Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – C

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081416.cfm

“Be God’s prophets and God’s microphones.” — Oscar Romero

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 theirs, 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.”

“There is no failure except in no longer trying.”

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 and 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 and we can.” —-John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’

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’

Courage to confront

Very often we have to stand up for our Faith. But first, we ourselves have to be convinced about what we believe in order to confront someone else, especially about Catholic teaching. The following article by Fr. Nelson Lobo OFM Cap “Did your Protestant friend disturb your faith in the Eucharist?” shows us how we might be called upon to defend our faith at work or even at a party!

Families will be divided

Sr. Tina (name changed) was one of the finest students I’ve had. A ‘doctor’ of science, she lectured in a prestigious college in Mumbai before expressing her desire to enter a convent. This broke the heart of her mother who wanted to see her ‘successful’ by worldly standards. Sadly, Tina’s mother refused to speak to her and didn’t even turn up at peak moments of her life like religious profession. This is an example of what Jesus means by prophesying, “From now, families will be divided… Mother against daughter and daughter against mother.” —-Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’

First Reading: So today we come upon Jeremiah the prophet, having a bad day, a real bad day. Jeremiah had been called to be a prophet from his mother’s womb. Scripture presents many different types of prophets. Jeremiah was a royal prophet. He was the prophet at the King’s court. He should have been held with the deepest respect. But he refused to butter up the king by just telling the king what he and the people wanted to hear. Because Jeremiah stood for the truth, he was berated and mocked. In today’s reading he was thrown into a cistern where he would have died if the King had not stood up against his own counselors and saved Jeremiah’s life. Jeremiah’s life should have been wonderful, beautiful, full of honor. But being true to the Word of God resulted in his being treated with contempt.

The persecution which Jeremiah experienced was something that afflicted all the prophets due to their determination to stand up for God’s word, to stand for what was right and good and true, no matter what others would say about them or do to them.

The Second Reading of today from the Letter to the Hebrews invites us to “fight against sin” as we “keep running steadily in the race that we have started” (Heb 12:1). This fight against sin is not just the obedience to the commandments, but something deeper than that. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection” (Heb 12:2). Obedience to the law could make us complacent, but the journey towards perfection disturbs us. It is a challenge to “keep running steadily.” This is the fire that Jesus is talking about – the energy within us that motivates us to keep running despite the inner resistances. At this the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled: “Those who hope in the Lord God will regain their strength, they will sprout wings like eagles, though they run they will not grow weary, though they walk they will never tire” (Is 40:31).

Gospel: This is what Jesus did. He stood for the truth and was put to death. But he was not going to compromise the Word of the Father. If this meant denouncing the leaders of the Temple, he would do so. If this meant criticizing his closest followers, he would do so. If this meant journeying to Jerusalem where he knew he would die, he would do so. The people who first heard the Gospel of Luke proclaimed had to recognize that the strife and division they experienced from all who persecuted the Early Church had its root in their determination to stand up for the truth, to stand for what was right and good.

It is in this context that we can understand the difficult Gospel for this Sunday and the grim things predicted. The strife and the sword that the Lord’s presence in the world will instill results from Christians accepting and embracing the challenges of Christian life.

Consider the young people of our parish who will be in middle school and high school this year. Those who refuse to go along with the drinking and drugs, those who refuse to let others take advantage of them physically, will all be given some sort of nasty label. Life would be much easier for them to go along with the crowd. But being rooted in the Lord demands that they remain a minority.

Consider the parents of our parish. They will be criticized this school year for setting moral standards within their homes. Their own children will tell them that they need to get real and allow them to go along with what everyone else’s parents allow them to do, basically, contemporary immorality. Many of the parents of our parish will have to put up a terrible struggle to stand for what is right and true in their own homes, with their own children. But living for the Lord is worth the struggle.

Consider our senior citizens. Their challenge to follow Christ means trusting in him as their bodies and the bodies of their loved ones begin to fail. For so many of our seniors their challenge means being a care giver when they are exhausted. Every day presents a new challenge for seniors to embrace faith and trust and hope in the Lord and live in the Light of Christ when, physically, life might be getting a bit darker. But this is the challenge that draws them nearer to God. Actually, by meeting the challenge of faith and hope they are bringing God nearer to our world.

Every day we hear of a new challenge that confronts a parishioner or a family. This family has to deal with emotional problems. That family with physical problems. This family has financial problems. That family has marital problems. All of these challenges of life, all of the daily crises we all face, all lead us to God if we embrace them with selflessness with faith, with trust in God, and with love.

Brothers and sisters, hang in there. Trust in God. You do not struggle alone!

The readings for today are clear and grounded in reality. Life is full of challenges and struggles. And the greatest of these challenges are rooted in our standing for what is right and true, standing for God. But each challenge met, each crisis overcome, forms each us into more loving people.

Jesus’ statement here does seem shocking, as does the prediction by the aged Simeon when Jesus was an infant that Jesus was “destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed…” (Luke 2:34) It appears in stark contrast to other promises that the Savior would bring peace. However, if we read this passage in the context of the prophetic tradition — which Luke draws on throughout his Gospel — we realize that Jesus is challenging his listeners just like the prophets of old did before him. He denounces all manners of injustice and wrongdoing, calling for repentance and conversion. By calling his listeners to consciously and explicitly choose to walk in God’s ways and turn from injustice, he points out the human reality that the peace will be disturbed because there are others who will not repent of their evil doings. When prophets issue challenges, they always disturb the peace. The division is not created by the prophets or by Jesus, it is a natural outcome of listeners making different decisions about whether to follow Jesus or not. Just so, Jesus declared “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23).

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little;
When we arrived safely, because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain, Who is Jesus Christ.
—–
By the famous British sailor of the 16th Century, Sir Francis Drake.

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LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE;
BE A SOURCE OF STRENGTH AND COURAGE;
SHARE YOUR WISDOM;
RADIATE LOVE!
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Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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