Domesticated Christianity gets no hearing in today's Gospel! The love of God is not merely comforting and consoling but makes true in a way which can set those closest to us at odds with us. Jesus says that Father will be set against Son and vice versa; Mother will be set against daughter, daughter against Mother, family member(s) against family member(s), and so forth. Who among us have not experienced this kind of conflict and challenge? My first sense that perhaps this could be true occurred when I was preparing for baptism as a Catholic while in high school. "Not while you're living in this house!" my Mother exclaimed emphatically. It was not the last time I sensed the truth of this passage. It's quite a risk: one has to understand and be pretty trusting of the worth of what they are embracing to let go of family and friends in the process.
|Sister at First Profession sings the Suscipe|
Prophecy that Brings Conflict:
The first reading from Jeremiah is certainly clear about the costliness of being a prophet who speaks God's will into the present situation with integrity. Do this and you may find yourself tossed into a cistern up to your neck in mud and in danger of starvation! How many of us today have tried to speak of the morality and urgency of peace and been accused of "demoralizing" the soldiers among us? How many, for instance, have argued the case for gun control, smart weapons, the priority of life over "the (supposed) right to bear arms" outside the context of "a well-regulated militia" and found themselves cast out of a job or political position? Examples could be multiplied of course depending on which facet of the vision of the Kingdom of God one sees most clearly --- and each will involve conflict and cost. Jeremiah's vision is greater than that of those opposing him, and greater than that of King Zedekiah as well. And he commits to this vision, proclaims it, and ultimately suffers for it. Such is the life of an authentic prophet -- both then and now.
A death that Brings Life:
The second reading from Hebrews reminds us of the struggle against sin, that is, the struggle against the brokenness, incompleteness, distortions, alienation, and untruths of our lives and world. It is clearly a difficult and costly struggle --- one, the author of Hebrews finds most clearly symbolized by the cross of Christ. But what is striking in this second reading is the emphasis on the joy and victory which comes from persevering in this struggle in the way Jesus did. Victory is always a matter of perspective and of maintaining perspective --- and maintaining perspective means courageously keeping an eye on Jesus and his life and death so that this "Christ Event" is first and last what defines us as persons. In every Catholic home, and often in every main room of every Catholic home (living room, bedrooms, dining room, study) there is usually found a crucifix. That is certainly true in my hermitage.
And in whatever I am doing here, whether prayer or lectio, writing or study, personal work alone or with my director or delegate, resting or doing chores, struggling with illness and pain, eating alone or celebrating a rare meal with a friend, playing violin or meeting with clients, the crucifix is never more than a glance away so that I might be reminded of both the consolation and the costliness of faith while I silently reaffirm the Event and perspective that give meaning to everything I am and do. And when I believe my life is too difficult, the work too hard, the schedule too tedious, the "rewards" uncertain, etc, Hebrews reminds me as well that I have not yet resisted sin (that is, I have not yet embraced truth and life) to the point of shedding blood; in Christ I am yet stronger than I know and the victory is greater than I have yet witnessed to with my very life. I can and will maintain the truly human perspective of faith: I can and will persevere in this journey to wholeness for despite the cost, in this is my greatest joy and the victory of God's own will for the whole of his creation as well! Aren't we each called to know and commit to something similar whatever our vocational path?
A Love that Sets our Hearts and Creation Ablaze:
The Gospel lection brings all this home and sharpens it with an image of all things set ablaze. As inspiring as this image may be, for most of us it is also frightening. And so is the vocation of the Christian. Jesus' own vocation, his own humanity is defined in terms of suffering but also in terms of great joy. The baptism he speaks of is the baptism of kenosis, the baptism of a self-emptying which is exhaustive to the point of death and beyond into hell itself. But he undergoes and consents to this suffering for the sake of making known and personally real the Love of God that makes full and true and is (the source of) abundant life beyond all imagining. Jesus' empties himself and embraces abject weakness and shame so that he may be entirely transparent to the God he calls Abba and recognizes as the empowering source and ground of life. He gives and risks everything to gain everything really worth having; the Gospel we proclaim as Christians says that risk was entirely worth it for Jesus and is entirely worth it for us. At the same time then what we gain is not without cost --- for ourselves or for others! Jesus reminds us of the conflict that will inevitably occur even with those who love us as family member is turned against family member --- or even as parts of ourselves are brought into conflict with other parts and something trusted and even beloved MUST die so that something even more worthy of love CAN live!