18 August 201920 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
20 Ordinary Time
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C
Luke 12, 49-53

A priest was getting on a bus. Somehow his shoe came off and fell into the street. Since he could not retrieve it, he took off the second one. He threw it out the window in the direction of the other one. To a puzzled looking passenger, he said, "The fellow who finds the first shoe now will have a good pair to walk about in."

I have just returned from retreat. Hopefully I am filled with grace. But certainly I am filled with gossip from my fellow priests. They were filled with information about new assignments from our bishop. The shocker is that a certified firebrand among the brethern has been sent to a very proper and wealthy parish as pastor. The priest in question has been lining up on the side of the poor, disenfranchised, and the oppressed since he was priested a quarter of a century ago. Wherever he goes, fire follows him. He has all the scars, many of them quite glorious and even enviable, that go with such a career.

Everyone at the retreat had an opinion pro and con on the appointment. Most dared not speak them publicly since the bishop himself was present. But the one point on which all agreed is that the parish will become a different creation. Given his track record, the new man will most assuredly bring fire to the parish in question. The fox-hunting set there will never be the same again. These aristocrats may well come to feel that they are among the hunted.

But today's Gospel tells us that fire is precisely what the Teacher brought to the earth. Therefore, can we fault a priest if he himself brings that same torch to a small corner of the Teacher's Church? Do you really think the Christ would fault him especially since he is but following His example? Quite obviously our bishop does not fault him.

Could it be that the bishop is telling his priests, religious, and laity that it is we who are lukewarm Christians? Might he be telegraphing us the signal that what the Church needs is more people like the pastor under discussion? I believe the answer to both questions is a resounding affirmative. And this affirmation would come even though the bishop might not agree with all the tactics of the pastor in the past.

Admittedly this appointment will appear strange to those among us who, in Joseph Donder's words, "are accustomed to depicting Jesus beautifully, with large eyes, a shapely beard, carefully dressed in soft colors, with a sweet glow all over Him."

After all, we are living out our lives when we drink our coffee without caffeine, our milk with little or no fat, and our beer with few calories and less taste. No doubt some industrious scientist, tomorrow's Nobel Prize laureate, is already working to develop a sizzling porterhouse steak without meat. And, if developed, we will eat it.

So, what is more natural to us than to swear allegiance to a counterfeit Jesus! This would be a Christ who gives us comfort but demands little in return. A Teacher who is always sending us pious bromides but never speaks to us about sin. A Master who is always swooping down to pick us up but who never asks His troops to carry Him.

Could it be our watered down Christianity is the very element which is keeping our seminaries and convents empty? Our young people may very well feel that any resemblance between the Christ of today's Gospel and the Christ their parish is selling is purely coincidental.

Perhaps then it is time for us to cease attempting, as James Carrol puts it so upsettingly, "to get the prophet out of our city so we can honor him. Or onto a cross so we can love him."

"Words, words, I'm sick of words," shouted an exasperated Eliza Doolittle of "My Fair Lady" fame about her patronizing Henry Higgins. The time for words were done. So, she sang in a piercing voice, "Show me." Is this not what Luke's Christ is saying to each of us in today's powerful Gospel?

"Christians," said Albert Camus, "should get away from abstraction and confront the bloodstained face history has taken on today." When people are troubled, we cry to Christ, "Why aren't you there?" He angrily replies to us, "Why aren't you?"

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
20 Ordinary Time
Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time: The Cost of Discipleship

Today's readings are difficult, very difficult. They are difficult because they present the cost of discipleship.

We began with the plight of Jeremiah who was persecuted because he proclaimed the Truth of God. It would have been so much easier for Jeremiah to have kept his prophecy to himself. But as he would protest in chapter 20:

You seduced me, LORD, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed.

All day long I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage I proclaim;

The word of the LORD has brought me
reproach and derision all day long.

I say I will not mention him,
I will no longer speak in his name.

But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;

I grow weary holding back, I cannot!

Yes, I hear the whisperings of many:
"Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”

All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.

"Perhaps he can be tricked; then we will prevail,
and take our revenge on him.”

Horrible things happened to Jeremiah, including his being thrown into the cistern as we heard today. But Jeremiah would not reject the burning of God's truth within his bones. It was the cost of discipleship.

The readings then present the Letter to the Hebrews. The author tells these second and third generation Christians to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus and persevere in running the race set before them. Jesus embraced the cross, endured the opposition of sinners and was rewarded by his Father. He did this so we can join Him in enduring the wrath of sinners. The reading also scolds these Christians who were complaining that Christianity was too demanding. It reminds them that they have not yet had to shed their blood. Perhaps they would have to. There is no limit to the cost discipleship imposes on us.

And finally we come to that most difficult Gospel. It starts off wonderfully, as the Lord says, "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” But then the Lord proclaims what the fire of His Love will bring:

"Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father,,,,,” and so forth.

Jesus tells his disciples, and tells us that there will be a cost of discipleship.

This is not what most people, including me, want to hear. We don't want to hear that choosing Christ will put our lives so at odds with those around us that we will be persecuted, and mocked. We want our religion to be easy. We don't want to have to pay a price for living our faith.

But we have to.

In his great book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrick Bonhoeffer makes a distinction between what he calls cheap grace and costly grace. He is not using the term grace as we Catholics do, as something coming from God. He is using it as another word for religion. So I'll insert religion in paraphrasing Bonhoeffer. He says that "cheap religion is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap religion is a religion without discipleship, a religion without the cross, a religion without Jesus Christ." Cheap religion, Bonhoeffer says, is to hear the gospel preached as follows: "Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness." The main defect of such a proclamation is that it contains no demand for discipleship.”

"In contrast to cheap religion, costly religion confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him.” He goes on to say, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Because we have chosen Christ, we are mocked for believing in God. The pseudo intellectuals of our day treat us as though we are children and disparage the truths of our faith as children's tales. Because we have chosen Christ we are reduced by others to being Jesus freaks. This is part of the cost of discipleship.

Because we have chosen Christ we are confronted with difficult decisions that we need to embrace to be whom we claim to be, People of God. For example: Catholics are pro-life and anti-abortion. This position is easy to hold until your seventeen year old daughter becomes pregnant, or your best friend, or you. Then it becomes a matter of loving that baby more than your plans for the future, or the plans of you had for your daughter or your best friend. The Catholic who says, "I will choose love rather than death,” is embracing the cost of discipleship.

Another example: it is easy to fight against substance abuse until you find yourself as one of the few around you who isn't getting drunk, smoking pot or taking some other drug. It is costly to turn away from bad situations and be scorned by others. "You think you are so much better than us,” the in-crowd scoffs when we turn away from their immorality. This is just another one of the costs of discipleship.

We embrace the cost of discipleship when you in your marriages, and we priests and religious in our vocations remain committed to our vows in difficult times as well as in easy times. There are no perfect marriages because a marriage is the union of two, normal yet imperfect people. The cost of discipleship demands that you accept each other's limitations and love your spouse even during those days that you don't particularly like him or her. The cost of discipleship demands that those of us who have made vows to God keep those vows even when, especially when, we feel overwhelmed by the needs of our people as well as our own personal wants.

We embrace the cost of discipleship because we are more concerned with others than ourselves. We are more concerned with their eternal salvation than with anything they can do to us in this life.

In the beginning of today's Gospel Jesus says, "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” The fire of God's love. That is what we are about. We know we are loved. We know that God wants others to join us in His Love. If we are truly going to be his disciples, then we will happily join the Lord in setting the world on fire with love. And we will do this no matter what personal cost this entails: For the cost of discipleship is temporary, but the Treasure of God's Love is forever.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
20 Ordinary Time
The Key to Reaching Our Goal
(August 18, 2019)

Bottom line: We look back with gratitude and we look forward with trust. That's the key to reaching our goal.

I will give this homily in English, but begin with a Spanish summary of the main point:

En el evangelio Jesus mira atras y adelante. Es un buen evangelio para nuestra misa bilingue anual. Miramos atras con gratitud y adelante con confianza. Es la clave para alcanzar nuestra meta:"correr con perseverancia la carrera...fija la miranda en Jesus".

We have a good Gospel as we gather for our annual bilingual Mass and parish picnic. The Gospel both looks back and looks forward.

Jesus speaks about how he wants to "set the earth on fire" and about the "baptism with which I must be baptized". This looks back to when John baptized Jesus and spoke about the "baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire". The Gospel also looks forward to Pentecost when Jesus will send tongues of fire on the Apostles. With that fire they baptized some three thousand people. (Acts 2:41)

So baptism and fire - good themes as we celebrate an all-parish Mass and enjoy a picnic. These themes that we see in today's Gospel help us look back and look forward.

I am now in my 11th year as your pastor, your spiritual father. We have a lot of memories. Some of my favorite center on baptism: those wonderful young families who bring their children for the sacrament - and the adults who after a time of preparation, take the step of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. Some are obviously on fire with their faith in Jesus. Others seem more like embers that need some gentle tending.

We live in a world that wants to scatter those embers of faith, even to douse them. That's why it's good to come together in an event like this. If you pull an ember out of a fire it dies quickly but if you bring it back, it will burst into flame. Then it gives off warmth and light. Jesus can use that person to set fire on the earth.

So today we do come together. We look back in gratitude. Sure we've had moments of pain and stress. In them all Jesus has something for us. We are grateful we belong to Jesus and to each other.

And we look forward. People have asked me how long I will be at St. Mary of the Valley. I say the Lord has given me ten good years here. I'm praying for another decade - or two!

Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Only God. Jesus had a baptism with which he would be baptized. He's referring to his cross, his passion. You and I also face the cross. We can run, but we can't hide. Whatever comes we know Jesus has gone before us.

So today we look back with gratitude and we look forward with trust. That's the key to reaching our goal: gratitude and trust. With them we can do what our reading from Hebrews says, "persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus."

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
20 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
20 Ordinary Time
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

At first glance the extract from St Luke's Gospel set before us today is probably seen by many as rather distressing and difficult. Quite naturally we want our families to be united and we also believe that Jesus wants the same thing for us. And so to hear him saying that he has not come to bring peace on earth but rather division and that from now on families will be divided three against two, two against three, we find quite difficult and contradictory.

Surely Jesus has come to unite the human race under the fatherhood of God. He wants all to be saved and all to be one. And this is certainly so. You can open the Gospels at any page you like and you will find reference after reference to precisely this aim.

So, what is all this talk about division really about? It is certainly in God's overall plan for the world to draw all humanity together and so to establish a new world —the Kingdom— in which the values of unity, peace and justice are paramount. However, this is not to be established by force but only by consent.

Entry into the Kingdom of God will only be through our own free will. No one can be forced to accept the Gospel message and indeed there are many in the world today who do not accept it and many who if they do not openly reject the Gospel are certainly quite indifferent to the message it contains.

There are all kinds of reasons why people choose to reject the Gospel. Some have concluded that belief in God and an afterlife is just ‘pie in the sky when you die'. They think that the reason we Christians believe in God is because we are self-deluded and afraid to think that with our death everything will simply be over for us. They think that we spend all our energies trying to accumulate heavenly brownie points in the hope of some unspecified reward in the afterlife.

Others have never really heard or properly understood the Gospel message. Quite a few are simply stumped by the problem of evil; they cannot believe in a God who allows innocent people to suffer unnecessarily. This question is always a difficult one. How is it that a supposedly good God can allow evil in the world?

It certainly is a very complicated question and one has to begin by distinguishing between two evils. The evil caused by us human beings and the evil effects of bad things happening in the world through natural processes such as earthquakes on the one hand and illnesses such as cancer on the other.

God can hardly be considered responsible for the bad things done by a Josef Stalin or a Pol-Pot and their henchmen or even for the smaller misdeeds carried out by the likes of you and me. The only way he can be assigned any responsibility in this regard is because he gave us free will and many of us have abused it. Yet despite all the suffering that it has caused no one in their right mind would want to live a life without a free will.

As far as natural disasters and illnesses go, the world has its natural processes and these very things are what make it on the whole such a congenial place for humanity. Without the wind and the snows and the periodic droughts and earthquakes the world simply would not be the place it is. Change these and you change the very nature of the world and you could well end up making it a more hostile place than it is already.

And if we are to exclude illness from the bargain then are we to live forever? Every organism eventually comes to an end one way or the other—deterioration is the reverse side of the growth that brings us into being and enables us to thrive in the first place.

The bottom line in all this is, of course, suffering. We simply do not like to experience pain ourselves and, while we can at times consider that it might be justified as a punishment, we don't like to experience it when we are innocent of blame. And especially we don't understand how the very young or elderly have to suffer when we regard them as guiltless.

The assumption behind all this is that suffering has no meaning. And that is the sticking point for many who find it hard to believe in God. However, the only thing that can make any sense of suffering is that it does actually have a meaning. This is one of the most important truths of the Gospel—suffering is redemptive.

It is through the suffering of Christ on the Cross that we are saved from our transgressions. Christ gave his life so that we might return to a right relationship with God, so that we might be enabled to live a new kind of life with him. He made this sacrifice for us this out of love.

The God we believe in is not a callous and aloof kind of God, one who is indifferent to our sufferings. No, the God we believe in is a suffering God; a God who loves us deeply and who experiences the pains this brings.

As we have seen, not everybody understands this. Not everybody appreciates the full message of the Gospel. Not everybody has achieved this insight about the true nature of God.

And the meaning of today's Gospel text is not that Christ deliberately wants to bring division and disunity to our families. It is not that he wants to set one against the other. Indeed, he wants the very opposite of this. But unfortunately, not everyone will accept the Gospel and without a doubt some will reject it entirely and perhaps even violently.

The paradox is that the greatest message of peace and unity ever known can frequently cause conflict and disunity. These things are of course very hard to deal with in the family. It is distressing when there are great ideological differences and fundamental disagreements about what is really important in life.

But faith is not a requirement for family living. And faith must never be used in a coercive way otherwise it becomes a complete contradiction of itself. What must be paramount in family living is not acceptance of this or that set of dogmas but the values upon which those doctrines are based. And the most important of these is charity.

Our families may be utterly divided on grounds of religion or more commonly between belief in God and disbelief in God, but they should not be divided in charity and love for one another. When faith comes before love then the only word to describe the result is bigotry.

Even as he speaks about these divisions, Christ's zeal for the Kingdom is not diminished. He knows that the only thing which will bring lasting peace is the sacrifice he must make on the Cross and he is eager for it to happen. He knows it will mean extreme pain and suffering but he knows too that it will be entirely worth the sacrifice.
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