The following is a homily that will be delivered by Deacon Paul O. Iacono at St. Francis of Assisi Church, South Kingstown, Rhode Island on the weekend of August 17/18 2013.
In our first Scriptural reading for this weekend (Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10) we see the prophet Jeremiah thrown into a well as a result of his faith-filled preaching. He was lowered into a mud filled cistern in an attempt to shut him up and tame his ability to disturb the people’s apathy.
A month ago we witnessed the spiritually uplifting events of Steubenville East held here in South Kingstown, in which Catholic teenagers and young adults from all over the Northeast gathered together to worship God and share experiences in a faith-filled setting.
The following week we saw Pope Francis travel to Brazil, express his love, teach, and witness to as many as three million people at World Youth Day.
But when these young people returned home you can be sure that advice was given to some of them, by well meaning people, who said, “Its great that you had an uplifting experience but don’t get carried away and go off the deep end.”
What does that kind of talk do?
It throws cold water on the fire of enthusiasm – it attempts to tame and control a person’s faith.
All people, regardless of age, who desire to live out and practice the Holy Scriptures in their daily lives must guard against being tamed by the world, and even at times, by some well meaning people within the Church.
The message of this weekend’s Gospel (Luke 12: 49-53) is counter cultural. The Gospel does, at times, cause trouble. It can set a soul on fire with love for God and fellow man, and that soul then understands through wise spiritual counseling, the mission it has been given by the Lord to continue His work here on earth.
The saints all experienced this fire, this blaze of mystical love and desire for God that not only consumed them, but – by their witness - those around them, too.
Jesus tells us in St. Luke’s Gospel that He wants to inspire a mystical fire – a blaze of faith, love, and action, and yet, He knows this will cause division; Jesus is exclaiming that His peace is not the peace of the world.
The peace and love that Jesus offers to us is often at odds with the frauds, shams, and counterfeits of this world: the politics, economics, and religious expressions that do not lift people up in love, unity of purpose, and individual liberty, but tear them apart, in anger, stress, and confusion.
When the Gospel of Jesus Christ becomes a blaze roaring in our souls the Holy Spirit gives us the gifts of fortitude and perseverance. These gifts strengthen us to stand up to pagan society both in a public and private way. This strength makes us dangerous, and historically has been a cause for division in the eyes of societies – from the time of the Roman Empire to the world today. Why else would members of the entertainment world and the news media attack the Catholic Church’s beliefs, its clergy, religious, and laity alike?
They attack a Church weakened by the public and private sins of her people but still bold enough to proclaim the Gospel.
They attack because they know the Gospel message is dangerous to their agenda.
They attack because they know that a core group of faithful followers, that cross denominational lines and who truly still number in the millions, cannot be bought off or intimidated.
My brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ’s Redemption of mankind brought us salvation, peace, and love; but the sword He carries does have two sides – for it sharply divides those who take the Cross and the Gospel seriously from those who do not.
Today’s Gospel challenges us to know that like Jesus, Jeremiah, and the saints we must expect misunderstanding, ill treatment, and possibly even death when we glorify God by living a Gospel centered life.
Our faith provides us with the grace and love of God. Yet, the Cross refines our perspective to see that God’s love is a purifying fire of salvation and covenant that demands that His people not compromise with the world, or declare a bogus truce with evil. So when you stand before society proclaiming your faith – do not be afraid. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and the witness of His Blessed Mother and the saints – in the end all will be well.
Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The first image of Jeremiah in the cistern was painted by the artist Marc Chagall; the second image is by Paul Hardy. Thanks to Wikipaintings for the images.