Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2013
In recent days many of you have probably read about the horrible bloodshed and unrest in Egypt, and maybe you have also heard about how the Coptic Christians community is suffering. Dozens of churches have been burned, Christians are being targeted, and so many are living in fear.
As you probably know, the Christian community in Syria has been facing similar threats, with priests being kidnapped and killed. And these are not the only two countries: in so many parts of the world today, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, Christians are persecuted for their faith.
In the Gospel Christ tells us that this violence and turmoil is unfortunately not the exception, but many times the rule for Christian life in this fallen world. At another time he reminded his disciples that no servant is greater than his master, so if they persecuted Christ, if he had to undergo the suffering of the cross, then so would his disciples also suffer and undergo the cross.
Pope Francis recently put it another way at world youth day: perhaps in a way that applies more to our culture: he called it a mess. He said he wished that the youth would go home and make a mess – that they would not be afraid to disturb the quiet reign of earthly kingdoms in this world, but announce the good news of the kingdom of God.
It’s often messy, he said, this proclamation – not always polite. Our world, society – we ourselves – we do not easily submit to the rule of our heavenly king. We tend to resent his will in our lives, even though it is only by his will that we exist in the first place. But we have a tendency because of our fallen nature to bite the hand that feeds us.
It’s not just outside of the Church that we find the mess – but within the Church too, in our families, and within each of our hearts.
Some suggest that we attempt to strike an uneasy truce: that we let each govern themselves, or we let the strongest rule, or the majority rule, whatever will make for quiet. But quiet is not the same as peace. You can force slaves to be quiet, but you cannot force them to be at peace. All you need for quiet is duct tape. Or at least that’s what I hear… But you need more than duct tape for peace.
Christ did not come to make this world quiet, he did not just pull out the roll of heavenly duct tape (though I would like some of that) and go to town. He is much more dangerous than that.
He tells us in the Gospel today that he came to set the world on fire, came to set us on fire. And not some superficial fire that is just flash and smoke, singeing hair and leaving us with a nasty smell in the nose.
The fire that Christ wishes were blazing is the fire of purification, of conversion, a fire that enters into the depths of our hearts through the sacraments and scriptures, in our prayer and acts of charity. And deep within, through this fire, this grace, Christ works to purify our hearts, to remove the duplicity from our wills, to heal the rebelliousness of our spirits, and to forge within us new hearts. New hearts that - forged in God’s love, tempered with sacrifice, and honed through discipline - are prepared to serve the will of our Father in heaven, and his will alone. His fire makes us fully human by re-casting us in Christ form the inside out, in whose image and likeness we have been made.
This deep and mysterious fire of God’s love messes with the superficial rulers of this world, it scares them because it cannot be controlled by them: it forges men and women who are ruled by God alone, who are citizens of heaven. Men and women who St. Paul speaks of in our second reading today: who persevere in running the race that lies before them, while keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus, not growing weary or losing heart, but resisting even to the point of shedding blood. Men and women ablaze with the fire of God’s love.