Sunday, August 14, 2016

How to Help Jesus ‘Light a Fire on the Earth’

Katie Ledecky (top) and Simone Biles

(Twentieth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on August 14, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read; Hebrews 12: 1-4; Luke 12: 49-53.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twentieth Sunday 2016]

How would you describe "a devout Catholic”?  What personal qualities, in your opinion, does a devout Catholic possess?

I don’t know how you would answer those questions, my brothers and sisters, but I can tell you with almost absolute certitude how most of the people in the mainstream media would answer them.

To most of the men and women who report the news in this country in 2016, “devout Catholics” have the following qualities:

1.    They say they’re Catholic.  And they have baptismal certificates to prove it—maybe even First Communion and Confirmation certificates as well!  Although many of them would have trouble getting sponsor certificates for themselves, since they don’t go to Mass every Sunday and holyday.

2.    They are devoted followers of Pope Francis (well, not the real Francis in Rome, but rather the imaginary Pope Francis that people in the liberal media have created: the Francis who “parrots” their liberal views).

3.    They are pro-Planned Parenthood and pro-abortion (although such “devout Catholics” will usually not call themselves those things.  They’ll insist that they are simply “pro-woman” and “pro-choice”—always refusing to identify what the choice is that they are for.)

4.    They are for saving the environment (which is a very good thing).  Unfortunately, however, they’re not normally as interested in saving the lives of unborn babies.

5.    They are against people (especially their fellow Christians) who want to follow their consciences when their consciences are telling them to obey a God-given law which contradicts a civil law.  But if the consciences of those people are telling them to disobey God in some way, these “devout Catholics” are all for that.

6.    They are for freedom—if you’re talking about the freedom to violate one of the Ten Commandments, especially the sixth (which has to do with sexual morality).  But amazingly, these same “devout” believers will turn against freedom when the subject is religion (more specifically, when the subject is Christianity).

7.    They describe themselves as “non-judgmental”—although they judge their fellow Christians all the time.

8.    They call themselves “open-minded”—although their minds are closed to the truth about many things.

9.    They claim to love everybody—although many of their fellow Catholics don’t feel a lot of love from them.

Please keep all this in mind the next time you hear somebody called “a devout Catholic”—or better yet “a Pope Francis Catholic”—by a reporter in the secular media.  Nine out of every ten times, this is the kind of person the reporter is talking about.

Which is why I often say that for the majority of the men and women in the media today the only “good” Catholic is a bad Catholic!

When Jesus said, “I have come to light a fire on the earth” this is not what he meant.  When Jesus said, “I have come to light a fire on the earth” this is not the kind of discipleship he was talking about (although he certainly foresaw it!  He foresaw the fact that many of his professed followers would be lukewarm and half-hearted—because right after he made this statement about coming to light a fire on earth he added, “How I wish it were already blazing!”)

Is it blazing in us?  Is it blazing in us?

How convinced are we that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the cure for what ails the world?  (That’s another way to ask the same question.)

If we are truly convinced that Jesus Christ is the answer to what’s wrong with the world, then we will be passionate about living our faith in a radical way—like the REAL Pope Francis tells us to—even if some people don’t appreciate our efforts.  And you can be absolutely certain that there are some men and women out there who will not appreciate our efforts—at all!  Jesus says as much in this gospel reading, indicating that we shouldn’t even be surprised if the opposition comes from members of our own families.

The image that came to mind this week as I prayed about this was the image of a furnace.  That’s the kind of “fire” the Lord wants to find burning inside of us: the kind of fire that you find inside a furnace.  In most homes, as you know, the furnace is located down in the basement.  That means very few people who come into the house actually see it—and yet, the effects of the furnace are felt throughout the entire building.

Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be with our Catholic faith.  We’re not supposed to be boisterous about it; we’re not supposed to ram it down other people’s throats.  Rather, it’s supposed to “burn” in the hidden recesses of our soul, and then effect everything in our life.  And I mean EVERYTHING!  As the light and heat from a furnace will make an entire house warm, so too the truth and love of the Gospel are supposed to guide everything in our life—everything from how we treat other people to our political views.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews obviously believed this when he wrote the words we heard in our second reading today.  There he said, “Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”  That’s just another way of saying, “Let Jesus—and the love and truth of his Gospel—guide and influence every aspect of your life.”

This is the challenge that faces all of us as professed disciples of Jesus Christ: the challenge to be devout Catholics in the TRUE SENSE of that term, by striving every day to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus and his Church. 

On that note, I read a great article online this past week about two athletes who’ve made big headlines in recent days because of their gold medal performances at the Olympic Games in Rio: gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky.

The article (which, not surprisingly, came from a Catholic news source) focused on the fact that both of these young women are practicing Catholics who are quite open about the important role that faith plays in their lives.  Lidecky was quoted as saying, “My Catholic faith is very important to me.  It always has been and it always will be.  It is part of who I am and I feel comfortable practicing my faith.  It helps me put things in perspective.”

She also mentioned that she says a Hail Mary before every race, while Simone Biles talked about her devotion to St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes.

Well, all I can say after watching these two women perform in the last seven days is that the Blessed Mother and St. Sebastian did a really good job praying for them!  Their performances were nothing short of spectacular!

My prayer is that they will continue to keep Jesus and their Catholicism at the center of their lives in the future—in the midst of all the fame and all the public acclaim that they’re sure to experience after the Olympics are over and they come back home to the United States.

If they can do that—if they can continue to live as devout Catholics (devout not in the eyes of the mainstream media, but rather devout in the eyes of God)—then they will be able to have a positive influence on others (especially on young athletes), and in their own way they will help Jesus to “light a fire on the earth”—a fire of faith, a fire of hope, a fire of love.

Which is the same kind of influence that Jesus wants to have on other people in this world through you and through me.

And he will, if we let him.