20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached August 18, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
I have some good news and some bad news, but in order to hear the good news we first need to receive the bad news. Many people are aware that the word “Gospel” is weakly translated into English as ‘Good News’. Well, it is impossible to receive the Good News of the Gospel, it is impossible truly to grasp the Good News of God’s love and mercy, if we are unwilling or unable to receive the bad news about human sin.
The Good News and the bad news are both contained in today’s Gospel. The Good News: Jesus has come to cast the fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire of divine love, upon the earth. The bad news: He has not come to bring peace, but division. The Gospel brings division rather than peace, because human sinners – that is us – want the wrong sort of peace. We don’t really seem to want the fire – a warm fuzzy maybe, but not a blazing fire, much less a white hot furnace.
We do want peace, but often we want the wrong sort of peace.
We want the peace of the lowest common denominator, which will never work because the lowest will never satisfy creatures that have been created for the highest. The lowest common denominator is the reason for all the divisions that are eroding the fabric of our society, which opens the door for the increasing violence and conflict that surrounds us. Instead the lowest common denominator we need to seek the peace of the highest common good, Jesus Christ. We can only attain that peace if we let ourselves be set ablaze by the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Still, we put up obstacles to the fire of the Holy Spirit because we want our own private peace, in which we seek refuge from the conflicts around us.
Let me note that there is a solution for those obstacles: we can take them and cast them into the fire of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by means of a good confession. Now, though, let’s take a good look at some of those obstacles.
Perhaps we want the therapeutic peace or the feel good emotional peace.
The fire of the Holy Spirit does not leave us with a peace that covers over all sorts of hidden wounds and sins that we would rather pretend are not there. The Holy Spirit will not leave us with the feel good peace, because we need to serve God with a pure intention, not for the good feeling we get from him.
Then there is the peace of a good sleep beneath warm covers on a cold winter morning or the peace of sitting on the porch and sipping gin and tonics. This is not a bad thing; we do need rest, relaxation, and entertainment; but that is not the goal of
life. When it does become the goal of life it tends towards the peace of pure laziness, which then becomes the peace of pure selfishness.
I think we all have an element of sheer, innate laziness, especially when it comes to God; especially when it comes to doing what we know is just, right, and true. The Holy Spirit wants to burn this laziness right out of our life.
Then there is the ‘I don’t want any trouble’ or ‘I don’t want to rock the boat sort of peace’. Well, there are things that are not worth making trouble about and there are times when it would be down right wrong to rock the boat, especially when it involves our own ego rather than what is just, right, and true. Still, the peace at any price strategy of conflict avoidance only allows wounds to fester and in the meantime we run the danger of becoming complicit in the cover-up of real evils.
The Holy Spirit will not leave us in this sort of peace either, but will burn away all of our masks, falsehoods, and subterfuge. He is the Spirit of Truth.
The ‘conflict avoidance’ type of peace easily leads to the peace of family loyalty or group loyalty. If there must be conflict, at least let it not be close to home.
Loyalty is good, but our supreme loyalty must always be to Jesus Christ who said, Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. (Mt 10:37) That is why in today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of division in the heart of the family.
Now don’t get me wrong. We should not go looking for conflict. We should not be looking to cause trouble. St. Paul wrote: If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men. (Rm 12:18)
‘As far as it depends upon you’ – key words. It is hard to live at peace with those who do not want peace. Those who are lazy and selfish and care little for what is just, right, and true, do not really want peace, they just want their own good pleasure.
We must never give way to hatred of persons – not even politicians – but was pray for everyone’s salvation. We are not, however, required to trust and cooperate with those who show little sincerity.
Further, wittingly or unwittingly, those who are lazy and selfish end up serving as enablers for those who are down right wicked, those who exploit and use others, those who bully others, those who lie and deceive.
Precisely because laziness, selfishness, and wickedness are widespread, those who truly love Jesus Christ and seek to do his will inevitably meet with opposition, whether open or secret.
We must not let this discourage us or cause us to grow weary of doing good, even in the face of ingratitude and rejection. As we have heard in today’s 2nd reading, we
have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. Rather, if we let the fire of the Holy Spirit take hold of us, then we will rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and we will persevere in running the race that has an eternal prize, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus … who for the sake of the joy that lay before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.
There we will find true peace. It is not the peace of laziness, but the peace of perfect activity. The peace of perfect knowledge and perfect love that mirror the eternal action of the Most Holy Trinity; we won’t get there without practice.
We heard of running a race, as though in a stadium, with a cloud of witnesses, who are the saints who cheer us on and pray for us – a much more effective type of cheering. We know how long distance runners will get ‘in the zone’, they will reach a point where the running seems effortless.
So even in this life, the more we let the fire of the Holy Spirit enter our lives and transform our hearts, the more we will discover that we are able to turn our attention to God, without effort, to love him and do his will, even in the midst of all manner of difficulty, adversity, and opposition. Then, when we depart from this world, all the difficulty will be gone and there will remain only the pure love of God. In him we will find our peace, the peace of the city of God, the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem.
With the Virgin Mary, Queen of the Heaven and Queen of Peace, let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem. (cf. Ps 122:6)