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20th Sunday Ordinary ::2007

20th Sunday Ordinary ::2007

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Published by: SaintJoseph on Aug 14, 2008
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20th Sunday in Ordinary Time 08-19-07 Christ, Our Peace, Comes to Bring Division? Prepared by: Rev. James Cuddy, O.P.

Scripture Readings First Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10 Second Hebrews 12:1-4 Gospel Luke 12:49-53

1. Subject Matter

Our Lord’s presence among men brings about a time of decision. Will we accept his offer of friendship, communion, and divine life? All must respond to his invitation; none may remain neutral. St. Paul tells us that Christ is our peace (cf. Eph 2:14) and that he made peace through the blood of his Cross (cf. Col 1:20). Our Lord himself instructs his disciples to bring peace to the houses that they enter (cf. Luke 10:5). Further, his parting words in his farewell discourse are “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27) and his first words after the Resurrection are the same (cf. John 20:19). And yet today’s Gospel tells us that Christ’s Incarnation was not undertaken in order to establish peace on the earth. How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction? Cur Deus homo?

2. Exegetical Notes

“I have come to set the world on fire.” In treating this passage, it is helpful to recall some other accounts of fire being cast upon the land. Particularly relevant is the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal (cf. 1 Kings 18:36-40). The fire comes down from heaven and consumes the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and even the water that was in the trench, thereby proving that the Lord alone was God. Also of interest is the account of Jesus and the disciples passing through the Samaritan village. When the locals would not receive Jesus, James and John ask the Lord if they ought to call down fire from heaven to consume them. Jesus, in turn, rebukes his disciples and leads them into another village.

Broadly speaking, fire has two divergent meanings. The first is in terms of life, whereby living things cannot survive without the light and warmth it offers. Even mighty forest fires bring life to affected areas by opening seedlings and purifying the land of invasive, non-native species of trees. The second meaning of fire is in terms of death and destruction, whereby it levels everything in its path and reduces once-proud structures to piles of smoldering ashes. There are also two Lucan understandings of fire. The first is in terms of eschatological judgment (cf. 3:9, 3:17, 9:54, 17:29), and the second has reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit (3:16, Acts 2:3). The baptism that Jesus desires is his Passion. This is the definitive event by which man will be reconciled to God. The true fire that gives life, warmth, and light to the world shines forth from the Cross (cf. John 12:32 – “When I am lifted up to the earth, I will draw all men to myself”). That the Lord should so earnestly wish that the hearts of all men were already lit ablaze indicates both the depth of his love for us as well as the extent of his condescension in the Incarnation. The description of the family dissention that Jesus brings is an emphatic presentation of the division he brings. It also points to another apparent contradiction: Christ’s turning father against son would be the undoing of John the Baptist’s turning the hearts of fathers towards their children (cf. 1:17). Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. “This is the clearest statement in Jesus’ own mouth of the division created in people by the prophet (cf. 2:35). More surprising is the apparent contradiction of the infancy account’s promise that Jesus would bring peace (cf. 1:79, 2:14, 29). The answer, of course, is that those who accept the prophet have this peace (7:50, 8:48, 10:5-6), but are separated from those who reject the prophet’s message” (Sacra Pagina). Jesus is set for the rising and falling of many in Israel (cf. Luke 2:34). It is clear from Scripture and our own experience of the world that there are many who do not accept Christ’s offer of divine life and remain cut off from the Kingdom.

3. References to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

CCC 696: While water signifies birth and the fruitfulness of life given in the Holy Spirit, fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit's actions. The fire of the Holy Spirit transforms what he touches. In the form of tongues "as of fire," the Holy Spirit rests on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost and fills them with himself. CCC 536: The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God's suffering Servant. Already he is submitting himself entirely to his Father's will: out of love he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins. Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind. CCC 607: The desire to embrace his Father's plan of redeeming love inspired Jesus' whole life, for his redemptive passion was the very reason for his Incarnation.

CCC 2804: The first series of petitions of the Lord’s Prayer carries us toward the Father, for his own sake: thy name, thy kingdom, thy will! It is characteristic of love to think first of the one whom we love. In none of the three petitions do we mention ourselves. The burning desire, even anguish, of the beloved Son for his Father's glory seizes us.

4. Patristic Commentary and Other Authorities

St. Ambrose: Our Lord kindles in men the desire of acquiring the divine nature, saying, I came to send fire on earth, not indeed that He is the Consumer of good men, but the Author of good will, who purifies the golden vessels of the Lord's house, but burns up the straw and stubble. St. Cyril: As they who know how to purify gold and silver, destroy the dross by fire, so the Savior by the teaching of the Gospel in the power of the Spirit cleanses the minds of those who believe in Him. This then is that wholesome and useful fire by which the inhabitants of earth, in a manner cold and dead through sin, revive to a life of piety. St. Gregory of Nazianzus: By the fiery breath of the Holy Spirit, the earthly mind has all its carnal desires burnt up, but inflamed with spiritual love, bewails the evil it has done; and so the earth is burnt, when the conscience accusing itself, the heart of the sinner is consumed in the sorrow of repentance. St. Thomas Aquinas: If the worship of one's parents take one away from the worship of God it would no longer be an act of piety to pay worship to one's parents to the prejudice of God. Therefore in such a case the duties of piety towards one's parents should be omitted for the sake of the worship religion gives to God. If, however, by paying the services due to our parents, we are not withdrawn from the service of God, then will it be an act of piety, and there will be no need to set piety aside for the sake of religion (STh II-II, 101, 4). Lumen Gentium: The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children. John Paul II: There is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion. Hence there arise the many and varied forms of division in family life. But, at the same time, every family is called by the God of peace to have the joyous and renewing experience of reconciliation that is, communion reestablished, unity restored (Familiaris Consortio, 22). Peter Kreeft (on Pascal’s Wager): The most powerful part of Pascal's argument . . . is his refutation of agnosticism as impossible. Agnosticism, not-knowing, maintaining a skeptical, uncommitted attitude, seems to be the most reasonable option. The agnostic says, "The right thing is not to wager at all." Pascal replies, "But you must wager. There is no choice. You are already committed." We are not outside observers of life, but participants. We are like ships that need to get home, sailing past a port that has signs on it proclaiming that it is our true home and our true happiness. The ships are our own lives and the signs on the port say "God". The agnostic says he will neither put in at that port (believe) nor turn away from it (disbelieve) but stay anchored a reasonable distance away until the weather clears and he can see better whether this is the true port or a fake (for there are a lot of fakes around). Why is this attitude unreasonable, even impossible? Because we are moving. The ship of life is

• •

moving along the waters of time, and there comes a point of no return, when our fuel runs out, when it is too late. The Wager works because of the fact of death. 5. Examples from the Saints and Other Exemplars

The lives of the saints are often marked by opposition within the saint’s own family. One of the most notable examples is that of St. Thomas Aquinas. After bringing his noble family shame by joining the Order of Preachers, Thomas was kidnapped by his brothers and imprisoned in his family home for two years. The brothers even sent into his room a woman of ill-repute, hoping that her charms would weaken his resolve to follow in the ways of St. Dominic. Thomas, of course, resisted her advances by chasing her from the room with a blazing torch that he pulled from the fire. Another account of choosing to follow Christ in the face of family resistance is found in the life of St. Catherine of Siena. Around the age of seven, she made her private vow to God. But when she was twelve, her mother began to urge her to pay more attention to her appearance so that she might be a more suitable bride. To please her mother and sister, she dressed in the bright gowns and jewels that were fashionable for young girls. Soon she repented of this vanity, and declared with finality that she would never marry. When her parents persisted in their talk about finding her a husband, she cut off the golden-brown hair that was her chief beauty. Finally, after a few years of struggle, her family members resigned themselves to her vocation.

6. Quotations from Pope Benedict XVI

“The Spirit is also the energy which transforms the heart of the ecclesial community, so that it becomes a witness before the world to the love of the Father, who wishes to make humanity a single family in his Son.” “The Church’s mission exists only as a prolongation of Christ’s mission: ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ The evangelist stresses, in striking language, that the passing on of this commission takes place in the Holy Spirit: ‘he breathed on them and said to them: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” Christ’s mission is accomplished in love. He has kindled in the world the fire of God’s love. It is Love that gives life: and so the Church has been sent forth to spread Christ’s Love throughout the world, so that individuals and peoples “may have life, and have it abundantly.” “Agnosticism derives from the reduction of human intelligence to a mere practical mechanism that tends to stifle the religious sense engraved in the depths of our nature. All of us, and especially our children, adolescents and young people, need to live faith as joy and to savor that profound tranquility to which the encounter with the Lord gives rise. The source of Christian joy is the certainty of being loved by God, loved personally by our Creator, by the One who holds the entire universe in his hands and loves each one of us and the whole great human family with a passionate and faithful love, a love greater than our infidelities and sins, a love which forgives. This love is so great that it turns God against himself, as appears definitively in the mystery of the Cross: ‘So great is God's love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.’”

7. Other Considerations

The refrain in the Responsorial Psalm (Lord, come to my aid!) and the Second Reading (The great cloud of witnesses) serve to remind us that while are incapable of achieving our own salvation, the grace of Christ gives brings us new life. Our forebears in the Christian life have persevered in their vocation to follow Christ. The division and hardships that may come about when we embrace the Gospel can be overcome. The saints show us how to be faithful to our new lives of love in the Spirit.

Recommended Resources Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est. Washington, DC: USCCB Publishing, 2006. Raymond Brown, SS, Joseph Fitzmeyer, SJ, and Roland Murphy, O. Carm., The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Published in two Volumes. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1968. Peter John Cameron, OP, editor, Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI. Yonkers: Magnificat/Ignatius Press, 2006. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke. Volume Three in the Sacra Pagina Series. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991.

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