Pastoral Sharings: "I came to cast fire upon the earth"

WeeklyMessage Fr. James Gilhooley
August 18, 2013
Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

A priest was getting on a bus. Somehow his shoe came off 
and fell into the street. Since he could not retrieve it, he 
took off the second one. He threw it out the window in the
direction of the other one. To a puzzled looking passenger,
he said, “The fellow who finds the first shoe now will have
a good pair to walk about in.”

I have just returned from retreat.  Hopefully I am filled with grace. But certainly I am filled with gossip from my fellow priests. They were filled with information about new assignments from our bishop. The shocker is that a certified firebrand among the brethern has been sent to a very proper and wealthy parish as pastor. The priest in question has been lining up on the side of the poor, disenfranchised, and the oppressed since he was priested a quarter of a century ago. Wherever he goes, fire follows him. He has all the scars, many of them quite glorious and even enviable, that go with such a career.

Everyone at the retreat had an opinion pro and con on the appointment. Most dared not speak them publicly since the bishop himself was present. But the one point on which all agreed is that the parish will become a different creation. Given his track record, the new man will most assuredly bring fire to the parish in question. The fox-hunting set there will never be the same again. These aristocrats may well come to feel that they are among the hunted.

But today’s Gospel tells us that fire is precisely what the Teacher brought to the earth. Therefore, can we fault a priest if he himself brings that same torch to a small corner of the Teacher’s Church? Do you really think the Christ would fault him especially since he is but following His example? Quite obviously our bishop does not fault him.

Could it be that the bishop is telling his priests, religious, and laity that it is we who are lukewarm Christians? Might he be telegraphing us the signal that what the Church needs is more people like the pastor under discussion? I believe the answer to both questions is a resounding affirmative. And this affirmation would come even though the bishop might not agree with all the tactics of the pastor in the past.

Admittedly this appointment will appear strange to those among us who, in Joseph Donder’s words, “are accustomed to depicting Jesus beautifully, with large eyes, a shapely beard, carefully dressed in soft colors, with a sweet glow all over Him.”

After all, we are living out our lives when we drink our coffee without caffeine, our milk with little or no fat, and our beer with few calories and less taste.  No doubt some industrious scientist, tomorrow’s Nobel Prize laureate, is already working to develop a sizzling porterhouse steak without meat. And, if developed, we will eat it.

So, what is more natural to us than to swear allegiance to a counterfeit Jesus! This would be a Christ who gives us comfort but demands little in return. A Teacher who is always sending us pious bromides but never speaks to us about sin. A Master who is always swooping down to pick us up but who never asks His troops to carry Him.

Could it be our watered down Christianity is the very element which is keeping our seminaries and convents empty? Our young people may very well feel that any resemblance between the Christ of today’s Gospel and the Christ their parish is selling is purely coincidental.

Perhaps then it is time for us to cease attempting, as James Carrol puts it so upsettingly, “to get the prophet out of our city so we can honor him. Or onto a cross so we can love him.”

“Words, words, I’m sick of words,” shouted an exasperated Eliza Doolittle of “My Fair Lady” fame about her patronizing Henry Higgins. The time for words were done. So, she sang in a piercing voice, “Show me.” Is this not what Luke’s Christ is saying to each of us in today’s powerful Gospel?

“Christians,” said Albert Camus, “should get away from abstraction and confront the bloodstained face history has taken on today.” When people are troubled, we cry to Christ, “Why aren’t you there?” He angrily replies to us, “Why aren’t you?”

Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
August 18, 2013

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 12: 49-53
Gospel Summary

In this passage Jesus speaks of the meaning of his life. To fulfill his God-given destiny, he has resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem. There, refusing to be diverted from his mission of love, he will be rejected, suffer greatly and meet a violent death. He says that he is filled with great anguish until the mission he has been given is completed. Sensing a growing hostility, he tells his disciples that his intention is not to establish peace, but rather division–dividing even households and families.

Not Peace but the Sword
One of the themes of Pope Francis at World Youth Day 2013 was to “shake things up.”

This is quite different from the advice I was given as a child: “In polite conversation, never bring up politics or religion.”  This is quite good advice, if your aim is to be well-liked.  Politics and religion are risky because they involve deeply held convictions, and if you happen to tread on the convictions of others, you get the same reaction that a dentist gets when his probe hits a nerve.

20th Sunday: Fire on Earth–St. Gianna Berretta Molla
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing.” Luke 12:49

            The readings today present us with the challenges of our faith and the challenges to our faith.  Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern because he refused to hedge on the faith.  He refused to tell the king what the king wanted to hear.  He proclaimed the truth that God told him to proclaim, even though it cost him severely.  The people to whom the Letters to the Hebrews was addressed were tempted to give up the faith.  It seemed too difficult to them, too demanding.  Further on in the letter, the author of Hebrews would tell them to lift up their drooping hands, and firm up their shaking knees.  In today’s reading they are chided that for all their complaining.  They had not yet resisted sin to the point of shedding blood.  They should keep their eyes focused on Jesus, and not be so concerned about their present lives.  In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus speaks about the cost of discipleship.  Families may even be divided over the following of the Lord, but nothing is worth sacrificing the Life of Jesus within us.

Why Faith is Indeed a Light
In “new” atheist and secularist circles today, faith is regularly ridiculed. It is presented as pre-scientific mumbo jumbo, Bronze Age credulity, the surrender of the intellect, unwarranted submission to authority, etc. Time and again, the late Christopher Hitchens, echoing Immanuel Kant, called on people to be intellectually responsible, to think for themselves, to dare to know. This coming of age would be impossible, he insisted, without the abandonment of religious faith. And in standard accounts of cultural history, the “age of faith” is presented as a retrograde and regressive dark age, out of which emerged, only after a long twilight struggle, the modern physical sciences and their attendant technologies. In accord with this cynical reading, the contemporary media almost invariably present people of “faith” as hopelessly unenlightened yahoos or dangerous fanatics. If you want the very best example of this, watch Bill Maher’s film “Religulous.”

What the Bible really says about calling Catholic priests “Father”
“Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).
Throughout history, including that time since the days when Jesus uttered these words, we have referred to others on earth as father. This title is used in different contexts. For example:

The Church Needs To Turn Around Starting With The Priest
Msgr. Charles Pope has a fascinating article at the blog of the Archdiocese of Washington in which he examines the effects of versus populum liturgical orientation.

At the end, he advocates what I have advocated for some time, that the liturgy of the Eucharist should be Ad Orientem.

Agree or disagree, it is a fascinating read that deserves your attention.

A Life Lived in the Spirit
At the request of Jesus, the Holy Spirit has been given to us. Do we really know what that means? What does a life lived in the spirit look like?
“But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you.” ~John 16:7
A life lived in the spirit is radically different. It is imbued with wisdom, grace, and virtue. It longs to do God’s will and live in accordance with His edicts—and is able to do so because it is under control of the Holy Spirit and does not follow selfish desires.

Did the Virgin Mary Die? The Answer May Surprise You
Did the Virgin Mary die?

There are many Catholics that deny that the Immaculate Mary died. They claim that when Pope Pius XII dogmatically declared the Assumption of Mary, he left the question open. They cite the following from Munificentissimus Deus:

by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

The Bad News/Good News Bible
The Bible is a book of bad news and good news.

First the bad news:  Human beings are sinners.  Our sin separates us from a holy and righteous God, provokes his wrath, and causes us to ultimately suffer death and eternal separation from Him. (Rom. 3:23, Rom.1:18, Col.3:6).  More bad news:  We are without excuse. As a result of our wickedness, we have suppressed the truth about God made known to us and are deserving of his righteous wrath. (Rom. 1:16-32)

That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s not the end of the story. There is good news.

Did Jesus Exist? An Alternate Approach
Did Jesus exist?

Discussions of this subject often begin by looking at references to Jesus in early Christian sources.

Either that or they look for references to Jesus in early non-Christian sources.

But there’s another way of looking at the question that is often ignored . . .

Scruples and the Fear of Hell
A reader writes:

I read your ‘Pains of Sense in Hell’ article and I thought it was very good. Anyway, this is an issue that has been bothering me about Christianity since I originally became am Evangelical at 18 (I was raised in a not-very-religious Jewish family), made my away throughout Protestantism and eventually came to the Truth (Catholicism) a few years ago. I admit I came to Christianity purely out of fear of Hell and, since becoming Protestant and, later Catholic, I have had difficulty with Scrupulosity (I have dealt with OCD issue for virtually my whole life).

Learning to Accept God’s Will
Not long ago a priest shared some guidance with my wife and me that has been the cause of a great deal of conversation and reflection in our home.  In response to learning that we pray every day about our oldest son’s future and that he be healed of his autism, he encouraged us to pray first for acceptance.

Let me explain.

The Open Rooms of Mary’s Heart
Our hearts are like houses with many rooms. As we see in that famous painting of Jesus knocking at the door of our heart/house, there is no door knob on the outside, depicting that it is up to us to choose to invite Him in. He never forces.

So, once we have invited Him in, it is not a matter of just leaving Him in the “living room” of our hearts to meet with during Sunday Mass or the like; and then go on with our lives the rest of the week apart from Him.

“Live as though dying daily.” -St. Antony of Egypt, as recorded by St. Athanasius
We have almost no viable perspective from which to evaluate our past actions or decisions. We are, after all, products of those choices, and the perspective from which and the values against which we would measure the things we have done are themselves the results of the choices we have made.

It’s the Beautiful Struggle!
Some years ago I watched an amazing reality TV show. The producers took five men to the Gulf coast of Central America and they had to trek across the jungle to the Pacific coast. What made it interesting is that all five suffered from a disability. A big African American fellow was in a wheelchair–having lost the use of his legs through polio. One man was blind. Another was deaf. The fourth suffered from chronic depression. The last had learning difficulties.

Ingenious in passing things, and foolish in eternal things, as seen on T.V.
We live in times of great ingenuity. We have a lot of clever smarts. We have been to the moon and back. Our computers never cease to amaze, as we make them smaller and more powerful. We peer to outer space and see further than ever. And then we look ever deeper into inner space, doing microsurgery and studying the human genome.

And yet, though technological giants, we are moral midgets. Though able to solve enormous technical problems, we cannot even figure how to stay faithful to our commitments, or keep our families together. Churches which once dominated our skylines are now dwarfed by buildings dedicated to banking, insurance and other passing worldly affairs.

Don’t Borrow Trouble – Waiting for Love
Everyone has worries and something to worry about.  How will I make the payments? What do they think about me?  Will I do well on my test?  Will my son get a good job?  And for those dating: “Will I find the right person?”

These are normal and healthy thoughts.  They are worries that acknowledge, without disturbing inner peace.

Men’s Roles: be the New Adam
Imagine Adam and Eve, in perfect joy walking in the Garden of Eden; the very Paradise created especially for their enjoyment.  Everything they needed was there; everything, including freedom.  The freedom to choose right or wrong; the freedom to disobey their Father.  Any parent understands this bittersweet gift.

Along slithers the slimy serpent, who takes advantage of Eve.  He tempts her and she succumbs.  Eve chooses to disobey, and Adam is mysteriously silent. God created Eve to be Adam’s helpmate.  Shouldn’t Adam reciprocate?  What would Eve have done if Adam, ready to protect Eve, shouted, ” Eve, my love, don’t to listen him, he’s lying!” Would Eve have made a different choice?

The Rosary as Survival Manual
As our moral environment becomes more challenging, Catholics shouldn’t be caught flat-footed. John Paul II said that in Christianity: “Our spirit is set in one direction, the only direction for our intellect, will and heart is towards Christ our Redeemer, towards Christ, the Redeemer of man. We wish to look towards him-because there is salvation in no one else but him, the Son of God-repeating what Peter said: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’”

Do martyrs killed in the state of mortal sin go to Heaven?
From a reader:

I know that the Church teaches that people that die in a state of mortal sin cannot go to Heaven. However, can martyrs killed in a state of mortal sin still go to Heaven?

Excellent question, and one that should remind people to GO TO CONFESSION.  We don’t know when our turn is going to come.  It could be today.  If you know yourself to be out of sync with God and doubt or know that you are not in the state of grace… there is a solution for you.  You know what it is.


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