Jesus’ words today may seem strange or even disheartening to us. We are more comfortable when Jesus tells us to love our neighbor (not that we always do) than today’s words that He comes “to set the earth on fire” and that He comes not “to establish peace’ but “division.”
Every time we celebrate Mass, we exchange a “sign of peace.” We do this remembering Jesus’s words “Peace be with you.” How are we to recognize “love your neighbor” and “peace be with you” with the division that Jesus speaks of?
Thinking of love, our opening prayer today asks God to “fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love.” Yet the reality is that there is real division in the world.
Jesus’ speaks of his baptism that is to come. His baptism by John the Baptist has already happened. The future baptism that Jesus speaks of is his Crucifixion, his death that brings new life. Many accepted Jesus but not all. There was real division.
This division is not new with Jesus. We see it with Jeremiah. There are those who seek to put Jeremiah to death. Their reason is that he is “demoralizing the soldiers” and “he is not interested in the welfare of our people.”
That’s not true. Jeremiah spoke as a prophet of the Lord to lead them to a better life. They wanted to get rid of Jeremiah because he was telling them of their sins and need to change but they didn’t want to.
The king consents to their desire because he “could do nothing with them.” I think the king consented just to “keep the peace.”
How often do we choose to keep silence or seemingly consent to actions we do not approve of just to keep the peace?
Am I saying that we need to be very vocal in speaking up against others’ sin and behavior? Maybe. Maybe not. What we need to do is to let the Holy Spirit guide us to know what to say and when to say it that accomplishes God’s Will. If all we do is offend others so they won’t talk to us, we can’t help lead them to Christ. On the other hand, if we just keep silent, again, we can’t lead them to Christ.
It’s not easy. There is division. Sometimes it is within our own families. It might be people whose beliefs are different than us. How we to “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus?”
First, we need to realize we don’t need to do it alone. I’ve mentioned relying on the Holy Spirit. Of course, we also have Jesus who “endured the cross” and “opposition” for our sake.
We also have “so great a cloud of witnesses” for our aid. Who are the “cloud of witnesses”?
They are the saints. They are the ones who have gone before us and are now with God. Some of them are martyrs who held fast to our faith “to the point of shedding blood.” Of course, many saints are not martyrs but they strived to live good holy lives as witnesses to Jesus. Others were not always good disciples but they opened themselves to the Lord and underwent conversion.
In the saints our churches are named after, we see a variety. St. Lucy was a martyr. St. Thomas Aquinas a scholar who lived his whole live in faith. St. Patrick was born Catholic but was an atheist at the point he was kidnapped and made a slave. It was in slavery he had his conversion experience.
You may have read in the bulletin or seen on our parish Facebook page that in September I will start a short series of presentations on the saints of our churches. I’ll start with a general introduction about saints and the misconceptions of how we as Catholics view the saints. Then, I will talk about each of the saints of our churches.
For now, know that the saints serve as a “cloud of witnesses”, to be examples of what it means to follow Jesus even when it means struggles and divisions in our lives. Know that they are interceding for us.
The saints are important to us as examples and intercessors. First among them is Mary. Yet, the saints are not what is most important. The saints are not “god.” They are witnesses. The saints point us to Jesus who is the one who gave his life for us. Jesus is the one who walks with us through division, leading us to the peace of his kingdom.