Sunday Sermon for August 18, 2013, the Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings: Jer 38:4-6, 8-10; Heb 12:1-4; Lk 12:49-53

In the Gospel reading today the words our Lord speaks catch us off guard and make us scratch our heads. He tells us that He did not come to establish peace, but division. How can the Prince of Peace, the very One in Whom we have our unity, be the cause of division? He is the cause of division because He is the Truth. In our society people have rejected the truth.

We live in a relativistic society where people think that all things are equal. You can have your truth and I can have mine. The grass can be green for you and red for me, but somehow we are both right. This is simply ridiculous, but when objective truth is denied, then subjective opinion takes over. Another flaw in logic follows wherein we rightly say that we are all created equal and therefore, we falsely suggest, that all opinions are equal.

My former Pastor, Monsignor Schuler, who had his PhD in music, told the story of the time he was at an international music convention. He was seated next to a professor of music from Oxford University when a young, electric guitar player from a rock band walked up to the microphone to announce that since everyone at this convention was a musician, that everyone should have an equal vote. The Oxford professor turned to Monsignor Schuler and asked “Is that young man suggesting that his vote is equal to mine? Monsignor responded in the affirmative. The professor was not impressed.

Clearly, not all opinions are equal. If there is a situation where everyone involved in a conversation is ignorant of the topic, then all opinions might be equal, and they might all be equally wrong. But if there is someone who knows the subject well, then his input is not mere opinion. While it is possible for two, or many of us, to have opinions that are erroneous, it is possible for only one to be true. Two contrary opinions cannot both be true, although both could be false.

Jesus is Truth and truth is objective. It is the same for everyone in every age and culture. Our Lord, then, becomes the cause of unity for those who seek the truth and the cause of division for those who do not want the truth. Today we have even come to the point of people claiming belief in Jesus, or even claiming to be Catholic, but rejecting one or more of the basic facets of our Faith.

We can see this problem in the first reading where the Prophet Jeremiah speaks the truth, the word of God, to the people. Not wanting to hear the word of God, the princes tell the king that Jeremiah should be put to death because he does not care about the people. Jeremiah spoke the truth, but it was inconvenient and unpopular. Those who did not want the truth sought to kill the messenger so that they might continue in their wayward affairs. Keep in mind that all of these people professed to believe in God and in the Jewish Faith He had revealed.

We can all understand to some degree why the people struggled. Today there are “prophets” all over the place claiming to receive messages from God. While some might be true, most are false. How does one know? So many have garnered a following and their teaching seems sound. Others are obvious crackpots.

The problem is that until the Church rules on these messages, they divide good people because some want to believe in the messages, while others do not. Even after the Church gives a definitive ruling, people today do not want to acquiesce to her decision, and they divide themselves from the Church.

Our Lord has become a source of division for the same reason. People do not want to accept what the Church teaches, but they think their opinions are equal to the teaching of the Church. Needless to say, this is absurd, but that is the situation in which we live today.

For those who want to be united in Truth, St. Paul tells us in the second reading how this is done: keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. This requires acceptance of and obedience to the Church’s teachings. The wonderful thing about this is that it is not your opinion or mine; it is objective teaching. People will inevitably reject that teaching and choose popular opinion over truth. In this they cause division.

We all have the help and example of the cloud of witnesses of whom St. Paul speaks. These are the Saints who have gone before us. If, like the Saints, we keep our eyes on Jesus and embrace the truth, others will separate from us, but we will be united with Him.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit