As we reflect on the readings today there is one question we should ask ourselves, will I commit myself wholeheartedly to following Jesus? Before we explore this further I will share these words spoken by Franklin D. Roosevelt to our nation in 1936 which I think apply to us today. He said, “No greater thing could come to our land today than a revival of the spirit of religion—a revival that would sweep through the homes of the nation and stir the hearts of men and women of all faiths to a reassertion of their belief in God and their dedication to His will for themselves and for their world.” He would say, “I doubt if there is any problem whether it be social, political or economic that would not melt away before the fire of such a spiritual awakening.”
Our readings today allude to a great cosmic battle that is taking place all around us. They invite us to consider the struggle and difficulty inherent in being a Christian. The path of following Christ is frequently one of opposition, one of difficulty in every time and place. If we are not living with that tension then perhaps we are not living out our faith fully as a follower of Christ. To follow Christ completely will come with a cost as His mission was not to smooth over differences but to call us to the fullness of the truth and to perfect holiness.
Now let us look at our gospel reading for today. As Jesus approaches Jerusalem for the final time, He speaks of His own mission to engage Satan and to gather God’s elect from his enslaving clutches. It is a battle that Jesus wins at the Cross and Resurrection but it is a battle which extends across time to our current day of age. Although the victory is ours, we can only lay hold of it by clinging to Christ and walking with Him.
Jesus begins the gospel by saying, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” The Lord has come to purify us by the fiery power of His love, by His grace and His Word. Purification is seldom easy or painless and hence the image of fire. This image of fire is important because many people today have reduced faith to seeking enrichment and blessings. Faith surely supplies these, but it also demands that we take up our cross and follow Christ without compromise. Many, if not most, blessings come only through the fiery purification of God’s grace, which burns away sin and purifies us of our sinful relationship with this world. Fire demands, it prompts us to action, it causes change—change which is usually never easy.
So Jesus announced the fire by which He will judge and purify the earth and all of us on it, rescuing us from the power of the evil one. This is no campfire to just sit around and relax by. It is a blaze that must set the whole world on fire with Christ’s love and we need to do our part to help spread that blaze.
Next the gospel says, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” Though sinless Jesus took upon Himself the full weight of human sinfulness and carried it to the Cross. He accepted a baptism in His own blood on our behalf. Having won the victory He now turns to each one of us and invites us to follow Him through the Cross to the glory of His resurrection.
Then we hear words from Jesus in the gospel that are nothing less than shocking. Our Lord, the Prince of Peace says, “Do you think that I have come to establish peach on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household will be divided. These words speak a truth that sets aside worldly notions of compromise and coexistence with evil. In order for there to be true peace, holiness and victory over Satan, there must be distinction and no ambiguity, clarity not compromise.
In the great cosmic battle against Satan our Lord cannot and will not tolerate a false peace based on compromise or an accepting coexistence. Jesus came to wield a sword, to divide. Many in today’s society do not like it, but Scripture is clear: there are sheep and goats, those on the Lord’s right and those on His left, there is the narrow road to salvation and the wide road to damnation. These divisions extend into our very families, into our most intimate relationships. This is the battle. There are two armies, two camps. No third way is given. With Jesus there is no sitting on the fence. We are either His disciples or we are not. Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Matt 12:30).
How does this play out for us in our own lives? The following is one example. Pope Saint John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae spoke of the terms: the culture of life and the culture of death. The culture of life calls us to a higher and more sacrificial service to God and neighbor, especially to the most vulnerable and needy among us. Grounded in a love for all people, the culture of life believes, lives and labors to spread the message that all people have dignity, all people are a divine gift, and all people are to be cherished and respected.
This view is in opposition to that of the culture of death. That culture hates this message, despises its messengers and seeks to strip dignity and respect, while suggesting it does the opposite, from the most vulnerable and weak among us. The culture of death is concerned with only its desires seeking to destroy whatever is inconvenient or uncomfortable. The weak and vulnerable are easy prey in such a culture.
The battle over life has been set. There are two armies, two choices, one for life and one for death. There is no third choice. Those who choose life must be willing to fight in its defense. Historically the battle over life was a one-front battle with those supporting the culture of death attacking the unborn. They deny their personhood from the moment of conception. They label them as undesirables. In particular they wage a war against those with special needs, especially those with Down Syndrome.
But the culture of death feeds on itself. It is not satisfied with a one-front battle. The battle has become a two-front war with the end of life now increasingly being thrown into the assault. For example, more states are adding laws to facilitate physician-assisted suicide/euthanasia. The Catechism defines euthanasia as “putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. In society people often defend this practice saying that when life is painful the truly merciful thing to do is to end it. But this is simply a clever way of disguising the sin of murder. It is so clever that even some Catholics are tricked by it, thinking that it is merciful to end the life of someone who is suffering.
Archbishop Cordileone on speaking on abortion had this to say, “Christians must be resistant to being fooled by popular fashions or cultural pressure. That Christians should make the gospel the foundation of their thinking and action in the world and to “serve as the conscience of society” which can only happen if we live our faith with integrity.
He would say, “If Christians are failing in this role, perhaps it is because too many of us have ourselves become corrupted in our way of thinking and in our own conduct both privately and in public. The Archbishop would say how we are suppose to know better and so we will be held to a higher standard. The commandment to charity is an obligation for Christians and what could be a greater act of charity than to defend those who have no voice with which to defend themselves? It is precisely by such acts of charity on behalf of the poor, defenseless and marginalized that we prepare ourselves for the life of heaven. Seeking the good of those who are the most disadvantaged and defenseless is the highest form of acting as the moral conscience of society and a clear witness of God’s love.
There are two sides in the moral battle of our times: we must choose a side. The choices required of us are clear. We cannot sit on the fence. There is a story that goes like this: A man refused to take sides in the critical matters of his day, declaring that he was tolerant of all views. Taking his seat on the fence he congratulated himself for his moderation and openness, others did too. One day the devil came and said, come along now, you’re with me. The man protested, I don’t belong to you. I’m on the fence! The devil simply replied, Oh, but you do belong to me. I own the fence.
It is tempting for us to look for a comfortable Christianity, one which fits in with the culture and the world around us, but that is not possible. Christ comes to challenge our culture and call it to convert from sin to grace, to turn back to the love of the Father. We know that being a disciple of Jesus is the best decision we can make in life. While following Christ may not bring political peace to the world, nor take away turmoil in family life, it is always a source of real, lasting joy.
To conclude St. Catherine of Siena had this to say: Be who God meant for you to be and you will set the world on fire.BACK TO LIST