August 18, 2019 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Fr Andy Upah

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time  

Reading 1 JER 38:4-6, 8-10

Responsorial Psalm PS 40:2, 3, 4, 18

  1. (14b)  Lord, come to my aid!

Reading 2 HEB 12:1-4

Alleluia JN 10:27

  1. Alleluia, alleluia. 

Gospel LK 12:49-53

Homily for Nativity on the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time 8/18/2019 JER 38:4-6, 8-10; HEB 12:1-4; LK 12:49-53

Well this is definitely not the most uplifting Gospel that we just heard.  We want to think of Jesus as the Prince of Peace, bringing peace and joy into the world, not division and death.  All of the readings, directly or indirectly, are talking about the possibility of death for following the Lord and doing God’s will.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, for the next three centuries, following him as a disciple almost always ended in death.  All of the Apostles except John were martyred for their faith. The first 33 popes were killed as well. Many regular disciples like you and me were put to death for their faith too.

That all changed when the Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity and legalized it as a faith, then the persecutions finally stopped.  All division due to faith among families ceased, there was no more death and strife for our people’s beliefs. Everything is peaceful now, right?

No, not really.  Christians have always been persecuted for their faith, sure, it isn’t as bad now, the biggest governments in the world aren’t just flat out killing Christians, but we still suffer persecution.

Every year it seems there are at least a few big attacks on Christians around the world.  Here in America, the attack is more subtle, but it is still present.  

Most recently, California and Wisconsin have introduced legislation mandating that any Catholic priest, during the sacrament of reconciliation, if someone confesses sexual assault, the priest has to violate the seal of confession and turn them in, reporting them to the police for their crime.

Did you know that violating the seal of confession is a really big no-no for priests?  Priests cannot say anything about what was said in confession, they cannot even acknowledge that a person has went to confession or even bring up something that might have been said by them in confession in the past.  It is very strict.

If that legislation were to pass, the only people that would get punished are the priests.  See, real sex offenders would start avoiding the sacrament, if they were even attending in the first place, and if they were attending it would at least be a place where they could receive healing and begin to amend their life.  

So my bet is that the only people that would come and confess sexual assault would be undercover police, and since the priests cannot violate the seal, or else they lose their faculties as priests, they would not break the seal of confession, rather, they would be forced to break the new law and go to jail, similar to what Jeremiah faced in the first reading.

Jeremiah was just doing his job as a prophet, and some people didn’t like it, they thought his words of truth were demoralizing, so they threw him into the pit with the intention of silencing him via his death.

Luckily some others stood up for him and rescued him, but the division was still clear, and it is still clear today, still dividing families over faith and morals.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but the peace He brings is felt privately or within Christian circles who are united by belief in His message, not necessarily privately or publicly with non-believers.  Jesus does not desire division, He just says it will happen.

Jesus came to set the earth on fire, to give us all the fire of Holy Spirit at our baptism, for the sake of the joy and peace we would find through our faith, despite the persecutions and the hardships, we would be confident that we were doing the right thing.

Confidence. How do we have confidence and persevere through the trials?  We hear the answer in that second reading, the Letter to the Hebrews. We have confidence from two things: 

First is Jesus, “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith,” as the second reading said.  We deepen our understanding of him, deepen our relationship with Him, and we keep our focus on Jesus, what He did for us, how He loves us, and how He endured His cross for us.

Second is this “great cloud of witnesses” - these are the saints who shed their blood because of their belief in Jesus, and they give us confidence because they were there, some of them eyewitnesses, some of them hearing the stories as passed down, second or third hand, but they were all much closer to the source than we are today.  

And what makes them so credible is that nobody would die for a lie.  If there were any doubts at all, they would have renounced their faith and saved their own life, when they were about to be killed, they would have said, “Wait! I don’t really believe that this Jesus guy is God,” and they would have been set free, but they didn’t, they stayed true to Jesus and His Church to the point of shedding their own blood.

One of the reasons God gave us the sacraments, especially the opportunity to receive the eucharist here today, is to give us the grace to remain strong and confident in our faith, to see and feel his presence here at church within a faith community knowing that we are not in this alone… just by showing up here today we are all witnessing to the faith.

As disciples we are called to set the earth on fire as well, a fire of love for Jesus and for all people, but we know that our faith might be met with division and strife. I pray that we would all continue to persevere in the face of our trials, loving with a self-sacrificial love like Jesus loved us.