Sunday, August 14, 2016

I Come to Bring Division? - Homily for the 20th Sunday in OT (C)

There is a great paradox in today’s readings, isn’t there? In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that He comes not to bring peace, but division. And I kinda scratch my head at this, because isn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace? Didn’t He pray on the night before He died that we “may be one” as He and the Father are one? So how do we reconcile this?

When we think of division, we often think of hate and of wars. And there’s truth to that. But for Jesus the concept of division is a little different. And in order to understand that, we have to go back in time.

Before the Father sent His Son, there was, in a way, no division. There was a kind of unity. But the unity was tenuous: humanity was united in the universal experience of darkness—the darkness of sin and error. Into this was born our savior, Christ the Lord. And the “people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:2).

The light divided the darkness. The light provided delineation and definition so that we might see the difference and the dividing line between right and wrong, between good and bad, heaven and hell, the sheep and the goats. The division, therefore, is the division between the Truth and the lies—and that we might know which is which and therefore love accordingly.

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Our world, of course, balks at any kind of overarching distinctions between what is right and wrong, true or false. Now, I’m about to get a little “heady,” but you are smart and we need to know this.

So, you’ve probably heard it said, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you are a good person.” You’ve heard that before, right? But let’s take a look at that. What’s being said is that beliefs don’t matter, but being moral does. “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you are a good person.” Now, that’s a very interesting thought. If beliefs don’t matter, then why all the hubbub about radical Islamic terrorism? And what does it mean to be a “good person”? And who got to decide that?

Some people respond by saying, “Well, you know, what you say may be true for you, but it’s not true for me. So, the truth is, we just need to coexist.” That's a nice thought. But why is that belief The Truth? (And isn't it contradictory to say that all truth is relative while saying it an objective way?) And why should I believe it as objectively true if what is true for you may not be true for me?

How can we know the difference between The Truth and The Lies?

The two examples I just gave you are examples of two of the greatest errors of our day: namely, relativism and moral relativism. These errors, which are rampant in our culture, fail to provide a distinction between good and evil, and truth and falsehood. It is a great darkness.

Catholics, when they speak up and say that some things are always wrong or that there is capital-T truth, over-arching and objective and which no man can change or destroy—there will be division. Not because we have caused that division, but because the light, Jesus Christ, has shined in the darkness and separated the light from the dark.

Pontius Pilate cynically asked: “What is Truth?”—not as on a quest for it, but to express that he didn’t believe objective Truth to exist. The reality was, however, that Jesus—The Way, The Truth, and The Life—was standing right in front of him.

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Some people try to avoid talking about what divides as a kind of way to promote unity. For example, I witness many weddings and get to go to many wedding receptions. When I’m there, there is always that someone who comes up to me and they are a fallen-away Catholic or a non-denominational Christian and they say to me, “Preacher, you know, we’re not so different, you and me. We both believe in Jesus. And that's all that really matters.”

And I smile and say that we should pray that our churches may one day be united, for this is what Jesus prayed for, too.

What I don’t say—because it is not the place nor the time—is that there are really big differences, important differences, in the various denominations. If there weren’t, then there would have never been the gut-wrenching division that plagues the Body of Christ.

Indeed, if the differences weren’t so big, then why, when Protestants convert to Catholicism, is the cost of the Cross for them so huge?

I direct the RCIA program here and I can tell you that becoming Catholic can cost the convert so much: it may cost him his extended family who sees him as a traitor, a pagan, a Papist. It may cost him his friends, as he now sees that living in Christ is different than the bar scene or the sleepy Sundays.

For Catholics, too, living out the faith can cost so much! I think of that Catholic doctor whose job is in jeopardy because he believes the Truth declared by the Church that contraception is wrong and abortion is wrong and we can’t do those things. Or I think of the Catholic in the marketplace who is so tempted by greed or the bottom line at the expense of charity. I think of the college or high school student who is pressured by peers to drink or struggling with that liberal university education which so often harbors doubts and attacks reason. I think of the Catholic mother who, with her kids in the grocery line, is asked whether she has “had enough” and so on.

Yes, there is a difference between Catholics and the world. And if our Catholic living looks like the rest of the world, chances are we are not living out our Catholic faith.

Because Jesus separates us from the world.

I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (Jn 15:19)

Or, as Paul says,

            What fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Cor 6:14)

God, therefore, when He gave the Ten Commandments, called us out from slavery—divided slavery from us and so set us free. The Truth sets us free (Jn 8:32). The Truth divides slavery from freedom. The Commandments divides the world from “those who love him” (Rom 8:28).

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In this is our unity. Just as the Commandments divided Israel from Egypt, so too the Commandments are what constitute Israel as the Chosen People of God—the beginning of the Church.

Truth, the light of Christ, is what unites us as One People of God. Indeed, we are children of the light who no longer belong to darkness nor to night (cf. 1 Thess 5:5).

And we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1)—witnesses from the Greek, meaning “martyr”—those in heaven whom I will mention in the Roman Canon today; and those who sit among us in the pews.

Right now, there are Catholics sitting next to you who are giving up everything to be Catholic. Given up family so as to convert; family so as to follow Christ; jobs so as to be faithful.

Therefore, if you are struggling, if you are lukewarm… if you are scared about standing up and living out the faith in its rigor and vigor… well, our Lord has brought you here. Because He said, “I have come to set the earth on fire”—that is, to set us ablaze with His Love, His Holy Spirit. And by the graces at this Holy Mass, He is doing that.

And He longed for that. He longed to bring you here and set you on fire with Love for Him. Indeed, He Himself longed for the cost. He said, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized” (He is talking about going to His death on the Cross) “and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” He agonized—He couldn’t wait!—to show us how much He loved us. He couldn’t wait to divide us from sin, so that “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12).

So as to unite us to Him. For “if we have been united with Him in a death like His”—to love Him with all our mind, our heart, our soul, and our strength—“then we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Rom 6:5).

That is the whole point of the division. That, divided from this world, we may be set free so that “where I am, you also may be” (Jn 14:3).

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