Homily: Pray, Listen, Act
Listen to the homily as it was delivered over the weekend at St. Anthony Parish in Allston, MA. What is written is the basis for what is delivered but they are not exact.
When we hear the words of today’s Gospel, we can gasp. Jesus says he came to set the world on fire and wishes it was already happening.
He adds later that because of him you will see families divided. How do we understand this?
Well, especially in these unique times, I think it is important to understand what he is saying to us today.
First, remember, the most important verse in the Bible is the last one in the Gospel of John which says that Jesus did and said so many things that there were would not be enough room in all of the Bible to hold those words. So the next question would be then why is what is here there and not replaced by something that is not included in our account?
Keep in mind the Gospels are not eyewitness accounts. They are written decades after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. So clearly, there are families encountering this division and asking why. Is not Jesus the Prince of Peace? Strong devout Jews are clashing with equally strong devout Messianic Jews. The same will happen later in pagan families when devout pagan Greeks, Romans, Arabs and others clash with their Christian family members and vice-versa. Jesus’ words are a reminder that this would happen. The reason why is because he is bringing a radical change to the world. Two thousand years later we can see he did exactly this.
So now we want to look at the first section of the Gospel, setting the world on fire. That may sound disturbing in a world such as ours today. Let’s face it, Jesus does not have to do anything to set the world on fire literally, there are plenty of people who are capable of doing exactly that and have been since 1945. Most, are and were not at all Christian many were even ex-Catholics.
So what does Jesus mean?
Remember, he is speaking to a rural audience. He uses metaphors of farming all the time. In farming, as you know many farmers set fire to their fields after the harvest. The reason is that the remains—now ashes— help to bring nutrients to the soil and help to fertilize the fields. It is called slash and burn to farm.
So setting fire to the world is an analogy Jesus uses to revitalize his people and the world to know the truth.
We are in a unique time in our world today. We are seeing great changes internationally and we are also seeing a strong focus on secularism. What is secularism? Nothing more than a world that runs without God. If God is going to set fire to the world in order to revitalize it, He will and has started with His Church.
So what is God saying to us today? What changes is he making today? I do not believe he is changing Church teaching. The Pope makes it clear that our understanding of what the Church teaches deepens just as our understanding of who God is and who we deepen. This does not mean these change.
How is God speaking to us today?
Many people think the spirit of Vatican II is having guitars in Church. No, it is that we all embrace our role as baptized Catholics and take an active role in living and teaching our faith. It is taking seriously our role as Catholics and living it in the world. It is listening to others in the world and bringing what we hear in prayer asking the Lord to help us respond to those words. It is taking a busy world where our prayer feeds our action.
This week, our congressperson held a community meeting for those in this district which is the Seventh Congressional District. Now, it should be no secret that I disagree with her on some of her positions but I agree with her on others. However, by being there, I heard the concerns of others and what is affecting them. This happened at Jackson Square Park in Jamaica Plain.
By going there, I am hearing some of the issues that are affecting everyone in their everyday life. Some explained to her they were afraid of being victims of personal violence, those concerned about the loss of transportation on the T and others. Remember they were not speaking to me they were speaking to Rep. Pressley.
One thing that I feel I need to address with her office is that of course as a congress person she is going to talk about what kind of legislation is needed to be done. That is what legislators do, however, as Catholics we need to ask the question what can we do? We need to ask the question in our prayer and we need to seek the answer in our actions.
What do people need that we can supply in light of God’s call to action in our hearts?
A major criticism people make of me over my priesthood is the problem of moviegoer spirituality. What is moviegoer spirituality? It is going to church, watching the Mass and then going home. One parishioner from the south shore said to me it is a real problem in the Northeast. However, Jesus never called us to such a way of Catholic life. He called us to be active in the world and to live our faith in such a way that we act as light to those in darkness. We act out of the love that He calls us to live.
When we are actively praying as a family and as persons who can act in ways that respond to many of the personal needs around us. Remember, we are surrounded by various types of impersonal bureaucracies. We need to be the face of Christ to those around us who see only walls in the government, the Church and universities, the employers. We need to be the face of Christ because that is what people need. When we do that we set fire to society not with flame but with the power of the holy spirit working through the church.
Look at how many people are focused on political responses to our world. Political parties are interested in doing what best feeds the party's interest. We are called to be apolitical and do what is best for the interests of our neighbors whomever they may be. When we are deeply interested in prayer and bear the fruit of it we become that to others. When we have no flame then the party takes over our world and our world becomes like a field with old topsoil and we ultimately do nothing.
When in Boston visit StAnthonyParish in Allston, MA
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