"I have come to set the earth on fire."

Twentieth Sunday of the Year Later in this Mass, we will remember what Jesus told his disciples, "Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you," and we will then exchange a greeting of peace. But in today’s gospel reading, Jesus says "I have come not to establish peace on the earth; I have come for division." Can he have it both ways? What are we to make of this? "Peace" means different things to different people and in different times. To some, peace means that everything is quiet, there are no disturbances; law and order prevail. These may be signs of real peace, but maybe not. Underneath the surface tranquility, there may be injustice, racism, sexism, ageism, economic exploitation, religious discrimination and many other kinds of oppression. There may be laws passed to perpetuate these kinds of oppression, and people can get in trouble for protesting or acting against them. That’s not real peace; that’s violence disguised as respectability. The command to love our neighbor obliges us to protest against mistreatment and to struggle for justice. That can create division. It can even get people thrown into jail. When Doctor King and others fought for racial justice, they were called "outside agitators." They followed the example of Jesus and tried to "light a fire on the earth." Thank God, they succeeded! Today our country is not at peace. Yes, we are threatened by terrorists, but they are not the only enemy. The terrorists do not divide us; we are united in opposing them. But peace is also threatened from within. We cannot say that as a nation we are truly at peace, as long as millions go without health insurance. As long as minorities are treated differently than others by law enforcement. As long as women are paid less than men for the same kind of work. As long as special interests are allowed to destroy our environment. As long as gentrified neighborhoods leave whole families out on the street. As long as prosecutors put innocent defendants on death row. As long as unborn children are deprived of their right to life. When we Catholics and other Christians and other people of good will protest against these violations of human dignity, we are called divisive. Many of our fellow citizens aspire to a false kind of peace; to them we seem like the prophet Jeremiah, disturbers of their complacency. We sin against what seems to be a highly regarded virtue among Americans--not to cause anyone pain, or to feel another’s pain. Since in this country they are not allowed to silence us, they treat us like outsiders or just ignore us. We shouldn’t be surprised; prophets have always been treated that way. James DiGiacomo, S.J.
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10 years 8 months ago
Fr., I was doing some research for my homily tomorrow and came across your homily. Thank you for your words most especially for including the unborn in your list of social ills causing a lack of peace. Too many of us priests overlook the reality that Mother Teresa explains so well. "There will be no peace in the world until there is peace in the womb." Thank you again and may Christ continue to bless your ministry.
10 years 8 months ago
Very interesting. This text from Luke is one of the year's most difficult, and I suspect the average parish priest needs all the help he can get in drawing out its meaning for the congregation (at a Mass I went to, the celebrant unfortunately struck out). Fortunately I had with me an NT in another language (not English) reminding the reader that for Luke, "fire" is often used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit -- that was also helpful (and should have been obvious to me). Two questions: a) how can we get more priests who need it to read your blog on preaching? and b) (a question that has always puzzled me). Why is it that often, at masses for children, the priest will question them about what they think X or Y in the Gospel means, but NEVER is this techique used with adults? It is, after all, a wonderful way of engaging the congregation. Most priests would say, I expect, that there simply isn't time for this sort of thing; but I don't believe that for a moment, and I suspect the reasons are far more obvious. Nicholas Clifford


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