A Wild Ride
October 21, 2021 (readings)
- Thursday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
- Fr. John Bartunek, LC
Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
Opening Prayer: Dear Lord, I come to you today well aware of my own weakness. I have such a strong tendency to self-absorption. I tend to forget about your presence, your love, your Kingdom. The things of this world occupy my mind and my heart too much. Teach me to find you in all things, to serve you in all things, to glorify you in all things. Enlighten me, Lord, and strengthen me, as I turn my attention to you.
War and Peace: During the Last Supper, Jesus explained to his Apostles: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid (John 14:27). And yet in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus said, Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. Is he contradicting himself? Not really. The peace Jesus gives to his faithful followers is an interior peace, a deep and persistent sense of meaning and safety that comes from knowing that we are loved and valued by God, that we are on the right path in life, and moving in the right direction. That interior peace doesn’t preclude suffering of many kinds, including opposition from those who resent us for following Christ and thereby challenging their own assumptions about what is true, good, and beautiful. Jesus brings division because his Gospel requires a response; we cannot remain neutral in the face of the Gospel. We either accept it and try to shape our lives and our world in accord with it, or we reject it and try to shape our lives and our world in opposition to it. This is the battle constantly going on in history, the battle between good and evil. We can try to ignore it or sidestep it, but in the end, we all get swept up in it. What does that battle look like for me right now?
Knowing the Stakes: Jesus wants us to know ahead of time that if we choose to follow him there will be consequences. We will encounter opposition, perhaps even violent persecution, perhaps even from those closest to us. The history of the Church is full of examples of this. When St. Francis of Assisi followed his calling, his dad publicly disowned him. When St. Thomas Beckett faithfully defended the rights of the Gospel against political intrigue and corruption, his best friend turned on him and sparked his murder. The world in which we live is a fallen world, broken and twisted by sin. If we choose to walk the Christian path, we become living signs of contradiction, just as Christ himself did. Have I truly made that choice? Am I ready for the inevitable consequences? If not, I will be hard put to stay the course; the shadow of the cross will surprise and disorient me instead of energizing me.
A Picture of Holiness: As Christians, holiness is our goal. Holiness, sanctity, is a deep, living communion with God that flows from our generous collaboration with the gift of God’s grace. But it is hard to make consistent choices to pursue that goal when we don’t have a clear picture of what holiness really looks like. Sometimes, even older and supposedly mature Christians have a one-dimensional picture of holiness in the back of their minds—a holy-card image of holiness, an inhuman image of holiness. Today’s psalm offers an image that may be helpful. It compares the person who faithfully follows the Lord to a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade. Running water in biblical terms often refers to God’s grace, the source of all holiness. A tree planted near running waters always has what it needs to flourish, to grow and be strong and beautiful, to produce fruit for the benefit of those all around it. This image of flourishing, of dynamic stability, of organic growth and natural fruitfulness, is strewn throughout the Scriptures to describe the life of someone faithful to God and his grace—in both the Old and New Testaments. What does the image say to me? What does it conjure up in my mind and heart? Why would the Holy Spirit inspire the sacred writers to use this image to describe what it’s like to live in joyful communion with God?
Conversing with Christ: Your words in the Gospel are forceful, passionate. You truly care about us, Lord. Our decisions matter to you. Our discipleship matters to you. You want us—you want me, to know the implications of faithfully following you. I don’t understand why your Gospel encounters so much opposition, but right now I want to renew my commitment to you and your Kingdom: No matter what opposition I encounter, no matter how costly my discipleship may become, I promise to keep you in the center of my heart. I make my own the prayer from today’s Collect: Grant that I may always conform my will to yours, and serve your majesty in sincerity of heart.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will take a walk in a park with my Bible in hand and contemplate the flourishing, mature trees in light of today’s psalm (Psalms 1).
For Further Reflection: Read the story of St. Dymphna, someone who suffered a violent (though rather extraordinary) persecution from her own father.
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