The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Homily: Monday, 15th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 1:8-14, 22 • Ps 124 • Mt 10:34-11-1


I suppose the most obvious question about today's Gospel passage is: Why does Jesus describe His mission and the coming of God's kingdom in terms of conflict and division? Why does He come not to bring peace but a sword, a weapon of war? After all, didn't Jesus come in peace to reconcile a broken and sinful humanity with a merciful and loving God?

Well, Yes, He did, but He also came to wage war, to overthrow the powers and principalities arrayed against God and His kingdom.  And the sword that Jesus brings is a therapeutic weapon. This sword is none other than God's terrible and fiery Word, Jesus Himself.

There's a wonderful passage in the Letter to the Hebrews that spells it out for us:
"The Word of God is alive and active. It cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the place where soul and spirit, joints and marrow, divide. It sifts the purposes and thoughts of the heart" [Heb 4:12-13]
We see this, too, in Revelation where John envisions the Son of Man "out of whose mouth came a sharp two-edged sword" [Rev 1:16].

No, Jesus didn't come to bring comfort. He came to bring life. And He does so through His Word, which causes a thorough and frightening interior transformation of everything it touches. It was for this redemptive, transforming act and nothing else that the eternal Word of the Father took on flesh and came into our midst as one of us.

But He comes to wage war - to wage spiritual warfare. That's right -- Christ, the Prince of Peace, comes brandishing the sword of God's Word - a sword that slices through our delusions, cuts away our self-deception, and opens in us a wound - a window to God's truth, the truth that shatters the empty promises of this world. Christ brings peace from the Father, but it's not at all like the peace of this world. No, Christ's peace is often a companion with tribulation.

Scripture tells us there are only two kingdoms: God's kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness, and they are engaged in a battle. In his first letter John contrasts these two kingdoms: "We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one" [1 Jn 5:19].

No neutral ground there. We're either for or against the kingdom of God; and our choices and actions reveal whose kingdom we choose to follow. That's why Jesus challenges us, for a true disciple loves God above all else and is willing to forsake all for Jesus Christ.

Some years ago I was approached after Mass by 16-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, who wanted to become Catholics, but whose parents were atheists and refused to let them join any Church.  This was a hard and courageous thing these young people were doing - placing God's will over that of their parents. Yes, family members can sometimes draw people away from God; just as excessive love for another can keep us from doing God's will in our lives.

Now amidst all this talk of spiritual warfare, we must understand that Jesus never calls for "holy war." He preaches no Christian political ideology. He doesn't call for Christian nations to wage war against unbelievers. No, the sword of Jesus, His Word, pierces the heart and soul of each individual, in a sense causing an internal war.

Nor does Jesus say that we should not love father, mother, daughter, son - just the opposite. We're called to love them, even when they act as enemies of God. But we're not to love them more than we love Jesus.

Finally Jesus calls us to follow Him, for that's what a disciple does. But to follow Jesus isn't merely to imitate Him. Nor does it mean bringing Him into my life. No, to follow Jesus I must enter into His life, so I can be what He is. That is the Christian life. It's not I who make room for Jesus in what I do. It's Jesus inviting me to renounce all, so that I can enter into His humanity and divinity, into His mission, into His life.

Jesus also tells us that we don't follow Him empty-handed, for the Gospel calls us to embrace that which is a condition of discipleship: the Cross. Brothers and sisters, the way of the Christian is nothing less than the Way of the Cross. Like Simon of Cyrene we take up Jesus' Cross and follow Him, as if both His Cross and His road were our own.

This is what made St. Paul so joyful when he wrote:
"God forbid that I should boast of anything but the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me and I to the world!" [Gal 6:14]
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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