Sunday, August 14, 2016

Homily for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The great James Taylor once sung: “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain”; well we all have seen way too much rain lately.  I offer my prayers to all those so devastatingly impacted by the rain and floods.

Then the great Billy Joel, the master of lyrics sang, “We didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world was turning”.  

Fire is one of those things that can destroy things and threaten lives.  Fire can also renew things and give life.  None of us here would ever want to experience the pain associated with a house fire, and if someone here has, I am so sorry for that experience.  We all take precautions with fire in our everyday life so that fire will be a help to us and not a threat.  I’ve seen the restorative properties of fire too.  Many years ago we visited Yellowstone in Wyoming right after a huge devastating wildfire.  The new life evident in the forests and woods was directly attributable to that same fire.
As people of faith we are called to be the fire of Jesus’ love.

Jesus tells us in his own words: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it was already blazing”.  When we first hear these words from Jesus we may be shocked; they could seem harsh.  What is this fire of which Jesus speaks?  We should take comfort when we realize that Jesus is speaking of the fire of Christian charity that brings souls back to God and builds up the Church, based on justice, mercy and love.  This is the strongest example of fire as life giving, life affirming and life changing.  Each of us is called to be part of this fire.  As St. Catherine of Sienna famously told us: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire”.

This fire we are called to be begin in each of us at Baptism.  In our Baptism we participate in the Baptism of Christ, which includes the Cross.  This fire of our Baptism helps us, if we are cooperating with its grace, to be reborn, to be made new, new life in God’s perfect holy will.  It was John the Baptist that reminded us that Baptized in Jesus means Baptized with fire and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus went on to speak of division.  He says he did not come for peace on earth but division.  This too gives us pause; the Prince of Peace has come for division!   How can this be?  Quite frankly, this is a tough reminder to all of us that nothing and no one should keep us from the fire of the love of Jesus.  We all must deal with our own realities.  What if that which holds me back from His love is a prized possession?  What if that which holds me back from His love is my own family member, my dear friend.  Yes, some of the obstacles in our lives from giving ourselves over to Jesus completely can actually be a spouse, a child, a parent, a best friend, our brother or our sister.  And of course, in our discernment, we need to make sure that it is not ourselves.  Will we put Jesus first in our everyday love of Him?  I’m not talking about getting away for Mass once a week, will we put Jesus first in our lives, in our hearts above and beyond everyone else and anything else?  Is our fire truly burning? 
It is so important in these trying and difficult times to witness to others our fire and hopefully that witness manifests our hope and our love and our joy.  But at the same time it must witness our steadfast resolution that Jesus is first, more important to me than anything and anyone.

What if our culture were on fire for the Lord and His Holy Church as we are these days for our politics and our partisan political beliefs, our football and the athletes we adore more than we are on fire for Jesus, and all the other things we put first over Jesus: our many comforts, whatever they may be.  Or the many things society places as more important on Sundays than Mass and Worship, you know, those important things like golf, sleeping in, driving to Starbucks for an $ 8 cup of coffee, staring at our navel or chasing Pokemon through the streets.  We must help our culture, by our own fire for Jesus burning within each of us to be an influence on our society, on this culture in these times. 

For us, we need to quit going along to get along, we need to quit loving our relatives and friends with a worldly superficial love.  Again I repeat to all of us again today, do we love our family and friends with a love that is so on fire for Jesus that it loves them all the way to Heaven?

In that brilliant song by James Taylor, Fire and Rain, he simply begs one thing from Jesus: “Won’t you look down upon me Jesus; you’ve got to help me take a stand!”
Stand up for Jesus Christ, stand up for His Holy Catholic Church, stand up for Jesus first, over everything and everyone, stand up and BE who God meant you to be………..set the world on fire, and oh, how I wish it were already blazing!

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