Thursday, September 22, 2016

26th Sunday Yr C (Lk 16:19-31) Being responsible with what we have



A few years ago I was driving somewhere and I gave a lift to a man. He was a musician, a busker and basically lived by busking on the streets. Not an easy way of life.  He had practically all his possessions with him. He told me he knew over 350 songs, which was quite impressive. When he realised that I was a priest he began asking me about religion. I can’t remember much of what he said except for one thing. He said that he wasn’t very religious but that he preferred to stay out of it and sit on the fence. When we spoke about death and meeting God he said that he would plead ignorance. That was the thing that struck me the most. He said, ‘I’ll just plead ignorance.’ 

I suppose if God were just another human being, we might get away with pleading ignorance, but since God knows everything about us, including our motivations, all the things that have influenced us during our life that cause us to act as we do, how free or not we are to make choices, I don’t think that pleading ignorance will be much use! This is not to just focus on the negative as if we should be afraid of God because He is out to get us. On the contrary, the Lord loves us and wants to help us in every way possible. He knows our weaknesses and what we struggle with, but He also knows when we avoid responsibility.

In the readings today we are presented not so much with the rich and the poor, rather with those who deliberately turn their back on justice. We are shown the two extremes. The poor man Lazarus was at this rich man’s gate. In other words the rich man couldn’t have missed him because he was right under his nose. And it says that ‘Lazarus longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table’, which implies that he was not offered a thing, not even a small amount. So it’s not as if the rich man did a certain amount and it wasn’t enough. Jesus is telling us that he did absolutely nothing. That is why he lost heaven, not because he had riches. There is nothing wrong with having riches. What we do with it is what’s important. If I am wealthy then that is the situation God has given me in this life (provided I acquired it in a just way, of course!). What I do with it is what’s important.

Equally you might think that Lazarus could have got off his butt and done something for himself. But the fact that he ‘lay’ at the rich man’s gate and that he was covered in sores, tells us that he was sick and helpless. You could say that God put him there deliberately to allow the rich man to help him, but he chose to do nothing. 

I have no doubt that God often puts people in our path who may need our help, but we always have the choice to help them or not. God has given us that freedom and the help we give people may not even be financial help. It may be something as simple as a smile or an encouraging word that is needed. All the time we are coming across people who need our help and if we are open to it we will recognise them. If we have plenty, thank God for it, but it also means that we have an obligation to help those who are in need and there is no shortage of them, both in this country and all over the world. ‘The poor will always be with you.’

So you could say there is a double message here. First, let us thank God for what we have. Second, let us also ask God to help us make good use of what we have. God has given us freedom to do what we want in this life, but we are also asked to be responsible. There is a common misconception today that being free means being able to do anything you want, good or bad. However, true freedom is the freedom to choose what is good. That is what the Lord wants for us and that is also what will help us the most. If we find ourselves in a situation where we have plenty, we must remember first that we are in the minority, and second that we have a responsibility to look out for those who are in need and they are in the majority.





Friday, September 16, 2016

25th Sunday Yr C (Luke 16:1-13) You cannot serve both God and money




In 1929 in the financial district of New York city, several wealthy business men committed suicide all at the same time. Why? Because of what became known as ‘The Wall Street Crash.’ The New York stock exchange collapsed over night and as a result many people lost millions of dollars. Many of them could not handle this and sadly they killed themselves. Money had become everything for them. It was their god and it had just proved itself to be a false god, an illusion. When their god collapsed, they were left with nothing, no money, no faith and apparently nothing to live for. It seems that many of them despaired.

Several years ago two good friends of mine by the names of Maura Grealish and Marina Hayden took their final vows in the Poor Clare convent in my home town of Galway. They took four vows, of poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure. They will never own anything of her own, they will not get married, and they will spend the rest of her lives enclosed in a convent, dedicating their time and energy to God and to praying for all of us and for many others. Some people consider this a useless waste; others see it as the gift of God which it is, the highest calling in the Church. Their lives lived in this way—as with any Religious—is a sign that we believe in the life to come and that it is worth making sacrifices for it. If we didn’t believe in the life to come, then it would be a waste of time. Jesus says to us: ‘What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?’ (Mark 8:36)


These two situations are the complete opposite of each other. Sometimes people in the financial world put everything into their money. Money becomes the only thing that matters. They work for it, they live for it, they may even lie and cheat for it. That is certainly not true of everyone. There are also many who are extremely generous. But in contrast, Sisters Maura and Marina and many others have given up everything for God and are depending totally on God for everything. 

Most of us are probably somewhere between the two. We may not be millionaires, but we have not given up everything for God either. We work and try and put bread on the table and provide for our families and loved ones. Most people are under a lot of pressure to pay their bills and mortgages, etc. as I’m sure you know. 

Money is an important tool. It would be very hard to live in our society without it, but it is only a tool. If we lost everything over night it would be very difficult, but we would still be alive. It happens to people quite often, but we do survive. But if God disappeared, what would we have left? When we died there would be nothing. Who would we turn to, to make some sense of our life? Thankfully God does not disappear, regardless of whether we have more than we need, or barely enough to survive on. Either way God is there with us and when we have served our time on this earth then we will go to him if we have made the right choices.


In the Gospel Jesus says ‘You cannot serve God and money’.  We must choose who is going to be our master. That doesn’t mean that we can not enjoy our money or the things we have, but we must be careful to use it wisely. At the end of the day it is only a tool and if it was suddenly taken away from us, we would still survive.

When we live in a world that places so much emphasis on having plenty of money, it’s hard not to be affected by that. There is nothing wrong with having money so long as we remember that it is only a tool to help us survive. It is not primarily what our life is about. God has made us much deeper than just flesh and blood. We also have a spirit and that spirit will never be satisfied with material things alone. We are called to something greater.

I just want to finish with a few verses from Psalm 49.
No one can buy his own ransom,
or pay a price to God for his life.
In his riches man lacks wisdom,
he is like the beasts that are destroyed.



Thursday, September 8, 2016

24th Sunday, Year C (Gospel: Luke 15:1-10) We must not become like them



 

 

Today is the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, a terrible event we will never forget. We remember all those who were killed and their families.

 

It is said that at the end of his life St. John the Apostle said hardly anything to his followers except, ‘Love one another.’ I suppose he had got to the stage where he realized that was probably the only thing that was truly important. If we really manage to do this then everything else is included. There is nothing more important than this.

 

One of the biggest challenges we are being faced with today is the problem of terrorism and how to respond to it. Small groups of people who are consumed by evil and hatred want to bring fear and pain to others. People are being killed for no other reason than hatred. The saddest part is that it is often being done in the name of God. What a terrible insult to the God who created us out of love. Usually our reaction to any of the acts of terror that we hear about is to become angry and hate these people back. They hate us so we will hate them even more. They try and hurt us so we will try and wipe them out completely. Generally that is the first thing that comes into our heart when we hear about all these terrible acts of violence for no reason. Satan, who hates God’s creation and wants to destroy it, is behind this evil. Jesus spoke of the reality of Satan many times during his life on earth. We would be foolish to think that Jesus was exaggerating. Satan wants us to hate the terrorists just as they hate us; to kill them just as they try and kill us, but Jesus teaches us something different.

 

 

 

First of all it is important to say that Jesus always wants us to work for justice, to stop evil, to prevent violence. We must do everything we can to try and stop this kind of evil. But God also teaches us that if we turn to hatred and violence the way the terrorists do, then we are no different from them. Jesus teaches us by his life that the way to respond to it is by working for justice first, but also by not allowing ourselves to be drawn into hatred and violence. He tells us to remember that those who carry out acts of terror are human beings, not monsters, even though they have become consumed with evil. We can conquer evil by refusing to hate back. We will win them over by refusing to kill back. That is the way of God and that is what changes the world. Jesus—the only one who was completely innocent and only did good—allowed himself to be tortured and killed in order to win happiness for us, even for the people who were killing him. ‘Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.’ In doing this He was also teaching us about the greatest power on earth, which is the power of love. To love means to refuse to hate, to refuse to turn to violence, because that is what changes the world.

 

After the attacks in Paris which killed 89 people at a concert hall last November (2015), one man called Antoine Leiris who lost his wife in the attack wrote the following open letter to terrorists.

(Antoine Leiris is a journalist at the French radio network France Bleu. His wife Hélène Muyal was killed in the attack).

“On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.

“I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God for whom you kill blindly made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife is a wound in his heart.

“So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.”
The letter continued: “You would like me to be scared, for me to look at my fellow citizens with a suspicious eye, for me to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You have lost.

“I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting. She was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago.

“Of course I am devastated with grief, I grant you this small victory, but it will be short-lived. I know she will be with us every day and we will find each other in heaven with free souls which you will never have.

“Us two, my son and I, we will be stronger than every army in the world. I cannot waste any more time on you as I must go back to [my son] who has just woken from his sleep. He is only just 17 months old, he is going to eat his snack just like every other day, then we are going to play like every other day and all his life this little boy will be happy and free. Because you will never have his hatred either.”

 

 

 

People like this man are a wonderful example of what God wants us to be. He calls us to be bigger than hatred, to refuse to hate and return violence for violence. We must always work hard for justice and to stop evil, but we won’t behave as the terrorists do or we will be just like them.

 

Maybe the question to finish with is this: Where are we supposed to get that inner strength from? The answer is simple: in God, in Jesus. That is where love comes from first and so He is the One we must stay close to. If we remain with God, focused on God, with God at the center, then we too will be able to rise above the temptation to return hatred for hatred. That is how you change the world.

 

‘Love one another as I have loved you.’

 

 


Friday, September 2, 2016

23rd Sunday, Yr C (Gospel: Luke 14:25-33) Providence



There is a Chinese story of a farmer who used an old horse to plow his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer's neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?" Then, when the farmer's son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer's son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck? Who knows?

When we look back over our life, whether it be long or short, I think many of us have regrets and there have probably been many disappointments: relationships that didn’t work; marriages that broke up; careers that fell apart; unexpected sickness that changed everything. We think that ‘If only things had gone differently…’ While it is normal to experience disappointment I think the eyes of faith can help us to see it differently.

In the story it talks about ‘good luck, bad luck’, but we call it providence. The Lord provides. Because we are human we continually make mistakes, but the wonderful thing is that the Lord can and does bring extraordinary good even out of our mistakes. In the book of Genesis we read that Moses actually murdered a man and then in fear of the punishment he fled the country. That was his life written off you’d imagine. Yet years later God appeared to him in the burning bush and sent him to rescue his people from slavery. King David committed adultery and then had the woman’s husband murdered to cover his tracks. This was a terrible double crime.  Eventually he took this woman Bathsheba to be his wife. However, the second child born to Bathsheba was the future king Solomon who was considered probably the greatest king of Israel because he brought peace and rebuilt the temple. God can bring extraordinary good out of our worst mistakes.



Many of the things that went wrong for us can seem quite different if we look on them with the eyes of faith. I don’t mean by that, that it’s good that they happened, but sometimes they also lead us to other unexpected good things.  That is what we call providence. This also gives us great hope because it means that even when things do go wrong it’s not the end of the line.

I always find it inspiring to see the great goodness that comes out in people when someone experiences tragedy or when a natural disaster occurs. People come out of the woodwork to help and often the charity shown in turn brings more goodness out of people. It is contagious.
So we are wise when we leave it to God to decide what is good fortune and what misfortune, and thank him that all things turn out for good with those who love him. That is also why we try to thank God for all situations, regardless of whether they make sense to us or not.
Who can know God’s counsel,
or who can conceive what the Lord intends?
For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.




Friday, August 26, 2016

22nd Sunday Year C The humility to acknowledge our sins (Gospel: Lk 14:1, 7-14)





Every time I celebrate the mass there is one line more than any other that seems to stay in my mind.  It is the last line of the prayer the priest says over the chalice at the consecration: This is the chalice of my blood…It will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.That phrase ‘so that sins may be forgiven’ is really what the whole mass is about, and indeed what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was about: ‘so that sins may be forgiven.’

Jesus came among us so that our sins could be taken away, so that we could be healed. That fact alone should give us great courage because it means that God is totally for us, even when we have fallen into sin. The Lord is not interested in our sin, He is interested in us. He wants us to be healed, to be at peace, but He also wants us to acknowledge and confess our sins. And that is also why He challenges us to repent and to keep coming back to God, no matter what happens, because God knows much better than we do that sin is the one thing that can block us from God who our ultimate happiness. If we lose God we will also lose our happiness, because nothing else can fulfil us.

There is a powerful story in the Old Testament about King David. It has all the ingredients of a modern movie. David—who is now a very powerful king with everything he could ask for—is walking one day on the roof of his house and he sees a beautiful woman in a nearby garden taking a bath. He asks who she is and he is told that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. But because he is king and he is used to getting his own way, he has her brought to him and he sleeps with her. Sometime later she sends a message to him to tell him that she is pregnant. Now he is afraid because he knows he is going to be found out. So he sends for her husband Uriah, who is away at war fighting for him. When Uriah comes David asks him how the war is going, how the morale is among the men, etc. Later he invites him to dinner with him and then he sends him away and says ‘Go home to your wife and tomorrow I’ll let you return to the battle.’ But Uriah doesn’t go to his house. Perhaps he is suspicious. Instead he sleeps at the door of the palace with the servants. 

The next day when David finds out that he didn’t go home to his wife he invites him again to come and eat with him. This time he gets Uriah drunk and then tells him to go home to his wife, but again Uriah sleeps at the gate of the palace. So the following day David sends Uriah back to the battle with a letter to his senior officer telling him to place Uriah in the thick of the battle and then to pull back so that he is killed. So Uriah goes back to the war carrying his own death warrant and he is killed.

So we have lust, adultery, lies, betrayal and murder; quite a list of evil, all committed by the so-called ‘great’ King David. But because God loves David He doesn’t let him away with it and so he sends the prophet Nathan along to David, who tells him the following story:




Nathan says to David, ‘There was once a rich man who lived in a city. He had all he wanted: huge farms, many servants etc. There was also a poor man in the same city who had just one little lamb. And he loved the lamb like one of his own children. One day a stranger came to the rich man, but instead of taking one of his own flock, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and had him killed for the meal.’ When David heard this he jumped up in a rage and said, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die.’ And Nathan says to David: ‘You are the man.’

Now David is considered one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel and the reason is because of what he does next. When David hears the Prophet Nathan’s accusation he says, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ David was powerful enough to be able to do anything he wanted, but when God challenges him he is big enough to confess that he has done wrong and he repents of the sin.

It is because God loves us that He challenges us to acknowledge our wrongdoing and repent of it, so that we can remain close to him. The Lord doesn’t want our downfall. On the contrary, the Lord wants us to be able to live in peace, which is why He offers us the extraordinary gift of his mercy and forgiveness through confession. And we can have this gift as often as we ask for it, but we must ask for it. The way to look at it is not to focus on our sinfulness so much as to see God’s desire for us to be healed and to be at peace. But in order to experience that peace we must receive the Lord’s forgiveness through confession. 
You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church... whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ (Mt 16:19b)

The most important thing about going to confession is the very fact that we go there at all. None of us could possibly know all the sins we have committed against God and against each other, but it doesn’t matter. By the very act of going to confession we are saying, ‘Lord I know I am a sinner, these are the sins I can remember, but I ask your mercy and the grace to start again.’ So that is what we do. We confess what we can remember and leave the rest to the mercy of God. If there is something important the Holy Spirit will prompt us. The most important thing to remember is that the Lord loves us and that He has given us the gift of confession for our benefit, so that we can be healed.

All of us have plenty of sins. We are jealous, we judge people continually, we put people down or make comments against others, we lie, we resent, we don’t forgive, we put so many other things before God. There is no shortage.




There is one sin in particular that I want to mention. It is probably the sin that most of us struggle with more than anything else. It is the sin of unforgiveness. I’d say there is hardly anyone here—including me—who doesn’t need to forgive someone, because we have all been hurt. The key thing to remember about forgiving someone is that it’s not about whether you feel like it or not. Forgiveness is a decision of your will. I forgive someone because God asks me to. Most of us never feel like forgiving someone who has hurt us. And the deeper the hurt the less likely we are to want to forgive them. But if we want to heal we must take the first step, which is to forgive them. By doing that we are opening the door to God’s grace to help us to heal. To put it the other way around: if I refuse to forgive someone, I am blocking God’s grace from helping me to heal from the wound.  In other words I am the one who is going to suffer. If I make the decision to forgive someone who has hurt me, regardless of whether I feel like it or not, then God can begin to heal me of the hurt. Think about who you need to forgive and bring it to the Lord in confession. So if we want to see life in our families improve, life in our society improve, we must begin by repenting ourselves. The first step in being healed is repentance.
This is the chalice of my blood…It will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.



Friday, August 19, 2016

21st Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 13:22-30) Healing and the forgiveness of sins





In my work as a priest over the last fifteen years I have come across many people who have told me about miracles of healing which they or someone close to them have experienced. A close friend of mine by the name of Sandra, who is married with 6 children, saw one of her own children miraculously healed at Lourdes a few years ago. Her son Joe, who was about 7 at the time, was suffering with severe eczema all over his body. It meant that his skin was raw and bleeding a lot of the time. He had to be covered in wet bandages from head to toe which took his mother an hour and twenty minutes to put on each time. They decided to bring him on pilgrimage to Lourdes to pray for him. While they were there he was brought to the ‘baths’ which is where many of the sick are brought in order to bathe in the healing waters of Lourdes as Our Lady told Bernadette to do. After he had been to the baths he started to say, ‘Mom, I’ve been healed!’ She paid no attention to him as he was often playing up as little boys will. But then he started to say it to others on the bus and eventually he said, ‘Mom I’ve been healed. Why don’t you believe me?’ She started to get suspicious at this point and said, ‘I do believe you.’ When they went back to the hotel she took off the bandages and his eczema was almost completely gone. That is just one of many stories of healing that I have heard and I’m sure there are many of you here who could tell me more.

Why is it that we don’t see more miracles of healing? Jesus healed many people during his time on earth, so why doesn’t God seem to heal more today?




For two summers I worked as a confessor in Lourdes; just hearing confessions, nothing else. It was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had as a priest so far, although it was exhausting. People are amazed when I say that hearing confessions for hours could be such a wonderful experience as most people couldn’t imagine anything more boring. However, the reason it was so great was because it is where a huge number of miracles take place every day and very real miracles too. When people are given the grace to be able to confess sins they have been burdened with for years you can physically see a change in their faces. They are being healed and it is usually a much deeper healing that a purely physical healing. The body needs healing, but the healing of the spirit is more important because it affects us much more. Many people came to me and the other priests and confessed sins they were carrying for 20, 30 and even 40 years. It is a very moving thing to watch the transformation in people’s faces when they realize they have been forgiven. A weight is lifted off of them and they are made free. I saw this happen right before my eyes many times and you know straight away that this is the healing power of God at work. 

The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was about the forgiveness of sins. In each mass at the consecration the priest holds up the chalice and says, ‘This is the cup of my blood, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.’ The mass is all about the forgiveness of sins, because at each mass we are at the event of Calvary when Jesus was killed. This was all done so that our sins could be forgiven. That is why the mass is so powerful and that is why we pray for everyone and everything in each mass. God the Son is offered to God the Father so that sins may be forgiven.

Because of the way we are made with body and spirit we need concrete ways of relating to each other and we need concrete ways of being able to understand God. That is one of the reasons why Jesus gives us his body and blood in the form of bread and wine. They are things we can see and touch and taste. We can relate to them. When it comes to the forgiveness of sins Jesus has given us the gift of confession. Through confession we have a definite way of being able to confess our sins to another person in total secrecy and so to be healed. Confession is an extraordinary gift of healing which the Lord offers us, because He knows how much we need it. It’s not just about confessing everything so that we can be good enough for God, because we can never be good enough for God. This is a gift that God has given us for our benefit, so that we can be healed and not be dragging around the mistakes of our past with us. The Lord wants us to be free and to be able to enjoy our lives and this is one of the wonderful ways that the Lord has done this.




‘But why can’t I just tell God I’m sorry myself?’ Well you can if you want to and I’m sure that the Lord forgives us when we do that, but God knows that in our humanity we have a psychological need to confess to another person. If you don’t believe me listen to the TV and radio shows where you find people ‘confessing’ their sins to the whole world every day. We have a need to confess, because that is what helps us to heal.

Jesus said to his Apostles, ‘‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21–23).  Jesus was saying that He would be working through in and through them, since it is only God who forgives sins, but the Lord worked it in such a way that He would offer his forgiveness through his priests. That is why we have the gift of confession. It is meant to be a gift, not a burden, but Satan is quick to convince us that we don’t need it; that we can go to God ourselves. Why should we have to confess to a priest when he is just a sinner too? Of course priests are sinners like anyone else, but this is the gift that God has given us through the priesthood, in order to help us, to heal us and to help us be free.

All through our lives God offers us so many things to help us and I’m quite sure this is one of the greatest gifts of healing that we have, but like everything else that God gives us, it is never forced on us, simply offered, just like the Eucharist.

The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

20th Sunday, Year C (Lk 12:49-53) I have come to bring fire to the earth



There is a place near my home town in Ireland (Killoran, Balinasloe) called ‘The Bishop’s Chair’. My father brought me there a several years ago (14th Jan 2000). It is a hard place to find as it really is out in the middle of nowhere. This ‘chair’ which is in the middle of a field, was where at least two bishops, between 1679-1701, ordained many priests in secret. At the time it was illegal to be a Catholic priest and if they were caught they could have been executed, so they had to ordain them in secret. It is very moving to visit it even though there is not much to see today, but just to think of the sacrifice that so many men and women were prepared to make at that time, to pass on their faith. Priests were prepared to risk their lives so that the people could have the mass, because they had the faith to believe that the mass was everything, because in it we have the gift of Jesus himself. The people were prepared to risk their lives by going to mass. The mass had to be celebrated in secret, often on what were known as ‘mass rocks’ out in the countryside.  Many priests died for the mass because they were caught. Sadly that kind of persecution continues today.

A few years ago in 2007 a priest friend of mine who was my next door neighbour in the Irish College in Rome for a year and a half, was shot dead after celebrating mass in Mosul, northern Iraq. He was just 35 years old. He had been threatened several times but he remained on in his parish in order to be there to celebrate mass for the people, even though he knew the danger. But on the Sunday after Pentecost in 2007 after celebrating mass in the parish church Ragheed and three deacons were ambushed by several gunmen. They forced them out of the cars they were driving and shot all four of them. Persecution for our faith is never far away.
 


At the moment we don’t live with that kind of persecution in this country, thank God, though we are living with a different kind of persecution, where our faith and our Church is often put down, mocked and lied about. Maybe it seems strange that something like the Christian faith, which preaches peace and justice, love of neighbour and respect for all people, should face such ongoing persecution? And it still does in many parts of the world. Then we have this line in today’s Gospel:
I have come to bring fire to the earth... Do you suppose I am here to bring peace on earth?  No I tell you, but rather division.

This line seems to be a bit of a contradiction to what we usually associate with what Jesus spoke about. ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth.’ What about peace and tolerance and all that? Preaching the message of Jesus Christ, which is about peace and justice, etc., brings persecution with it, for the simple reason that not everyone wants to hear it? The teaching of Christ is a very challenging teaching at the best of times. It shows us up when we are not living according to the Lord’s teaching and that often makes people angry. We don’t like to be shown up. It says in John’s Gospel: ‘People have preferred darkness to the light, because their deeds were evil’ (Jn 3:19). There is a tendency in us which draws us to what is wrong. We often know what is ‘the right thing to do’, but we find it hard to choose it. And if we have done what is wrong, or are living in a way that is against what God teaches us, then we are not going to be happy with the teaching of Christ because it will show us up. That is why the message of Jesus always brings persecution with it, because it challenges us to our face to follow one path or another. There is no middle ground. But perhaps what is most important to remember is that the Lord’s teaching, difficult though it often is, is there to help us, because the Lord knows what will make us blossom.

I always find it consoling when I read about the calling of any of the prophets in the Bible. Nearly all of them resisted. And even if they didn’t resist initially, they usually asked God after a while if they could quit, as it was so difficult. They suffered for speaking the truth about God. The prophet Jeremiah said: ‘You have seduced me Lord and I have let myself be seduced... For me the Lord’s word has meant insult and derision all day long’ (Jer 20:7, 8b). The prophet Elijah, after working one of the most extraordinary miracles then finds himself on the run because the Queen is trying to kill him and he says: ‘Lord, I have had enough. Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors’ (1 Kg 19:4-5). Who would blame them?

 

If you want to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ it will cost you. Not everyone in your family is going to like it. Many of the people you work with won’t like it. But that is no reason for us to be afraid, because the Lord assures us that He is with us and that He will help us. For our part we just try to be faithful and live what we believe in as best we can. We follow this path because we believe it is the most worthwhile path, because it is the path that leads to God. 

So each day we rededicate ourselves to God and we try to be faithful to the path that He points out to us.  It is not an easy path, but it is the most worthwhile path. And if not everyone understands us that’s ok too.  That’s how the Lord said it would be. What the Lord has shown us is what makes sense of our life and it is worth everything and anything, which is why we try to be faithful to it no matter what happens.
I have come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were blazing already.’