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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Fr. Bob Warren's "This Week's Reflection" - I Come to Bring Fire and the Sward

Franciscan Friars
Franciscan Friars
I Come to Bring Fire and the Sword
(Luke 12:49-53)
Somehow, it is difficult to imagine Jeremiah would have ever become famous as a TV evangelist. After a few weeks of unpopular preaching as in today's readings, poor Nielsen ratings would surely have caused cancellation of their shows. But the fact remains, poor ratings or not, nothing and no one can cancel or bury the prophetic messages of Jeremiah and Jesus. Their words, however threatening or unattractive as they may seem, must be reckoned with.
It's always a temptation to preach the gospel of Jesus in a selective manner. We sometimes want to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, to such a degree that the message of Christ may become colorless and powerless. But the gospel is an integral whole with words of peace, as well as words of fire, with the power to unite, as well as the power to divide. Watering down Jesus' words to render the palatable is a disservice to the radical life He lived and the radical message He preached.
When you read, I mean really read, the gospels, you should wear a seatbelt and a helmet, because the words of Jesus can hit you like a whirlwind. Jesus did not intend to stroke his contemporaries into placid contentment. His was a prophet's vocation, and He spoke for God.
Every moment of Jesus' life, every word, every work, every parable, was an invitation challenging the doubter to faith and the believer to commitment. Jesus caused people to think, to question, to evaluate, and ultimately, to accept or reject Him. Many of us do not understand Jesus. Some have a sweet picture of Jesus, meek and mild in pastel colors…a nice man who wouldn't offend anyone. That is not the real Jesus, not the Jesus the New Testament tells us about.
Many Christians have an incredibly shallow message of Jesus' message. Something like, "It's nice to be nice." Or please try a little harder to be good. Or caring and sharing are good ideas. Jesus came in His own words to kindle fire on earth. He came to bring division. The gospel is not only meant to comfort, but also to blast us out of our complacency.
In this gospel, Jesus, as always, is being honest, a realist. He is telling those who follow that they are going to meet with opposition. At this time, Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem, the road to death. Great crowds surround him, all sorts of people, and many of them willing to join up with Him, but without appraising the cost. He wants them to think it over seriously. To be my disciple is extraordinarily difficult. You may even have to give up family, friends, because you see absolutely nobody and nothing comes before Me.
In simple language, without exaggeration, the first condition for a Christian is Jesus is number one in your life. Put Jesus at the top of one's list has done over the centuries what Jesus predicted. All too often it has set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother.
The gospel always asks us the question, where does Christ rank in my day-to-day existence? When I have to choose between rival loves – God or money, Christ or power, Christ or fame, Christ or pleasure. The gospel shouldn't surprise us. Putting God first is nothing new, remember, in the scripture. "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself." Love for the things of God, for the people of God, then you are starting to live the Christian gospel.
To follow Christ is not the same things as to imitate Christ. We are not expected to copy Christ, to reproduce His life. We were not born in a stable. We don't dress as He dressed, walk as He walked. We can't change the water into wine, or raise the dead to life. We live in our own historical circumstances. We live our faith, hope and love in ways Jesus, in His restricted life could not experience. He was a man, not a woman. He did not experience old age or Alzheimer's disease. His life was very different from the one we live. Still, we are called to follow Him, to make Him number one in our lives. In the final analysis, when push comes to shove, to follow Christ means that you are ready to carry a cross. "Whoever does not take up their cross is not worthy of Me", for to be Jesus' disciple is to pattern yourself after a crucified Master, but one who came not to be served, but to serve. The cross seems part of everyone's life, be it pain of mind or body, the death of a loved one, the insecurities of youth and the trembling of old age. Yes, to be like Jesus, we all carry a cross.
We can try to be like Him in the way we treat others, in the kind of relationship we have with God the Father. You can't make God number one in your life, unless you know God, and I mean KNOW Him, not just know about Him. The trouble is, so often we try to understand God in human terms and wonder why we get frustrated when we can't. We forget what our 8th Grade nun told us, that God is a mystery. You just accept it, just simply be open to God. You don't analyze the orchid. You smell it. You enjoy it. So don't misspend your life proving that God exists. Open yourself to God in love. Then He will be part of your life. He will be your number one.
This gospel is heavy metal, and still it is gospel Good News and Glad Tidings. What's so good and glad about it? It answers a critical question. How shall I live? Make sure that no person, however deeply loved, nothing, however precious, pre-empts the place that Christ should occupy in my life. And we should not forget an important fact – we are not alone as Jesus promised.
"If you love me, you will keep my word and my Father will love you, and we will come to you and make our home with you." God will not ask how often you were right, but how honestly you tried; not how brilliant you were, but how loving.
Remember what He told us. I am the way, the truth and the life. There is no other.
Fr. Robert Warren
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Robert Warren Signature
Fr. Robert Warren, S.A.
Spiritual Director
P.S. Beginning on August 23rd, the Friars of the Atonement will celebrate Thirteen Special Tuesday Masses honoring St. Anthony of Padua, the "Saint of Miracles". Join with us by sending your most heartfelt petitions to me now. I pray that St. Anthony and the Saints bless you with their loving patronage for all the good you will do in Christ's name.

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