Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Call to War

TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, AUGUST 19, 2007:

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

So far, this new century is not off to a great start. In the first seven years of the 21st century, we have witnessed a tremendous amount of violence in our world. In many ways, this century has been defined by terror and war. Hardly a day passes that we do not hear the sad news of violent aggression and brutality unleashed against people somewhere around the world. To make matters worse, perpetrators of these acts of violence often try to justify these atrocities by claiming that they are fighting a holy war in God’s name. Think of these modern-day crusaders: the Taliban and Al Qaeda just to name a few.

In this context we hear Jesus in today’s Gospel, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Today’s readings can seem to be a call or even a justification for holy war. There certainly is no shortage of groups who like to claim that God is on their side in the battle. I, for one, always prefer the sentiment expressed by Abraham Lincoln who said, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.”

The reality is that yes, we are indeed called to war: but not a war against other people; other nations; other ideologies. Jesus calls us, instead, to a war against sin; not a war against people we perceive as evil, but a war against the evil one, the devil. With this in mind, let us hear again the words of Jesus, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! ... Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

Biblical scholars tell us that Jesus is speaking here not about the purpose of His coming – the goal of Jesus incarnation as a man was not to create division – but, rather He is speaking about the inevitable consequence of His coming. Jesus came to reveal the true sons and daughters of God who listen to God’s word, and the children of this world who oppose God’s plans. This divides humanity into two camps: the camp of the godly and the camp of the ungodly. There is perpetual conflict, a state of war, between these two groups, as one group strives to raise the world up to God and the other to pull it down in sin. These two groups do not live in two different parts of the world, they live side by side in the same neighborhoods, they live together under the same roof, and in the same families, and sometimes godliness and ungodliness exist together in the same person.

We are all called today to take up arms in this holy war. But, the holy war we are called to is not a war against people of certain nationalities or cultures, creeds or ideologies, but a war in which we have to fight the sin within ourselves and encourage holiness in the people who are dear to us (father, son, mother, daughter, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law) and then declare an uncompromising war against the sin in our world.

We don’t need to look any further than the Seven Deadly Sins to find our battleground. It is in the pride of our own superiority; the covetousness of materialism; the lust that invades our whole world; the anger, hatred and bitterness we hold towards others; the gluttony we relish as we overindulge in so many things; the envy and jealousy that we feel towards others; and the sloth that leads us to feel that things should merely be handed to us. To these we can add the great evil of our own day – the injustice wrought upon so many in our world because of their economic status, lack of power, ethnic background, and so on.

And this is where the fire comes in. “I have come to set the earth on fire!” Or perhaps a better way of understanding this, “I have come to set your heart on fire with a desire for holiness!” Too often, we tend to think of holiness as unattainable; as something for other people, but not for me. So, the Lord asks each of us today, “Do you want to be on fire for God? With God?” Let the power of God set them embers of holiness on fire within you. Let the Holy Spirit of God ignite an unquenchable flame for goodness, holiness, peace, justice, forgiveness and love in your hearts!

I think of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who after encountering the Risen Lord, exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us!” This is the kind of fire that the Lord wants to ignite today in you. Let Him light that flame and stoke it into a blazing fire through your prayer, devotion, and works of goodness and holiness in the world.

Let your heart burn for Him! Let that fire spread to those around you – to your family, your friends, your co-workers, everyone you meet. My brothers and sisters, today is our call to arms. A war is at hand – a war for the holiness of our souls. Let us set our souls ablaze for the Lord! Let us vanquish the enemy! Let us burn for the things of God!

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

May God give you peace.

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