the prophets of Baal (1 Kgs 18:36-40) and the soldiers of King Ahaziah (2 Kgs 1:10-14). John the Baptist promises that Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”(Mt 3:11), and that promise was fulfilled at Pentecost. James and John wanted to call down fire from Heaven upon the Samaritans who rejected Jesus, but Jesus would not permit it (Lk 9:54). We are also reminded of the prophet’s words, “For he is like a refiner’s fire…” (Mal 3:2). The fire burns hot, removing impurities and leaving only that which is desirable. These meanings suggest that the fire which Jesus brings will consume or purify the world. However, it is also possible that he means that his baptism will be a baptism of fire. In the Aramaic language the word translated as “earth” can also mean “earth-oven,” the common stove in Mediterranean villages, heated by burning dried and salted camel-dung patties. The salt in the dried camel dung acted as a catalyst keeping fire burning for a long time. In that sense, Jesus acts as a catalyst in his believers’ life. “Fire was to be an expected aspect of discipleship in the sense that: (1) baptism into Jesus dying and rising necessarily included a process of purification by his word and the Holy Spirit; (2) those who align themselves with him who is both LIGHT and TRUTH will inevitably know the heat of persecution; (3) the service of the good news will require a zeal so contagious that it will set fire in the hearts of others.” (Sanchez Files).

I must be baptized with a baptism:” The cup and baptism are metaphors for Jesus’ suffering and death when Jesus asks James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’ What Jesus means by his statement is “I have a terrible experience through which I must pass, and life is full of tension until I pass through it and emerge triumphantly from it.” Our Baptism is an immersion in Christ’s death in which we die to sin and are reborn to the new life of grace: “We were indeed buried with him through Baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life”(Romans 6:4). In the same way, our Eucharistic celebration is a recollection of Jesus’ baptism (immersion) in suffering, death, and the anguish these caused him, not simply a celebration of the community with the risen Christ and with other believers.

“I have come to establish division on earth, not peace.” As Jesus walked the road to Jerusalem, the disciples had to decide whether to go with him or not. To be with or against Jesus is a decision which has the effect of judgment and division. Even though Christ did come to establish peace between God and man, that peace causes a division between those who accept it and those who reject it. In this way he becomes a sign of contradiction (CCC 575-576). Since Luke emphasizes peace as the gift that Jesus brings (1:79; 2:14; 19:38), we are shocked when Jesus declares that he has come not to bring peace on earth but division, splitting even families apart. Jesus’ teaching caused division in families, in communities and in the Church. For the Palestinian Jews of the first century, a person’s place in the family conferred personal identity, protection, a support system, and a place in the community. To separate oneself from one’s family or clan was, literally, a matter of life and death. But Christianity tore families in two, because a follower of Christ had to decide which he loved better — his kith and kin or Christ. In Christianity, the loyalty to Christ has to take precedence over the dearest loyalties of this earth. Belief in Jesus and commitment to him cause fires of arguments to erupt between believers and non-believers in the same family or community, resulting in the division of families and conflict in society. Standing up for what is right, working for justice and truth are higher aims than unity, and working for those aims will sometimes cause division. Hence, Christians today may cause division and rouse opposition because they share, through their Baptism, the prophetic charism of speaking God’s word, no matter how unpopular, and of giving a voice to those who have no one to speak for them. Let us remember that Jesus’ sense of justice brought him into conflict with those who exploited the weak and the poor. His integrity invited confrontation with the dishonest and hypocritical leaders, and his love for the poor, for sinners and for the outcast alienated him from the narrow-minded and self-righteous. C.S. Lewis once said that the Gospel was concerned to create “new people” not just “nice people.”

Life messages: # 1: Let us learn to appreciate the contemporary prophets in the Church: The Jesuit Cardinal Avery Dulles, writing about the role of prophecy in the modern Church communities in his book, Models of the Church, remarks: “Christianity is not healthy unless there is room in it for prophetic protest against abuses of authority.” God continues to send such prophets to every parish community, and it is the duty of the bishop, pastor and parish council to listen to the well-intended and constructive criticisms of such Jeremiahs. The words of the late Archbishop Helder Camara, the champion of Brazil’s poor, serves as a prophetic warning, to all members of the Church: “When I give bread to the poor, they call me a Saint. But when I ask why the poor have no bread, they call me Communist.”

# 2: We should have fire in our hearts: On the day of our Baptism, we received the light of Christ and were instructed to keep that torch burning brightly until the return of Christ Jesus. Further, the Holy Spirit was sent into our hearts at Confirmation to help set us on fire. The old proverb should be applicable to all baptized and confirmed Christians: “He /She who is on fire cannot sit on a chair.” Our Lord Jesus continues to cast fire on the earth, the fire of the Spirit, through the ministry of Word and Sacraments. As Christians, we should have fire to inflame people to care, to serve, and to bless each other with all the gifts of Faith. We should work with the Holy Spirit to allow that fire to burn off the impurities in us and to bring out the purity of the gold and silver within us. We need Divine fire to inflame our hearts with the love of God and love for His children. We Christians should blaze with the same fire with which Jesus wished his disciples to burn: “I came to cast fire upon earth and would that it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49). Hence, let us remember the old saying, “He/She who is on fire cannot sit on a chair,” and let us carry the fire of the Holy Spirit wherever we go. The scientist-cum-theologian Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, said: “Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world man will have discovered fire.” “An ‘adult’ faith is not a Faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty (“dictatorship of relativism”); a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth” (Benedict XVI, April 18, 2005). Such a Faith will enable the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn in us and give us the courage of our Christian convictions.

JOKE OF THE WEEK

C:\Users\FrTony.DESKTOP-MV64ALD\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\INetCache\Content.MSO\547E12CA.tmp Fritz Coleman (NBC news) on aging: part I & II: https://youtu.be/RN3031h6r7A & https://youtu.be/LR2qZ0A8vic

WEBSITES OF THE WEEK

# 1: http://catholic-resources.org/index.html (The best source for Bible, Liturgy, Art, and Theology prepared by Rev. Dr. Felix Just S.J. of Loyola Institute of Spirituality)

http://www.catholic-forum.com/links.html: Extensive directory of Catholic sites.

# 2: http://www.carr.org/~meripper/sites.asp Catholic sites (St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Resource Site)

# 3: http://www.ntgateway.com/ The Directory of NT Resources

# 4: Casting fire on earth video: https://youtu.be/_K6w_iJaNQg

5) Fr. Geoffrey Plant’s beautiful & scholarly video classes on Sunday gospel, Bible & RCIA topics:  https://www.youtube.com/user/GeoffreyPlant2066 & https://www.lanecoveparish.org.au/

22- Additional anecdotes:

1) “How can anyone argue with a life so well-lived?” Agnes Bojaxhiu (St. Teresa of Calcutta — Mother Teresa), who died in 1997, was one of the most influential persons of our time. She was on fire with love of Christ, and she was so passionate about her beliefs that her life became an articulate expression of her Faith. She loved life, and so she hated abortion; thus, even when called to speak at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in the U.S. to a pre-dominantly American elite audience, she strongly criticized the policy of government-funded abortion. At the end of her speech the crowed gave Mother Teresa a standing ovation and clapped profusely. Apparently thirst overwhelmed Bill and Hillary Clinton at that very moment because while everyone else went in an uproar of applause the Clintons just sucked on their water bottles. Later when questioned, about Bill’s meeting with Mother Teresa Bill’s only response was, ‘”I cannot argue with a life that had been so well lived.”

2) General Sherman set fire to the city of Atlanta: “War is hell,” said William Tecumseh Sherman, a Northern General in the American Civil War. It is. The material losses are staggering. It was Sherman himself who set fire to the city of Atlanta, Georgia and burnt it to the ground. Worse than the material losses caused by fire, however, are the physical pain, dismemberment and disability — too horrible to dwell on. Beyond the physical distresses are the psychiatric horrors. We hear less about the psychiatric horrors of war, if only because they are less visible to the public. In World War II, psychiatric breakdown was the single largest reason for honourable discharge from the armed forces. Any combatant’s chances of psychiatric collapse (from the American Civil War right up to the current military intervention in Afghanistan) are three times greater than his likelihood of being killed. When the U.S. Army landed in Sicily in the 1940s, there were platoons where the psychiatric breakdown was 100%. Military psychiatrists know very well the psychological harm war inflicts on the veterans. Then why does Jesus say in today’s Gospel that he came to set the world on fire and cause division in the family?

3) Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness: Keller Weaverling, a kayak guide had come thirteen years earlier to Valdez, Alaska, to get away from the world. All that changed literally overnight when the bulk carrier Exxon Valdez, dumped 11 million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound. It was a ghastly catastrophe to which he just could not stand neutral. To quote him, “It was like coming home to find your house totally vandalized, your pet dog killed, and your wife raped, gagged and bound. I needed to get involved.” So, when the Valdez Bird Rescue Centre was looking for someone to lead a wildlife rescue operation after the Exxon Valdez spill in March 1989, Kelly stepped forward in the conviction that “it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” He organized 220 workers and 43 boats to rescue wildlife endangered by the spill. – In 1989, this seventeen-year-old lived in Portland Oregon, across the street from the boarded-up windows of a former crack house. When he saw his friend join street gangs, he felt it was his call to “light a candle rather than curse the darkness” -he just could not stand neutral. He organized his peers into a high-school fraternity -as a positive alternative to street gangs. Members of the fraternity sponsored dances, cleaned up graffiti, and helped one another with homework and family problems. These are just two of the eight million such stories reported throughout the U.S.A. They are seemingly ordinary people with an extraordinary desire to do something positive. These are people who walk in the footsteps of Jesus who said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already burning.” (James Valladares in Your Words, O Lord, Are Spirit, and They Are Life; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

4) The Truth Teller: Many years ago, a certain Greenland Eskimo was brought to New York City for a short visit. He was filled with wonder at all the miracles of sight and sound in New York City. When he returned to his native village he told his people the stories of a building that rose into the very face of the sky; of the street cars, which he described as houses which moved along the trail, of the mammoth bridges, artificial lights and all the dazzling things of the metropolitan city. Many of the people could not believe him. Those who did not believe him looked at him coldly and walked away. The villagers called him a liar. He carried that name, “the liar,” to his grave. – The road of the truth-teller has always been rocky. As a result of telling God’s truth according to His command, many of the prophets were killed. Jeremiah died at the hands of his own people. Socrates who led people to truth through reason had to sip poison. Jesus was crucified. St. Stephen was stoned. Bruno was burned. Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Archbishop Saint Oscar Romero were shot to death. The decision to follow Christ can meet harsh rejection. In 2004, Sister Helen Prejean, a prison chaplain at Stewardship Conference in New Orleans, wrote a book, Dead Man Walking, which became an Oscar-winning movie. Sister. Helen sought reconciliation between prisoners on death row and their victims’ families. She met with harsh words and actions. Taking a stand and telling the truth often invites division and opposition. You are either for or against Jesus. There is no comfortable way of following Jesus! (John Pichappilly in The Table of the Word; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

5) Do we stand for God?: Some time ago a newspaper columnist, Arthur Jones, shared an important moment in his earlier life with his readers. It happened when he was drafted into the Royal Air Force and found himself in military barracks with 30 other men. On the first night he had to make a decision. He had always knelt to say his prayers. Should he continue to kneel now that he was in military service? He squirmed a little and then said to himself: “Why should I change just because people are watching?  Am I going to begin my life away from home by letting other people dictate what I should do or not do?” He decided to kneel. By the time he had finished, he became aware that everyone else was aware of him. And when he made the Sign of the Cross, he was aware that everyone else knew he was a Catholic. As it turned out, he was the only Catholic in the barracks. Yet, night after night he knelt. He said that those ten minutes on his knees often led to discussions that lasted for hours. On the last day in boot camp, someone said to him, “You are the finest Christian I’ve ever met.” He replied, “Well, I might be the most public Christian you’ve ever met, but I don’t think I’m the finest. Still, I thank you for what you said.” – That story illustrates one of the points of today’s Gospel. Commitment to Jesus means taking a stand on certain things. And sometimes that stand sets us in opposition to other people. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

6) Peace by setting the earth on fire with wisdom: A wise old gentleman retired and purchased a modest home near a junior high school. He spent the first few weeks of his retirement in peace and contentment. Then a new school year began. The very next afternoon three young boys, full of youthful, after-school enthusiasm, came down his street, beating merrily on every trashcan they encountered. The crashing percussion continued day after day, until finally the wise old man decided it was time to take some action. The next afternoon, he walked out to meet the young percussionists as they banged their way down the street. Stopping them, he said, “You kids are a lot of fun. I like to see you express your exuberance like that. In fact, I used to do the same thing when I was your age. Will you do me a favor? I’ll give you each a dollar if you’ll promise to come around every day and do your thing.” The kids were elated and continued to do a bang-up job on the trashcans. After a few days, the old-timer greeted the kids again, but this time he had a sad smile on his face. “This recession’s really putting a big dent in my income,” he told them. “From now on, I’ll only be able to pay you 50 cents to beat on the cans.” The noisemakers were obviously displeased, but they did accept his offer and continued their afternoon ruckus. A few days later, the wily retiree approached them again as they drummed their way down the street. “Look,” he said, “I haven’t received my Social Security check yet, so I’m not going to be able to give you more than 25 cents. Will that be okay?” “A lousy quarter?” the drum leader exclaimed. “If you think we’re going to waste our time, beating these cans around for a quarter, you’re nuts! No way, mister. We quit!” And the old man enjoyed peace by casting fire on the rogue kids. (Fr. T: Scr. Homilies)

7) Moral Malaise: According to Time magazine’s report of a Daily Express survey, 84 percent of those polled did not think that Prince Charles’ TV confession that he had committed adultery sullied his reputation [Ginia Bellafonte, “People,” Time (18 July 1994), 61] The Church as an organized institution has become too comfortable, too at home with the standards and values of the world. Our silence in the face of such signs of the times suggests that moral failure is really no more serious than rolling through a stop sign at a deserted intersection. The truth is, moral muck-ups are a symptom of a very serious condition — heart failure. It is a sign that the central pump of our being is sick and faltering a sign of despair.

8) “Good-bye”: “Dear Mom and the Preacher: I’m leaving town. Don’t expect to see me again. I’m sick and tired of all this talk about the Lord and Church. I’m not going to listen to your sanctimonious talk about my drinking problem, AA, and going to worship. I’ve had enough of it. When you count the members of the family, count me out. Good-bye. Your former son, Harry, Jr.” – The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News, but when people are locked into their sins, they may see it as bad news. The fire of the Gospel is intended to cleanse family relationships. On some occasions, the fire of the Gospel is too hot for certain family members to handle. They flee from the family that embraces the Gospel. They say, “Good-bye.”

9) “You can’t see what’s right under your feet:” The Greek version of Jesus’ diatribe against the crowd in this week’s Gospel text is perhaps the experience of the Greek philosopher, Thales. He ventured outside one night with a knowledgeable, elderly woman who had promised to teach him about the stars. In the darkness, he fell into a ditch and started screaming for help. The old woman responded dryly, “You want to know all about the Heavens, but you can’t see what’s right under your feet” [From Diogenes, Laertius 1:34, cited in Frederick W. Denker, Jesus and the New Age (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 258.]

10) “For he shall give his angels charge over thee:” Jimmy Stewart was one of Hollywood’s most loved and most respected actors. According to all accounts, Stewart’s character and integrity were byproducts of being raised by loving and honorable parents. He himself once wrote of his father’s wise and loving advice to him before Jimmy went off to fight in World War II. In a letter, Alex Stewart wrote, “My dear Jim boy, soon after you read this letter, you will be on your way to the worst sort of danger . . . I am banking on the enclosed copy of the 91st Psalm. The thing that takes the place of fear and worry is the promise of these words . . . I can say no more . . . I love you more than I can tell you. Dad.” Part of the 91st Psalm reads, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” [J. Allen Nudge with Marge Van Kirk, “The Boy Next Door,” McCall’s (January, 1998) p. 38.] This is the proper antidote to the anxiety that many of us feel in this turbulent world in which we live. God is with us regardless of what the future may bring. What we need to do is to regain our connection to God. We need to focus less on our financial resources for security and more on the Rock of ages. Read the signs of the times. They will tell you we need God more than ever before.

11) Be on fire: Ancient people had a more intimate knowledge of fire than we do. Their only nighttime illumination came from the flames of oil lamps. The smoke from the cooking fire on the hearth constantly irritated and reddened their eyes. Everyone’s fingers were callused from working household fires. Their arms and hands bore the scars from burns. Early in childhood, they learned that food tasted better cooked, that flames tempered metal tools, and that the kiln’s heat hardened pottery. People also knew firsthand the danger of uncontrolled fire. Homes regularly burned to the ground because of an overturned lamp or a carelessly maintained kitchen fire. Well into the nineteenth century, devastating fires shaped communities. In fact, fire may spur on the next urban renewal.  So, how was Jesus using the image of fire in this Gospel?  This Gospel recalls an ancient belief that fire is the manifestation of God.  Jesus is reminding us of the radical nature of His ministry and is demanding we step up to the plate.

12) St. Bartholomew of the Island: The Romans had perfected torture and death, and Bartholomew’s martyrdom is an example of that combination. Tradition has it that he was skinned while still alive; thus, one symbol for Bartholomew is a skinning knife. Another legend has it that he was flayed alive with a whip that would strip the skin from one’s flesh, but knife or whip, his death must have been excruciatingly painful and horrible – almost too much of a price to pay for committing one’s life to Christ, don’t you think? But people still die painful and horrible deaths as martyrs, laying down their lives for the Lord and the world. A thousand years ago, a Church was built on a little island in the Tiber River where it flows past the city of Rome. Fittingly, the Church replaced – and was built on the ruins of – an ancient temple dedicated to the art and science of medicine, the Temple of Aesculapius, which had stood there at least three centuries before Christ was born. People visited that temple, a sort of spa, to seek cures for various illnesses as well as relief from pain; the temple was elaborate. The Church that replaced the temple was named San Bartholomew all’ Isola – St. Bartholomew of the Island. After it was built, a hospital was added; Church and hospital still exist in close proximity to that small island. Today there is also a home for elderly Jews close to the Church; it is close to a monastery, too. And there seems to be a message in that complex of buildings that declares that St. Bartholomew’s death – like the death of Christ – has some meaning in terms of the commitment and love that prompts us both to follow Christ, telling his story and preaching the Gospel to all people, and to show compassion, kindness and care for the sick, the suffering, and the elderly. There can be no better way to follow and serve Christ, or to celebrate the commitment and death of St. Bartholomew and of all those others who have paid the ultimate cost of commitment to Christ by laying down their lives to bear witness to Him.

13) Forest fire and Jesus’ fire: Stretching south for hundreds of miles from Glacier National Park lies a majestic mixture of valleys, rushing streams, and gargantuan mountains called the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Backpackers have hiked there for decades looking for elk, grizzlies and golden eagles. Fortunately, the grizzlies stay up in the high country, but a golden eagle may be spotted, and the elusive wolverine may be tracked. The Bob Marshall Wilderness hosts some 90,000 packers and hikers each year, most of them in the months of July and August. They must come in either on foot or on horseback. No motorized vehicles are allowed. The forests on those rugged mountain slopes are thick with Lodgepole Pine, a tough, hardy tree with cones so thick that only extreme heat can burst forth the seeds. That’s where fire comes in. For thousands — oh, millions — of years, lightning has cracked the big sky out there down to the forests below. (Often the lightning will hit the Douglas Firs, less rugged than the Lodgepole Pines, and a forest fire will begin.) For years, of course, the United States Forest Service fought furiously to put out these fires. More recently, they have adopted a policy of managed fires. They have learned these fires have a purpose. Without them, the seeds of the Lodgepole Pines are never released. Without them much of the underbrush and plant life there does not regenerate. The earth needs a fire cast on it, or it will die. Jesus, speaking to Peter, that blustery, Lodgepole Pine kind of a man, said, “I have a fire to cast over the earth, and how I am constrained until it be kindled!” What did Jesus mean? He knew that Peter, like all of his disciples, was a wilderness that needed fire, or he would die. Peter needed the fire of God’s Word to keep his heart from freezing over and to keep the passion of his soul from cooling down. Like the Lodgepole Pine, we all need the fire of God’s Word in our lives, or we will grow cold. We will be ice capped. Our job will cease. Our friendships will cease. Our marriages will cease. Our very lives will cease, because human nature is so prone to the freeze, so susceptible to an ice cap on the heart. God knows this. That’s why He sends His lightning to strike into our lives lest we stop and regenerate no more.

14) “This is champagne! You cannot drink it.” Jesus is the one to whom the highest forms of commitment are to be made – regardless of the cost. And he expects us to make that commitment – and pay that personal cost at all times – if we dare to call ourselves his disciples. An incident in the life of Pablo Casals illuminates the nature of the total commitment that Christ demands of his followers. U Thant once held a reception for the famous musician when he was ninety-four years of age. Robert Muller, in his Most of All, They Taught Me Happiness (New York: Dutton, 1981, p. 164), describes how he was talking with Casals in a room on the thirty-eighth floor of the United Nations Secretariat building when a waitress came by with filled glasses. In the bright light, Casals asked, “What is it?” She answered with a smile, “Lemonade.” Before he could taste it, his wife intercepted the glass and tasted it: “This is champagne! You cannot drink it.” Thereupon Casals told Muller the following story: “When I was young, I once went to see my doctor and told him I was feeling a kind of laziness in my fingers. After a thorough examination, he asked me: ‘Do you drink?’ I answered negatively but added that like all Spaniards I had a glass of wine at luncheon and dinner. He then said: ‘Well, if you want to become a great, renowned artist and avoid that laziness in your fingers, you must never touch a drop of wine or alcohol.’ I obeyed him faithfully all my life.” Jesus, you see, never calls us to ministry and mission under false pretenses. When the disciples wanted places of honor next to him, he asked, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” and “Are you able to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Mark reports that He answered their enthusiastic, “We can!” with, “You will be baptized …” – die for the faith – and with the exception of John, they were all martyred for the Gospel’s sake. To follow Christ is a costly venture. It may mean expulsion from the family circle, ostracism by friends, or death – even in this age.

15) Challenge to feel-good Christians: Seminary professor Stanley Hauerwas opens one of his classes by reading a letter from a parent to a government official. The parent complains that the family was paying for the very best education for their son. Then the young man got involved with a weird religious sect. The parent pleads with the government to do something about this group that was ruining his son’s life.  Dr. Hauerwas ends by explaining that the parent is not complaining about the Moonies, the Hare Krishnas, or some other group. The professor had assembled snippets from different letters written to the Roman government in the third century about a weird religious group called the Church of Jesus Christ. [Pulpit Resources, Volume 23, No. 3, (July-September 1995), p. 34.] How that differs from the claims the Church makes on people’s lives today! Instead of high demands and radical changes, we think Christianity is to make us feel good about ourselves.

16) Fiddler on the Roof: An example of the opposition that that Faith brings about in a family occurs in the play Fiddler on the Roof. The story takes place in Russia in 1905 and the plot centers around a man named Tevye, the father of a poor Jewish family. He has five daughters but no son. His eldest daughter marries a tailor who was not chosen for her by the traditional matchmaker. After a struggle with his conscience Teyve accepts the marriage. His next daughter marries a college student who has broken with many Jewish traditions. After another struggle with his conscience, Teyve accepts this marriage too. Finally, his third daughter, Chava, marries a non-Jew, a young Russian soldier. When Golde, Teyve’s wife breaks the news to him, Teyve, says, “Chava is dead to us! We must forget her.” Alone, Teyve, sings a beautiful song called “Chavalah”. In it he pours out his heart to God. He can’t understand why Chava did what she did. At that moment Chava appears and pleads with Teyve to accept her and her husband. Teyve looks up to heaven and says: “How can I accept them? Can I deny everything I believe in? On the other hand, can I deny my own child? (But if I deny everything I believe in,) if I try to bend that far, I will break. No Chava!” -When Jesus invited people to follow him, he realized what he was asking. For them it meant doing what Chava had to do. It meant leaving father and mother and family. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

17) Fire and division: – The very mention of this word, ”fire,” stirs fear in the human heart. Indeed, so horrific is the potential of fire to destroy life and reduce to ashes even the most solid and sturdy of structures that it is a crime to shout this word irresponsibly in a public place! Every year, forest fires, fed by powerful desert winds, burn a wide swath of destruction across miles and miles of land. Every year, through carelessness and maliciousness, lives are lost, homes are leveled, and many lose their means of livelihood to fire. So dreaded is the mere specter of fire that it has, since ancient times, been associated with the retribution to be suffered by the evil and unrepentant after death. Given the ordinary human regard for and experience of fire, it seems strange (if not shocking!) that Jesus would claim that he had come to light a fire on earth and, that he wished for the blaze to be ignited (Gospel). Strange, as well, is Jesus’declaration that he had come among us not for peace but for division. Divisiveness, like a canker, erodes the social, political, emotional and psychological bonds that bind us, one to another. Divisiveness is spawned by antagonism, distrust and hostility and it often erupts into war. Divisiveness eats away at the viable network of human society, leaving lonely, disconnected isolates in its wake. Why then would Jesus choose to characterize his purpose and mission in terms of fire and division? (Patricia D Sanchez).

Pope clicking Pope's fall 18) A pope on fire: Photo of Pope Francis boarding the plane with a black bag that had gone round the world.  One Journalist asked him  (1) why he carried his bag? and (2) what was in it.  Here is the translation of his response: Pope Francis: “There was no key to the bomb inside! Well, I carried the bag because I have always done so: when I travel, I always carry the bag myself. And inside, what is there? There is a razor, there is the breviary, there is the agenda, there is a book to read – I brought one of St. Therese of Lisieux to whom I am devoted. I always travel with my bag: it’s normal. But we must be normal … I don’t know … it’s a bit ‘strange’ what you are telling me, that that picture has been going around the world. But we have to get used to be normal. The normality of life. I do not know, Andrea, if I answered your question…” Pope misses step & falls: https://youtu.be/tGLmSm_3tpo

19) Comforting the afflicted in a Brazilian Favela: Shortly after his election to the papacy, Pope Francis called for a “Church that is poor and for the poor.” During his momentous visit to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day 2013 in Brazil, Pope Francis visited the community of Varginha in the favela of Manguinhos. The slum-like neighborhood was once blighted with violence, drug crime, and gang fighting. This community offers a vivid example of the crushing poverty, uneven development, and profound class divisions that plague Brazil, even as it attempts to turn itself around. Pope Francis spoke to a huge crowd of favela residents who gathered in a football field of the violent slum. Portions of Pope Francis’ address to them give flesh and blood to today’s Gospel: “The Brazilian people, particularly the humblest among you, can offer the world a valuable lesson in solidarity, a word that is too often forgotten or silenced, because it is uncomfortable. I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities, and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity! No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world! Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices. The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: it is the culture of solidarity that does so, seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters…..”Pope Francis, like Jesus, demands a decision either for or against his message. The Bishop of Rome does not seek harmony and a middle way in every situation of extreme poverty, injustice, and violence. He is not afraid to enter into the midst of great conflicts of our time and he is willing to make tough decisions for the sake of authentic reconciliation, true justice, and a lasting peace among peoples. Let us learn from the example of Jesus of Nazareth and Francis of Buenos Aires. (Salt & Light Media).

20) A Weird New Religious Cult: A sociology professor every year begins his course on “The Family” by reading to his class a letter, from a parent, written to a government official. In the letter the parent complains that his son, once obedient and well-motivated, has become involved with some weird new religious cult. The father complains that the cult has taken over the boy’s life, has forced him to forsake all of his old friends, and has turned him against his family. After reading the letter, the professor asks the class to speculate what the father is talking about. Almost without exception, the class immediately assumes that the subject of the letter is a child mixed up with the “Moonies,” or some other controversial group. After the class puts out all of the possible conclusions they can think of, the professor surprises them by revealing that the letter, was written by a third century father in Rome, the governor of his province, complaining about this weird religious group called “The Christians.” (William H. Beljean, Jr., An Interesting Letter).

21) Trouble-Makers: Thank God for those free thinkers throughout Christendom who have brought fire upon the earth, the early Church and the Catholic Church which has prevailed for almost 2000 years holding the banner of Christ: Martin Luther called the Church back to a Gospel which emphasized grace rather than works. John Wyclif and William Tyndale, against the wishes of church leadership produced the Bible in the language of the people. William Wilberforce, against the will of many within the Church, fought the evil ravages of the institution of slavery. Hudson Taylor dared to adopt the customs and culture of the people to whom he was a missionary. He converted people to Jesus, not to Western culture. He changed the focus of foreign missions. Men like John and Charles Wesley, Charles Finney, and Spurgeon, called upon their churches to reform. They woke the world with their fiery preaching. These men were troublemakers. Thinkers. Applecart shakers. Men who muddied the water just like Jesus. Heroes of the Faith, we now call them, because they were not afraid of division. They knew Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword. In other words: Truth. God’s truth is like that. It is a double-edged sword. What sounds like peace, the peace that Christ gives, really isn’t peace as the world would have it. It is peace as God would have it. And what kind of peace is it that God wants? He wants the peace that exist between you and Him when the weight of your sins no longer is a snare and you can run with endurance the race set before you. Brett Blair

22) “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you , but rather division.” A Hindu came to England for his education. He was already married. At Oxford he became interested in the Christian religion, was converted and baptized. He was a young prince, and his first duty on his return to his native land was to tell his father of his new Faith. His parents’ rage and grief were great. He was turned out of the house into a cowshed, and there left, hungry and sad. His mother brought him a dish of the favorite curry he had often longed for amid the strange meals of foreign lands, but before he might eat, she had a condition – Say, I am not a Christian.” He refused and the plate was taken away. Hungrier and thirstier he grew, and at length, hearing a scratching outside, he found a low-caste man, a sweeper (whom in the olden days, to touch was defilement) offering him water. Now, in spite of his ingrained repugnance, he was thankful to receive it. The next morning, he heard sounds of mourning – it had been given out that he was dead, drowned in the courtyard well – therefore his girl wife was widowed. From the cow-shed he could see her being led across the courtyard in her bright clothes and jewels, then she was thrown down, and they were torn from her, and the rest of the cruel treatment that a Hindu widow receives was dealt out to her; while the boy husband watched, powerless to help. That night, with the help of the friendly sweeper, he escaped to a mission station nearby; later the poor little ‘widow’ was also discovered, and was brought to Christianity, and the husband and wife were reunited in Christian marriage. This is what Jesus says in today’s Gospel Reading from St. Luke – “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you , but rather division. … a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, … a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Christ comes to us as a challenge. Everyone who follows Christ and keeps his eyes focused on Jesus and the truth of his message in all its integrity, everyone who lives it to the full, will find the world opposes him. Christ himself suffered, as did all the prophets, and we must follow in his footsteps. (Fr. Lakra).

23) A family divided: The Cardinal of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger, (this homily was preached before he died in 2007) has a most interesting story to tell. He was born a Jew in 1926 to a Polish family living in Paris and running a store. His first name was Aaron. His family considered any Jew who converted to Catholicism an abomination. Although there was a lot of anti-Semitism, he was well aware that many Christians were not anti-Semites. His best friend in school was a Christian. When war between France and Germany was threatening during the Second World War his parents decided for his safety to send him to a Catholic family in Orléans south of Paris. The Catholic family hosting him did not try to convert him, but their example inspired him as did also the churches in Orléans which he visited merely out of curiosity at first. When he read a Catholic Bible, he was very impressed by how the Old Testament continued into the New Testament and the links between the suffering Messiah and suffering Israel. On Holy Thursday he visited the Cathedral in Orléans but did not know what was being celebrated there. He returned the next day, Good Friday. The Cathedral was empty, and he experienced that emptiness also. There and then he decided that he wanted to be baptized. Just before the German invasion of France in 1940 he told his parents he wanted to be baptized a Catholic. Cardinal Lustiger says “it was an unbearably painful scene when he told his parents. He explained that he was not abandoning being a Jew but discovering its real meaning. His parents did not understand, and he suffered greatly from their pain. He took the step only because he felt it was absolutely necessary for his soul. Finally his parents, after having brought him to a rabbi to whom he explained why he thought Christ was the Messiah, consented not only for Aaron but also for his sister, who wanted to follow her brother…” (Bread From Heaven  edited by Ronda Chervin, published by Remnant of Israel © 1994 page 54.) During the persecution of the Jews in France his father left Paris to look for a place elsewhere for the family. Unfortunately, his mother was denounced as Jewish by a neighbour and sent to Auschwitz where she was killed. The Lustiger family is an example of a family being divided because of Jesus. This is precisely what Jesus meant in the Gospel today when he said he came not to bring peace but division (Luke 12:51). (Fr. Tommy Lane). L/19

“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle C (No. 43) by Fr. Tony: akadavil@gmail.com

Visit my website: By clicking on http://frtonyshomilies.com/ for missed or previous Cycle C homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at akadavil@gmail.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily and https://www.catholicsermons.com/homilies/sunday_homilies under CBCI or in the CBCI website https://cbci.in/SundayReflectionsNew.aspx?&id=cG2JDo4P6qU=&type=text .

Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.

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