A Religious War
Homily for August 14, 2016 Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
Today’s Gospel is short and - maybe – not so sweet. Jesus is saying that there will be division in the world for those who follow Him. And we only have to turn to the news to see that even today, he’s STILL right.
Pope Francis said two weeks ago that the world IS at war, but not a religious war. ISIS disagreed, responding to the pope’s comments that he is naïve and that from their perspective, it IS a religious war. Which is right?
Pope Francis is right when he says that wars, despite what a person may claim, are usually about someone (or a group of someones) that want something that someone else has – whether it is money or resources, or power – and are willing to resort to violence to obtain it. And ISIS is only the most recent group in our long history that has used religion as an excuse to obtain what they want – their own way.
But in reality, for true Christians there is only one true “religious” war, and it is fought daily by individuals against themselves. It is the ages-old battle that we often refer to as being between Good and Evil – and I don’t mean between Jesus and the Devil. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the Devil does exist, and when he takes sides, he isn’t on the side of Good. But for each of us the true religious war lies in deciding which of two gods we will follow – the One True God, or a false god. And there is only one false god, and it's not Satan. It’s the god that we see whenever we look in a mirror. It is either God’s way or our way, and we try to make ourselves into gods when we decide not to follow God's Will. All of the wars and divisions and hatred and greed and pride and any of the other deadly forces we face are the result of wanting things our own way.
That’s the division Jesus is speaking of today. And if everyone truly followed the teachings of Jesus - of love, of obedience, of mercy - then there would be no wars – there would be no need for them.
But we refuse to follow Jesus, and so, we are at war. As Christians we must be defenders of our faith when attacked, whether that be from terrorists from half-way around the world with warped ideologies, or from those closest to us in our families and workplaces. As Christians versus the rest of the world, however, there has to be a difference in our approach to the battle – like the original old hippies’ 1960’s anti-war slogan: Love not war. (It wasn’t “make love not war”, despite what some might think.) To be a Christian, our approach to battle has to be one of love and mercy. One of peace and not violence. One of sacrifice.
But not everyone believes as Christians should, and so we are a house divided. That's how Jesus describes it: A House Divided. And then Jesus makes it even more personal: it's father against son; mother against daughter. (In-laws against out-laws? – uh, nevermind.)
For those of us who have children who have left the Church, or family members or friends who have left the faith, this Gospel passage strikes at our hearts. We love and care for our children, our family, our friends, and yet they won’t listen to us! They have NO respect!
I mean, just look at the kids today. They almost all have cell phones and, if they still watch TV, it’s probably because they have one in their bedroom. We blame their bad manners and lack of respect for us and other authoritarian figures like teachers and police officers on the media and we claim that they are tuned out because of computer games and texting and social media. Reminds me of a quote I once heard:
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
(By the way, for those of you who didn’t figure it out, that quote comes from Socrates, approximately 400 years before Christ walked the earth.) Nothing new here - some things never change.
But we really do want them to save them, right? And as good Catholics, we see in our faith the way to salvation. And so we must be strong in our faith. And if we are to be strong in our faith, we must be on FIRE for our faith.
Do you consider yourself on fire for your faith? If not, why? What would it take to light a fire within you? To make you STRONG in your faith?
Many of you have been watching the Olympics in Rio, and you know that in order to compete at that level, there is one thing they must do – PRACTICE. They practice in their field because they believe in their ability to compete. And so it should be with us. We must PRACTICE our faith in order to compete well against the challenges that we face.
As we begin a new school year, St. Paul’s has many, many opportunities for you to grow stronger in your faith, but it will take more than just the one hour at Mass on Sunday. Become a member in one of the many organizations here like Catholic Daughters, the Men’s Club, Knights of Columbus, the Women’s Guild, and VOLUNTEER whenever the opportunity arises. Spend at least one additional hour each week participating in something beyond the hour you spend at Mass. And if you REALLY want to help set the world on fire for Christ, set YOURSELF on fire through participating in our upcoming ACTS retreat.
But for next week, I want you to put your faith to work and try something. Invite a family member or friend who has fallen away from the Church to come to Mass with you. Invite your children – those older ones you can’t force to come with you – and bribe them with lunch or dinner or SOMETHING if you have to. They may say, "no", but you can and must keep trying. It may be the spark they need to start a fire in their soul.
And it may help enkindle that fire within you, too.