20th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Jeremiah 38:46.8-10; Ps. 39: 2-4.18; Heb. 12:1-4; Gosp. of Luke 12:49-53
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 18 August 2019
Jesus in today’s Gospel proclaims, “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it was blazing already! There is a baptism that I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!” Jesus then adds, “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: father against son, . . . mother against daughter . . .” and the like.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we take Jesus’ words literally, then the Gospel that Jesus proclaims would sound more like “Bad news” rather than “Good News.” If Jesus’ words are taken literally, Jesus would also be teaching His disciples and the crowd not to obey the fourth Commandment which is to honour and respect our father and mother. So, what does Jesus in today’s Gospel mean?
The “fire to the earth” that Jesus says He will bring is first of all foreshadowed in Luke 3:16, where John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. And, when this “fire of the Holy Spirit” came upon the disciples at Pentecost it was not a destructive and consuming fire, but the “purifying fire” of the Holy Spirit that gave them the courage to proclaim and live the Gospel, single-mindedly, totally and even willingly die a martyr’s death fearlessly for their faith. (Acts 2:4)
Likewise, the “Baptism” that Jesus asserts that He “must receive, and how great is His distress till it is over”, points to the persecution and suffering that He is to endure in Jerusalem, in His single-minded, total fidelity to living the Father’s Will of saving humankind from our sinful and self-destructive living, that leads to our own damnation. In other words, as His disciples in today’s world, you and I are also called to renew the commitment of our faith to Jesus. And this commitment demands that our values, priorities, goals and behaviour change to become more like that of Jesus; even if this is to cause conflicts in relationships in our families, friends and others.
There is a true story of Julie (not her real name) whose non-Christian parents and old aunties strongly objected to her becoming a Catholic. Julie was 25 years old, and now about 32 years old. Julie was in a great dilemma, as she loved her parents and family very much. However, her calling from God to become a Catholic deepened further when she journeyed in the RCIA programme; clearly she experienced God’s unconditional love for her.
When the day of Baptism came, Julie went ahead with the Baptism. And, should anything go wrong after her Baptism, her old aunties would blame the Catholic faith for causing Julie all the painful trials. However, Julie held on to her Catholic faith as deep in her heart she is certain, that her aunties’ accusations were not true. When all the pressures did not work, her old aunties lured her with financial riches; they indicated that she would have a share of the inheritance of the family’s wealth of the millions of dollars. Julie said, if I wanted money, I need not be a Catholic to get rich.
Finally, the family gave her an ultimatum that either she gave up her Catholic faith or she has to move out of the house. With much sadness and pain in her heart, Julie took a few of her belongings and left home. Julie had to leave because the persecutions were getting worse. When her parents and old aunties cut off all sources of income from her, they were sure that Julie would one day crawl home in shame and regret, for her defiance of her family’s wishes.
Julie survived daily on the little savings she had. She looked up her friends and found shelter for some days with one friend and then on other days with other friends. Julie would simply spend her days in the library trying to study; there were times when she would sleep in some public places at night. Through God’s Providence, one of her friends took her in for good. In all of these, Julie remained steadfast and firm in her faith. There was no bitterness and anger towards her family; only sadness.
To make a long story short, Julie’s younger brother David (not his real name) told her, “Please do not talk to me about your Catholic faith, as I want to have nothing to do with it, and I think you are too extreme in your views.” Julie simply responded with peace in her heart and said, “I know God loves me and He has called me to be a Catholic and even as you don’t understand me, I cannot resist God’s Truth and Love. I can only pray for you. Some years later David was touched by God, and to the great shock of his family David too on his own accord joined RCIA and became a Catholic. Like his sister, David too was firm towards his family’s strong opposition to his Catholic faith, and conversion.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, for both Julie and David, it is the “fire of the Holy Spirit” that set their hearts on fire with God’s Love and Truth. God had touched their hearts so deeply and profoundly that for them, to live the faith is the ultimate and the most important thing in their daily living.
All the pressures and persecutions from their parents and old aunties, could not shake them because for them to lose the gift of faith, is to lose the purpose and meaning in life. They are living examples of also what Jesus proclaimed in the Parable of the man who found a precious treasure in the field; he hides it, goes away and sells everything he owns just so that he could buy the field and possess the treasure. That “treasure” is the gift of faith of Jesus’ Gospel that offers eternal life.
Many of you would probably have heard and read the books or watched the you-tubes and videos of Scott Hahn. Scott is one of the most renowned Catholic convert of our times. He is a great biblical scholar, a brilliant theologian and very articulate speaker. In his book, “Rome Sweet Home,” he shares how both he and his wife Kimberley were very active in the ministry of Evangelicals. However, in Scott’s in depth research of Christianity, he was increasingly convinced without any doubts that the Catholic faith is the True faith and Church, that originated from Jesus and His apostles; the deeper he researched and the longer he prayed, the stronger he felt the call to become a Catholic.
When Scott finally told his wife Kimberley, about what he was experiencing, his wife was shocked and deeply disturbed. Scott shares that when people came to know that he was converting to Catholicism, “Close friends became distant. Family members grew silent and turned away . . . I was made to feel like a leper. Meanwhile, Kimberley and I were sailing through even rougher waters. Days and weeks would pass without us sharing anything spiritual together. Kimberley was anything, but eager to hear from me about the benefits of daily Mass and meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary.
As my spiritual life surged forward, my marriage tumbled backwards. What made it especially painful was our having shared such rich time of ministering together in the recent past. But, now I found myself wondering. Will it ever be the way it was? Will our marriage ever survive this period of trial and agony? Most attempts to deal forthrightly with our differences would end in grief and frustrations. I could only pray for God’s Mercy and His Will for us as a family.”
After some months of great trials and crises in their marriage, Kimberly eventually was also given the gift of faith to become a Catholic. This was most probably the happiest day of Scott’s life and family. And since then, both of them have been zealously promoting and proclaiming the Truth about the Catholic Church all over the world.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, for those of us who are lukewarm in our faith, let us pray that our faith may be renewed today, and that like the faith of Julie, David, Scott and Kimberley, we will experience the graces of the renewed strength to face and overcome the different and difficult challenges of our faith in Jesus and the Church.
This is so that we will once again rediscover the deepest joys of our hearts and homes. While this invitation and challenge from Jesus, through today’s Gospel is real and precious, I can very well imagine that many of us may still be hesitant and unwilling to respond to Jesus’ invitation as wholeheartedly as we should. Many of us may be telling ourselves, “Later, when the time is right . . . I will then go to Confession and start my faith anew,” and the like.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are still indecisive, we need to beg God for His Light and Mercy of why we are still resisting Him. He truly wants to give us the peace, joy and fulfilment that we long to have, but have not experienced. If this is so, allow me to say that perhaps, one of the biggest obstacles that are preventing us from living in God’s Love and Ways is our blindness and ignorance of what the Faith in Jesus and His Church can give us. In our spiritual blindness and ignorance, we may be fooling ourselves into thinking that our views of our lives and what we think is happiness can be more fulfilling than what Jesus is offering us.
When Bishop Fulton Sheen was four years of age, this is what he says happened to him, “One day, my mother was looking for me. She shouted and screamed, but there was no answer.” Finally, she opened one of the small store rooms under the staircase and found me. Strangely I was all dressed up, with coat, hat and a suitcase in my hand. Mom said, “Where do you think you are going, Fulton? I replied, “I am going to New York to see Bishop Sheen. I was named after him.” Mom then asked, “And what have you got in the suitcase?” She asked, “My little sister. She is going with me too.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, even as we may laugh at the innocence and stupidity of the little Fulton Sheen at the age of four, similarly, the faith that some of us have can also be liken to Fulton’s childlike immaturity. If we want to be true disciples of Jesus in today’s world, let us pray for the wisdom to grow in the deeper commitment of our faith, and be willing to face the challenges and embrace the crosses that come our way like a courageous soldier who dares to fight the battles instead of turning away in fear.
The inspiring true stories of Julie and her brother David, and Scott and his wife Kimberly are reminders to us that like them, and the thousands upon thousands of saints and martyrs that have lived and died for their faith, they should be our inspirations. We too should pray to receive a rekindling within our hearts of the “fire of the Holy Spirit” that we received at the time of our Confirmation.
This is so that with God’s graces, we will be able to make the decisive decision today, to deepen our commitment and fidelity to God as these model Catholics have shown us. In other words, the “fire of the Holy Spirit that enlightened and empowered Julie, David, Scott and Kimberly and all the saints and martyrs of our Church is also the same Holy Spirit that we received at our Confirmation. And if they can be faithful, so can we, with God’s graces and wisdom.
Story adapted from: Life is Worth Living; pub.; Ignatius Press, San Francisco; USA; Fulton J.Sheen; 1954; pp.168-169.
Story from: Hearts Burning, Homilies for the Sundays of the Year, cycle A,B,C; Nil Guillemette,S.J.; pub.St Paul’s Philippines; 2006; pp.406.
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.