Sunday Sermon for August 14, 2022, the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings: Jer38:4-6, 8-10; Heb 12:1-4; Lk 12:49-53

In the Gospel reading today, our Lord tells us He came to set the earth on fire.  This can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but I think the primary meaning can only be the fire of love.  Since He is love Himself and, since we are made in the image and likeness of love, He came to set our hearts on fire with love for God and neighbor. 

It is interesting that our Lord adds that He wishes the fire were already blazing.  That tells us that there was not a lot of love for God in the hearts of the people of His time.  Two thousand years later, I am not sure He would say anything differently.  There are many people who are baptized, but not many who are on fire with love for God. 

Part of the reason for this might be that love will require us to change, that is, it will require us to give up anything that inhibits the growth of our love.  St. Paul challenges us in this way in the second reading where he reminds us that in our struggle against sin we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding our blood.  Such a challenge brings us to ask some questions: How serious am I about ridding myself of sin?  Do I really want to love God and neighbor with my whole heart, soul, and strength?

We like to be liked, and we like to fit in.  Charity is going to cause a lot of rejection.  One would naturally assume the opposite would be true.  After all, if a person is truly charitable, that is, if the person seeks only the best for others, one would think that person would be the most popular person around.  Unfortunately, many people do not want what is best for themselves, so when someone challenges them to choose the best, they will often get angry and reject the one seeking their good.

We see this very clearly in the first reading where the Prophet Jeremiah speaks the word of God to the people of Jerusalem.  We know God loves us and wants only the best for us, so if Jeremiah is speaking the word of God, it will be a word of charity.  Sometimes, we recall, what is best is not always what is easiest or the most popular.  So, when Jeremiah spoke, the princes in Jerusalem responded by saying Jeremiah should be put to death. 

The pretext of the princes’ response is also interesting: Jeremiah is not interested in the welfare of the people, but in their ruin.  As we just mentioned, God is interested only in our good, so if Jeremiah was speaking the word of God, it was truly for the good of the people.  The princes, however, did not want to hear what God had to say to them; they wanted to continue in their sinful ways and did not want to change.

We have all experienced this in one way or another.  Perhaps you have a friend or family member who has an addiction to drugs, alcohol, pornography, or some other problem.  It may be that you or others have tried to talk to the person about their problem and offered help to overcome their faults.  If the person does not want to give up their vice, their response to your act of charity is going to be quite negative.  Moreover, it is possible that the person will pull away from you and no longer want a relationship with you.

Jesus told us He came to establish division rather than peace.  This statement often causes problems for people because Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and His peace was His gift to us.  Jesus does want us to be at peace, but that peace comes from union with Him.  Union with Jesus requires truth and charity, so if you are filled with truth and charity, many people will reject you.  You can still be at peace internally, as well as externally, but there will be people who will not be at peace with you.

The charity of God will cause not only peace, but unity, among those who desire union with God.  Going through the motions of being Catholic will not bring us to such union.  In fact, merely going through the motions usually implies that certain aspects of truth and charity are repugnant to us.

If we do not want to change to become more Christlike, we may be at peace and be united with the people around us, but we will not be fully at peace and united with our Lord.  If we want to be united with our Lord and filled with true peace, allow the fire of Christ’s love to blaze within your soul!

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 www.thewandererpress.com.

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