Dear Friends and Parishioners,
Luke’s gospel (12:49-53), challenges us to the core. Just when we think we have a handle on Jesus’ message of working for the Kingdom of God, Jesus shakes us up once again. Jesus says that he has come to set a fire on the earth. He will be the source of division, and he hopes for a great fire to be blazing on the earth.
We know how the truth can divide us. We understand even within our families that life and faith are complicated and the truth may first divide us from one another. Luke is trying to get our attention and remind us of the radical understanding of faith. Faith is very countercultural; faith and the Church are not meant to be static or status quo. We are believers for the long haul and that means we are to put our lives on the line and get with Jesus to continue to push his agenda of faith, integrity, prayer and justice.
True faith does indeed cause turmoil, because most people do not want to change. We tend to think that the Church is meant to sustain the opinions that we already hold. We want the Church just to confirm our lackadaisical attitudes and our own biases and prejudices. Faith, however, causes us to dig deep into the radical notions of how prayer changes our hearts, and allows us to live in a new understanding of forgiveness, compassion and mercy.
As we continue in the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis is also calling for us to live with such fire. Faith is strong and enduring; it cuts deep into our shallow notions of love, hospitality and healing. Jesus wants us to cut our ties with our cynicism, our obtuseness, our coldness toward other people.
Jesus claims this fire within us when we truly give over our lives to faith. For most Christians, we want very much to “control” Jesus—to monitor how he is involved in our parish churches and how mercy and love are distributed. I admit that I see this all the time in the Church. When we resist working for the poor or the needs of our neighbors we are in fact trying to control how the Holy Spirit works. The mercy that Pope Francis is trying to get us to understand is the mercy of a generous, abundant, consoling God. We cannot control mercy and love; we cannot censor or set up rules or communities to govern how God can manage his people. In other words, God is God and we are not.
As we move toward implementing many of the projects and educational opportunities in our strategic plan at Sacred Heart, I hope that a new fire will grab hold of us here in our parish. I cannot be the pastor here without this hope. It has taken my first three years to get things moving—I hope that our parish will continue to move forward, that the Holy Spirit will seize us and bring us continually into a greater trust and love of God.
Some questions to ponder this week:
We are all baptized in Christ. This is the source of the “fire.” What does it mean for you to live out your baptismal commitment to Christ? Where have you grown weak in your prayer and commitment?
Jesus says that division will be apparent in our human relationships. How do you see faith—the Church—being a source of division in your family? How can you pray for harmony and peace? Can you take the risk of genuine faith and the radical lifestyle of Christ Jesus? What are you waiting for?