Che cosa?

Pope Francis gestures at the end of the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican

With all due respect, I want to ask Pope Francis, “Che cosa?” or as we would say here in America, “Say what?”, in response to his order to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops not to vote on two proposed measures that would have begun to show a modicum of movement to deal with the latest and greatest sexual abuse scandals in our beloved Church.

This scandal is really a continuation of the revelations of 2002, that erupted once again in June like the famous Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. The concerns of the Catholic faithful that the Church continues to lose ground in our secularized, humanistic culture were magnified as we realized that too many of our leaders were “in bed” with the permissiveness and promiscuity of mainstream practice.

It’s hard to offer an alternative to a culture that has lost its way, particularly when it seems that many of our leaders are on the same road to perdition. And then our spiritual hopes for purification, reparation and renewal are dashed, or maybe delayed, when our Holy Father, who offered great hopes of reform, has either hoodwinked us or is just as complicit as the rest. His rhetoric toward those who care about this downward spiral in the Church is disturbing at least, and unconscionable at best: “Be careful around those who are rigid. Be careful around Christians – be they laity, priests, bishops – who present themselves as so ‘perfect,’ rigid. Be careful. There’s no Spirit of God there. They lack the ‘spirit of liberty’.”

You and I must continue to pray for our Holy Father, for our cardinals and bishops here in the U.S., and especially for our priests who lead us on the parish level. This isn’t just about the Catholic Church regaining its reputation. This is about the salvation of souls in our nation! This is Jesus’ concern—why He came and died on the cross and rose again—establishing His Church to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20 RSV).

[Photo: Max Rossi/Reuters]

A Funny Thing Happened to Me…

Back in the sixties, Broadway and the silver screen presented a production called “A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Forum” that tells the story of a slave named Pseudolus who attempts to win his freedom from his master and it is set in Rome.

My life is not a Broadway musical or a movie, but on “the way to Rome” I have had some interesting, even funny things happen to me. Back in July I went to confession armed with a brand new confession app on my phone. I carefully made a list on the app of what I needed to confess. Just as I was ready to make my confession, I hit the wrong button and the app logged me off. I got flustered and got off to a shaky start as I couldn’t remember the phrase “examination of conscience.” I even forgot some of the things I wanted to confess. The moral of that story is don’t trust technology to think for you as you seek to improve upon an age-old sacrament.

I found a prayer I prayed back in August as the World Meeting of Families in Dublin was set to begin. I was concerned as were many Catholics of some of what was going to be presented there regarding the family. I prayed: “Lord, bless all speakers who intend to glorify you, uphold Sacred Scripture and Tradition, edify your true Church and seek the salvation of souls. For those who have other intentions, give them laryngitis, severe diarrhea, or make them otherwise indisposed. Amen.” That’s one I had to trust God with. He knows much better than I.

In September I began reading the book Sacred Story: An Ignatian Examen For The Third Millennium and I came across this phrase: “My Sacred Story takes a lifetime to write.” The author goes on to say:

It is a cliché to say that life is not over till it is over. I doubt anyone would disagree with this fact. Yet often ignored is the fact that we have to work daily on our spiritual growth. Or more precisely, we must work daily to open to the artist who can transform our lives into a sacred story….Christ can take our lives, daily undermined by the weight of bad decisions, selfishness, and our own sin and weakness, and transform all of it into blessing. God, in Jesus, is the artist and it will take a complete lifetime for the Lord to work his miracles of grace in our sacred story. We will always be in need of the merciful forgiveness of the Divine Artist in Jesus. Once we see that Jesus needs to work daily in our lives, we then come to understand why “my Sacred Story takes a lifetime to write.”

Your story and my story are by no means set in stone. There are constant changes and additions to our stories. We are on our way, and many interesting, serious, and even funny things happen on our way to where God is leading. Stay encouraged and never give up.

I Want to See!

In my work with American Bible Society we seek ways to help people engage in Scripture, recognizing that time spent with the Word of God has the potential to impact lives through an encounter with the living God who has revealed His love and His plan for us through the written word.

In the retreat that I was on this past weekend I was given the opportunity to learn more about the Ignatian Prayer Form—a way to engage Scripture, especially the Gospels using the imagination and senses. One of the ways you can do this is to assume a role. You become, through your imagination, one of the characters in the story, such as blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46–52. In the exercise that I did over the weekend I chose the passage that tells of Bartimaeus’s encounter with Jesus which follows on the heels of the story of James and John requesting of Jesus the privilege of sitting at his right and left. I treated that passage here.

Oratio: Mark 10:49–51—Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Meditatio: I can’t help but notice that the question Jesus asked Bartimaeus is nearly identical to the question he posed to James and John in the passage I did with Lectio Divina earlier. When they said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

You could say James and John were asking from a position of strength. They were already Jesus’ followers; they were from a good family, had a profession they could fall back on if the apostleship didn’t pan out. They were young and health, and as it turned out they wanted more to consolidate their upwardly mobile status, you might say. Jesus, knowing this still asked them what they wanted him to do for them.

On the other hand, Bartimaeus has been dealt a bad blow in his life. Because he is named in the Gospel, it seems that he has been someone; we even know the name of his father. Yet he has lost his sight and there is no rehab or blind school for him to attend. He has one valuable possession, a cloak. He uses it to keep him warm at night and to gather the alms given to him during the day. He has had to take on the role of a beggar, the only job open to him due to the catastrophic loss of his sight.

The disciples were annoyed with the brothers because of their request of Jesus, and now they are annoyed because the blind man wants to meet Jesus. They try to hush him up because he is an interruption, an inconvenience. So Bartimaeus cries out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus cannot resist someone who needs mercy and offers him rightful praise. Bartimaeus is no dummy. He knows Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus stops in his tracks and calls the blind man to himself. Here Bartimaeus reacts immediately and throws off the only thing of value he has, his cloak, and standing before Jesus he hears the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

It seems intuitive that Bartimaeus would ask for his sight, after all that is such an important sense to regain, but it doesn’t necessarily make his life easy. He has no job and the only source of income he has is due to his blindness. But Jesus gives him what he asks for. He says, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regains his sight. And what does Bartimaeus do? he follows Jesus on the way—to Jerusalem where Jesus will drink his cup and be baptized with the baptism that he must be baptized with.

Oratio: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Lord, let me see again!”

Contemplatio: Bartimaeus does not ask for power or position or security, only sight to be able to follow Jesus. How important it is to see, really see, not just what we think we see or want to see, but what we can only see through the sight that Jesus gives us. Too often I am blinded by my own humanity, my selfishness, my disobedience, my self-preservation. “Lord, let me see again!”

 

 

Be Still and Know that I Am God

This past weekend Charlotte and I took part in a silent retreat in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The retreat was sponsored by Our Lady’s Missionaries of the Eucharist and led by Sister Joan Noreen, the co-founder of OLME. The nature of the silence was turning off and not using our cell phones, keeping silent throughout the forty hours of the retreat except at the last three meals. We spent the silence either in our rooms or in the chapel. It was a wonderful time to stop, turn off the ever-present reality of our electronics and hear the still, small voice of God.

During the retreat we had sessions of how to grow deeper in our love for God’s Word. We  learned and practiced the Liturgy of the Hours, the Benedictine Prayer Form (Lectio Divina) and the Ignatian Prayer Form. Sister Joan Noreen shared with us a lifetime of love for the Word of God and the practices that draw us deeper into God’s perfects revelation. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum reminds us that “through this revelation…the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends and lives among them so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself.”

Oratio: On Saturday afternoon I sat down with the Gospel of Mark 10:35–45 where James and John approach Jesus with the request that they be allowed to sit one on his right hand and the other on his left when he comes into his glory. I focused on the verse 39:

They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized…”

Meditatio: Obviously James and John did not comprehend what they were asking or how to answer Jesus’ question to their request made in ignorance. They saw their relationship with Jesus as a way to climb the ladder and become the ones to sit at Jesus’ right hand and left. When Jesus asks them if they are up to it, they answer in the affirmative even though they don’t have a clue what that will mean. Jesus then assures them that they will indeed follow his lead in drinking the cup and undergoing his baptism, but that the places of honor won’t necessarily follow.

Jesus does have special plans for them. James will become the first martyr among the apostles. John will be the only apostle to stay with Jesus throughout his passion, standing at the foot of the cross and being asked by Jesus to take in and care for his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. He will also be the last apostle to die, enduring torture and exile, and writing the Apocalypse (the book of Revelation). The boldness of the brothers, even stained by a desire to be the most important, put them in a place to truly drink the cup and be baptized with the same baptism.

Oratio: Lord, you are indeed patient, kind and merciful. Even though their passion was misdirected and my is as well, you are able to approach us with love and show us how to fit within your holy plan. I confess that I seek glory, acclaim, position and I posture for it. Help me to learn and live in the spirit of sacrifice so that no human motivation will get in the way of full surrender to the will of the Father.

Contemplatio: Jesus, I trust in you! Whatever may be the cup that I must drink or the baptism with which I must be baptized, I trust in you!

If you are interested in learning more about Lectio Divina, feel free to contact me. I would love to share what I am learning.

 

Out of the Depths

Out of the depths I cry to You, O LoChrist in Majestyrd; Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication: If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand? But with You is forgiveness, that You may be revered. I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word. My soul waits for the Lord, more than sentinels wait for the dawn. More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord; For with the Lord is kindness and with Him is plenteous redemption; And He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities. (De Profundis Prayer)

We come to the third day of the Triduum that began October 31, the day that marks our obligation to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, that as Catholics we practice the whole month of November.

Every morning of November I began my prayers with a prayer for the Faithful Departed.

Christ Jesus, Lord of life and Redeemer of the world, grant eternal rest to all the faithful departed. Let my relatives and friends whom you have called from this life attain their eternal home. Reward our departed benefactors with eternal blessedness. Grant your departed priests and religious the recompense for their work in your vineyard.

O Lord, receive into your peace the souls of our brothers and sisters who labored for peace and justice on earth. Accept the sacrifices of those who gave their lives out of love for you and their fellow human beings. Look with mercy on all who showed goodwill to others and grant them the peace they deserve.

O Lord, through the bloody Sweat that you suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane; through the pains that you suffered while carrying your Cross to Calvary; through the pains that you suffered in your most painful Crowning with Thorns; through the pains that you suffered during your most cruel Crucifixion; through the pains that you suffered in your most bitter agony on the Cross; through the immense pain that you suffered in breathing forth your blessed soul; grant eternal rest to all the faithful departed.

Praying for the faithfully departed was not my practice as an evangelical. Yet as a Catholic I have grown to love and appreciate the devotion and recognize the important ministry I have to pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are still very present to me spiritually, although absent from the body. I have made a practice to pray for them weekly during the first year after their death, and thereafter, I pray for them every Sunday. The list of people I lift in prayer in this way continues to grow and they will receive prayer until I myself become dependent on the prayers of others.

Merciful Father,
hear our prayer
and console us.
As we renew
our faith in Your Son,
whom You raised from the dead,
strengthen our hope
that all our departed brothers and sisters
will share in His resurrection,
who lives and reigns
with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

“Great Saints Are Never Wimps”

Today is All Saints Day and we are reminded that to be a saint is our call from our all holy God. This was a command that was first given to Abraham, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless'” (Genesis 17:1 NRSV), and then given to God’s early followers in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land:

For I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming creature that moves on the earth. For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44–45 NRSV)

Jesus emphasized this in his Sermon on the Mount in the context of loving our enemies:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 NRSV)

And Peter in his first epistle reminds us that we cannot continue to be conformed to our former way of life. Following Christ in holiness demands a new way of living and acting:

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13–16 NRSV)

A top Catholic historian, Professor Roberto de Mattei, on October 20, 2018, spoke to the Voice of the Family Conference in Rome. He was speaking of the mission of Catholic young adults in today’s world. His words are powerful and give balance to some of the fuzzy focus that came out of the Youth Synod. He says:

What to say to the young of today? I can say nothing other than what I tell myself each day: be holy. This isn’t an abstract question; it’s a concrete question that concerns each one of us, man or woman, young or old, nobody is excluded. I need to be convinced of this: I might attain all the fortunes of life: health, wealth, pleasure, honors and power, but if I don’t become holy, my life will have been a failure.

On the other hand, I might experience trials and tribulations of all sorts, I might appear a failure in the eyes of the world, but if I become holy I will have attained the true and only purpose of my life. Man was created to be happy. There is only one way to be happy: be holy. Holiness makes for man’s happiness and the glory of God.

To close I share a few other choice quotes about being a saint:

  • “The saints are the only really happy people on earth.”
    Father John Hardon, S.J.
  • “Become a saint, and do so quickly.”
    Pope Saint John Paul II
  • “Great saints are never wimps.”
    Peter Kreeft
  • “Be a saint – What else is there?”
    Patrick Coffin

Evangelization: New or Otherwise

Last night Charlotte and I attended a dinner with our pastor and several other parishioners in preparation for our participation in a diocesan retreat on evangelization. Besides a lovely meal, we spent time sharing our stories and our particular interest and involvement in evangelization. We look forward to meeting monthly to continue to plan and pray in anticipation of the March 2019 retreat. This prompted me to search out what we mean by evangelization, something the Church has been engaged in for 2000 years.

What is the New Evangelization?

The website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops answers the question as follows: “The New Evangelization calls each of us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel. The focus of the New Evangelization calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize. In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on ‘re-proposing’ the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith. Pope Benedict XVI called for the re-proposing of the Gospel ‘to those regions awaiting the first evangelization and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization.’ The New Evangelization invites each Catholic to renew their relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church.”*

The Diocese of Camden, on their web page states: “We have the vision of evangelization for the Diocese of Camden rooted in the words of Bishop Galante: ‘Evangelization is not a program. It is to bring people into a relationship with Jesus’  We see evangelization as a continuous three-step process. We are invited to live this process and incorporate new parish members into this experience:

  1. Discovering Jesus through a personal encounter with him.
  2. Following Jesus, becoming his disciple.
  3. Proclaiming the Good News is to be a witness of Jesus.”

We were given a gift from the bishop, a book by Chris Lowney, Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church. I confess I approach the book with hesitation and some prejudice as it is written from a entrepreneurial viewpoint. I am allergic to business strategies being employed to share the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost world. I will read the book and mark it up and let you know what I discover.

I found another book on my shelf by Dr. Scott Hahn called Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization. I will reread it alongside the other. I will mark it up and let you know what I discover.

The bottom line is, as Lowney states on page 5 of his book, “The apostles were blessed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, not with Harvard Business School educations.” He goes on to say, “Still, whether by intuition or by the Holy Spirit’s guidance, our earliest leaders embodied all the traits that today’s great leaders manifest: they were creative, took risks, adapted to new circumstances, unleashed each person’s talents, never wavered from their core values, emphasized the mission above all, and acted courageously, thanks to the transformation that God’s Spirit worked within them.”

Holy Spirit, guide your Church and may we be your ready servants, completely at your disposition to share the love and mercy of God with our generation!

“I Want to See!”

One of my favorite cameo characters in the Gospels is Bartimaeus, the blind man. Jesus heals many people and many of them go unnamed, but not Bartimaeus. St. Mark identifies him as “Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus.” I love his spunk, his lack of decorum, his insistence, and his desire to have an encounter with Jesus so that he could be healed of his blindness.

Yesterday’s Gospel reading was from Mark 10:46–52 (NABRE), and it tells the story of Bartimaeus’s encounter with Jesus.

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more,
“Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.

Against all opposition from the crowd who tried to shut down Bartimaeus, he finally gets an audience with Jesus who says to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replies to Jesus, “Master, I want to see.” And Jesus says to him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus not only received his sight, but immediately began following after Jesus. In the process he left behind everything, his cloak, his begging, and his blindness.

I heard this passage expounded upon yesterday by Fr. Vincent Guest at St. Luke Catholic Church in Stratford, New Jersey, where we were visiting for the annual “White Mass” to honor the medical professionals. Our own Bobbie Bradley, Director of the St. Peter Senior Center, was being honored as one of two recipients of the St. Luke Award. A busload of parishioners from St. Peter’s, mostly seniors, were present to celebrate with Bobbie. There was one person strangely absent, our dear friend Frank. Several asked about Frank throughout the day commenting on how much we missed him.

Last night just before Charlotte and I retired for the evening we were notified that Frank had suffered a massive stroke and had died Sunday morning. Our hearts were filled with sadness for our loss, but we couldn’t help but focus on his gain. This morning I crossed the street to attend 6:45 Mass. I serve as the lector on Monday mornings. I couldn’t help but think about Frank, that today I wouldn’t see him in his customary pew. I wouldn’t see him stop and pray at the front of the church for his beloved Rita who died less than two years ago. I wouldn’t get a chance to shake his hand after Mass and hear his genuine words wishing me a good day.

Reading the passage from Ephesians and the Psalms was more difficult than usual. Hearing our priest pray for the peaceful repose of his soul made it even more real. Yet in that moment in the liturgy when the celebrant leads us to respond:

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.

V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up to the Lord.

V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is right and just.  

It hit me in that moment how interconnected we on earth become with heaven in the celebration of the Mass. Tears flowed as imagined my friend Frank now on the other side, yet still part of the great body of worshipers before the throne of God.

Frank’s heart prayer was the same as Bartimaeus, “I want to see!” Not only did he want to see his dear Rita again, he wanted to see Jesus. Today we pray for the peaceful repose of Frank’s soul. May he rest in peace!

Predicting the Weather

A special person in my life is a six-year-old boy named Anthony. Anthony and his three brothers have adopted Charlotte and me as “Ama” and “Papa,” honorary grandparents, and since we are part of the same parish and live only a couple blocks apart, we get to see them often.

Back to Anthony: this little boy has an uncanny ability to “predict” the weather. He will look out of the window or go outside and tell you that it is going to rain, or that there will be a storm, and will insist upon it even when it doesn’t seem likely. Then sure enough, right on cue, the rain or the storm will begin. Not only does Anthony have an awareness to all things meteorological, he is deeply connected spiritually. How I love to watch him in the Mass. He takes in everything from the procession of the Cross, the altar servers, and the priest celebrant to the final benediction. You can hear Anthony’s childish voice singing the “Gloria” and the “Alleluia” over those around him. And he actively recites the “Our Father” and the Creed. And when Mass is over the first thing that Anthony does is go see “Father,” the priest who celebrated the Mass that day.

I thought of my dear Anthony when I heard the Gospel reading this morning from St. Luke’s chapter 12:54–56, a most interesting and perplexing chapter.

Signs of the Times. He also said to the crowds, “When you see [a] cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain—and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot—and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Little Anthony may have his eyes on the clouds in the sky, but he also models for me a “little one” who has his eyes on Jesus and the wonderful gifts available for us to be most effective for our Lord in the present time.

Of all people Christians, as Jesus said, should be those who are alert and aware and are able to interpret the present time. That is a challenge for all of us. We live, breathe and ingest our milieu. It is difficult to separate ourselves from influences, opinions and attitudes that we share with the rest of our culture. In some cases Christians have been shamed into believing that they have to march in lockstep with the prevailing attitudes, because to do other, is insensitive, unkind, even hateful. Try to express a conviction that you hold because of your commitment to the Church and Sacred Scripture and watch the fur fly and the insults begin.

That, of course, does not mean Christians should not exercise compassion and kindness, yes we must. We are called to love, yet we are also called to speak the truth. All love and no truth makes us insipid and useless in a world that desperately needs a dose of salt and light. It makes me realize that I can be an expert, or up to date, on all the trivia, all the gossip, even that the Duchess of Sussex forgot to remove a price tag from her dress, and be of no good to the world around me, because I would have failed to “interpret the present time.”

I hear Jesus say, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33 NABRE). We don’t know when the time will come to speak a word, share a material resource with another, give witness of our faith, be confronted with a trial or a temptation, or most importantly to go to meet our Lord. Be watchful. Be alert. Read the signs of the present moment you are in. May the Holy Spirit guide us! Thank you little Anthony for teaching me!

Jesus Inevitably Brings Division

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Roman Catholic Man

The Youth Synod is Rome is mercifully in its last week. Reading and watching reports coming out of the Vatican has been like watching an impending train wreck in slow motion. You can see what is happening, you are in anguish, you even cry out to give warning, but to no avail. The car crossing the tracks will be obliterated by the oncoming train whose conductor is either asleep at the controls or willfully planning to ram into the car.

Now that may sound uncharitable or judgmental, but sometimes the truth is hard to say and hard to hear. This morning’s Gospel reading is one of those passages where our Lord speaks and we jerk ourselves to attention and say, “What?” In case you weren’t in Mass this morning, you can read it here:

Jesus: A Cause of Division.“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.” (Luke 12:49–53 NABRE)

This is one of those passages that we would like to say that Jesus obviously doesn’t really mean what he is saying. Isn’t he the Prince of Peace? Didn’t the angels announce at his birth: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14)? He is, and they did!

We are uncomfortable with a Jesus who says he has come to set the earth on fire and he wishes it was already blazing. Bishop Robert Barron this morning in his devotional based on this passage writes, “He’s throwing fire down, much like the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.” He’s right and it’s the same God! This does not fit with the popular concept of Jesus “meek and mild” who looks and acts more like a 1960s flower child then the eternal holy God of the universe.

Jesus came to our world with a specific purpose. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” The only way that we can be brought to peace with God is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ His Son. But that doesn’t mean we get to say, “Thanks, Jesus! We’re good! I’ll quote you and give lip service to you, but for the most part I’m going to keep doing what I want to do and live in the way that makes me happy.”

And then Jesus asks that all important question: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Human beings want their cake and eat it too. We want peace without the cross. Oh, it’s OK in our minds that Jesus died on the cross, but don’t ask us to get anywhere near the cross ourselves. “I don’t want to die. I want to live. I want to be happy. I want to be fulfilled. I want to be free to express myself in the way that I determine is best for me.” Those words are heard and read everyday of the week and when they come from the lips of “Christians” they are lukewarm puke that Jesus can’t stomach.

Following Jesus causes division! In the family, in the workplace, in society, in the nation, and in the world. When we deny the rightful place of Jesus to apply his fire and sword to our lives in order to conform us to His righteousness, we automatically divide ourselves from him.

That’s what’s so disturbing about what seems to be happening in Rome this month. A Protestant theologian who writes for First Things and other publications, Carl Trueman, wrote today in Public Discourse, the Journal of the Witherspoon Institute the following:

Whatever side one chooses in the Reformation of the sixteenth century—be it Bellarmine or Calvin—one thing is for sure: the Tridentine Catholics and the Magisterial Protestants were debating matters of real, ultimate significance. I am a Protestant by conviction and have very serious disagreements with Rome, but I regard traditional Catholicism as asking the right questions and providing substantial answers about the nature of sin, redemption, grace, faith, the sacraments, and eternal destiny. Christianity is a religion with a holy God and a tragic vision of a magnificent but fallen humanity at its core, so tragic that only a bloody sacrifice—the sacrifice of God Incarnate—can atone. I may reject the Mass but I can at least see that it marks the centerpiece of a serious theology and ecclesiology and is attempting to address the complexity of the human condition. By contrast Instrumentum Laboris (Synod of Youth) points to a church that seems to be losing sight of those central issues. The Catholic Church could well be exchanging her theological birthright for a Mass of sociological potage.

Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church and only He can rescue her from “this present darkness.” “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Amen.