Saturday, November 12, 2016
Growing up, my dad traveled a lot for business – often away from home several days a week. So, I am very familiar with the passage in today’s First Reading, as my mom would too often need to recite it to my misbehaving brother and sister: Lo, the day is coming, [my mom would say] blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the [mother of this home]. I am just kidding. Actually, my sister and brother and their families are here at this Mass with my parents to celebrate my parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary, which is the intention for this Mass and for which Fr. John will kindly offer a blessing for them. When I have the opportunity to Baptize infants, I always try to make the point to parents that they are the first and best teachers of their children – in all things, just not our faith. In fact the Baptismal rite stresses this point several times, so I try to emphasize that this point is especially true when the parents are mad or frustrated or even hurt by their spouse. I remind them that their children will certainly see and hear how the parents interact and will follow their example. So, I urge the parents to call on the grace they received in the Sacrament of Marriage to love their spouse when it may be hard to love them, to forgive even when it might seem impossible to do so, to care for and show respect for their spouse when that may be the last thing they want to do. This is the example they provide their children in how to be a Christian, this is the example they will imitate in trying to be a Christian. And this is the point St. Paul is making in today’s Second Reading as he tries to teach and correct his friends by urging them to follow his example. And this is the gift my parents have given my brother, sister and me: a wonderful example of love, forgiveness, respect and care for each other which each of us tries to imitate in our married lives, as parents and as Christians to others. For this, and may other things, we thank you and celebrate fifty years of marriage. One final note on my parents: I am happy to report that they have not handed us over to be put to death as today’s Gospel warns – and for this we also thank you! While I am making light of this passage, today’s Gospel is an important message for us to hear. We can easily dismiss the message as doom and gloom – not something that applies to us, certainly not today (although depending on how you are feeling after Tuesday’s election, opinions may differ). But this an important and timely message we need to hear and respond to because it reveals a wonderful truth about our loving God and offers us a source of hope, peace and even joy in the midst of hardship. The scholar William Barclay reminds us that this passage offer several important insights into Jesus and about being a Christian today. First, Jesus could read the signs of the times. Like the prophet Malachi, in today’s first reading, who made a stern warning to the Israelites who had become lukewarm in their faith and lax in the obedience to God, Jesus was prophetic in speaking the truth to his disciples. Jesus clearly saw and warns of the terrible things people would suffer as his followers. It must have been with great sadness that Jesus was aware of the things to come for those whom he loved so much. Which leads to the second insight: Jesus was completely honest. One of the guiding principles of my employer is that when we communicate, we are to be open, honest and transparent – there are no games, manipulation, bait-and-switch in our interactions with others. Similarly, Jesus loves us and respects us so much that he is always going to be honest with us. This is true in the Gospel stories we read, in the Church Jesus established, and through the Holy Spirit working in and through us. The third insight is that Jesus promised his disciples that they would never meet their tribulations alone. Certainly, if your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends have not handed you over to be put to death, then I pray that they are in your life to help you face you challenges. And it is our loving God who is fully present in wonderful and sometime mysterious ways and who gives us the grace – the help – we need to face any challenge, any tribulation with courage, humility and perseverance. Finally, the Gospel passage reassures us with Jesus’ promise of safety that is beyond the threats of this world. We will experience pain and suffering – physical, emotional, spiritual – but “not a hair on our head will be destroyed” – this is the promise Jesus gives us. And as the First Reading reminds us: for those who trust in God and follow his commands, despite any trial or tribulation, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays. See, out of great love for you and me, Jesus – the sun of justice – will speak the truth to us, he will always be honest with us, he will never leave us alone in our suffering, and will protect and care for us. This is a great source of hope, joy and even peace for me (and I hope for you) in the face of hardship. The reality is – because of sin – there will always be pain and suffering in our world and in our lives; and for those who seek God’s love and share this love with others, evil will lead others who reject this love to turn against us. So, it is not a matter of “if,” but “when” and “how” we as Christians might suffer. The late Cardinal Francis George once predicted: “I expect to die in my bed, my successor to die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.” I pray that my parents, many, many years from now will die in their bed; I pray that I might have the courage to die in prison or a martyr in the public square for being a Christian; and I pray that my sons will have the faith –through the example of their parents and grandparents – to pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization. And, I pray for each of you when and how you might suffer for being Catholic in your family, in your place of work, or elsewhere that you might always know and be strengthened by God’s love. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 6:48 AM