In preaching, I frequently point out that when we find a passage of Sacred Scripture that shocks or disturbs us, we need to really explore the meaning of those words. There is always a deep truth there. This Sunday we have an excellent example of surprising, and challenging words from Christ, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51). What is that all about? Christ came into the world to give us Truth, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” John 14:6 and “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32. Truth causes conflict. Why? Because of a defect in the human psyche, that we call original sin, we tend to self-absorption. None of us like criticism, especially when it is accurate. This presents you and me, as Christians, with a two-fold challenge. First, to really examine myself. Do my actions, thoughts, plans, desires, conform to the Truth Christ has revealed? Secondly, am I willing to live and defend those truths in the face of opposition?
Jeremiah was a prophet (not a bullfrog, you know, Three Dog Night, 1970…never mind) who lived in Israel late in the seventh century BC. The Israelites were being threatened by foreign powers and were adopting foreign practices and religion, “go along to get along.” Jeremiah strenuously tries to remind the people that they have a covenant with God and God will protect them. Our first reading tells us that the response of the people is to throw Jeremiah into a pit of mud. When we really try to live our faith, the response of people around us, even friends, family, fellow parishioners, can make us feel like we are sinking in the mud.
The paradox we face is that the Truth of Christ, taught by the Catholic Church, is what we need and is highly unpopular. Because of self-absorption, sin, and selfishness in the world, the consent of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the words of the angel Gabriel could only lead to conflict. Only God can resolve the conflict in human culture, but we are obligated to assist in that work. Our work toward peace and harmony in the world must, necessarily, begin with our own hearts. On the other hand, when we really live our faith, in compassion, respect, kindness, humility and worship of God, people around us notice. We have to remember that the people around us, family, friends, coworkers, know we are Catholic. If they don’t, we need to wonder why, but they see what we do, they hear what we say and how we say it. Hopefully, people see in us a calm joy that is attractive. Hopefully, they are compelled to ask about that. As St. Peter wrote in his first letter, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15).
So how do we find peace and joy in our own lives and overcome the conflict around us? Jesus Christ came into the world to give us Truth. We receive that truth in Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church. More importantly, the Truth of Christ is a relationship with Him. Relationship takes work. Relationship requires communication. We need to hear God in the teaching of the Church. We need to talk to God in a steady routine of prayer. We need to seek out face-to-face contact with God. That is what the Sacraments are. Christ promised to be with us to the end of time (Matthew 28:20) and that promise is fulfilled in the Sacraments of the Church. At Mass, bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. Mass is a direct encounter with God. In Sacramental Confession, Christ forgives our sins. Confession is a direct encounter with God.
We, as individuals, cannot fix the world, but God is at work to bring salvation to humanity. We cooperate with Him by focusing our attention on His Truth and living the relationship that Truth gives.