22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Opening Reflection Story:
A Deacon I know who had been ordained for 12 years was accused by a parishioner of making an offensive statement during his unscripted homily. After a public debate of accusations and denials that went on for months, the Deacon felt it necessary to use a written text, reading it word for word, to avoid future conflicts. For a while, the Inquisition period was a setback for the Deacon’s ministry, but he has since recovered.
Hearts on Fire:
Even though God dedicated Jeremiah to be a prophet before his birth and equipped him with every skill needed to accomplish the task, Jeremiah did not willingly embrace the prophetic office (Jeremiah 1:6). As God’s mouthpiece, Jeremiah warned the people of God’s impending judgment and punishment if they persisted in their rebellious ways. But they responded with rejection, insults, threats, and violence; they could not bear the truth. In today’s first reading, Jeremiah expresses frustration at the backlash experienced from doing God’s will. “I say to myself, I will not mention Him, I will speak in His name no more” (Jeremiah 20:9a). Finally, knowing that truth must prevail, Jeremiah doesn’t hold back but yields to God’s leading (Jeremiah 20:9b). What can we learn from Jeremiah’s dilemma? Because he consistently spoke and acted according to the Lord’s will, Jeremiah identified and conquered the counterfeit claims of his detractors (Jeremiah 28:1-17). This lesson is not exclusive to preachers but to all who sincerely desire to live as disciples of Jesus Christ by following God’s will and word and speaking the truth as given to us through the Church. When we persistently immerse ourselves in God’s word and allow it to rule our lives, falsehood, accusations, and persecution will not overcome the good we do.
Thirsting for God:
Some background on today’s Psalm. Saul, the sitting King of Israel, became fiercely jealous of young David (the one who defeated the giant Goliath). After Israel’s battles with their enemies, the women chanted, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousand’s.” This infuriated King Saul, and he vowed to kill David. So, David fled in hiding to the wilderness of Judah, and Saul, with his army, sought after him.
Our Psalm response, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God,” expresses the heart of David, who in hiding was separated from God’s presence in the Temple and longed to worship his Lord. Some of us have a longing in our hearts. It may be for a lost love, greater wealth, better health, or happiness, but St. Augustine wrote (from personal experience), “You have formed us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in you.” Anything we search for outside of putting God first in our lives will surely disappoint. Like David, Augustine, and so many saints, we too should hunger and thirst for more, not less, of God’s involvement in our lives. Being immersed in the Sacramental life of the Church benefits our spiritual well-being.
The section of Paul’s letter to the Romans, which contains today’s second reading, is headed, The Duties of Christians. Here, Paul declares God’s wisdom, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). We can become witnesses of Christ’s presence in our lives by being transformed from within, a change of heart and mind that animates our words and actions. Left to ourselves, we will live a life dominated by satisfying desires of the flesh. But transformed by God’s Spirit, we will live as Christ-centered disciples rather than self-centered entities. In Paul’s admonition, a halfway measure will not do.
Chapter 16 of Matthew’s Gospel presents two interesting dialogues between Jesus and Peter. In the first, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15-16). Peter responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Then, in today’s reading (the first prediction of Jesus’ Passion), Jesus says he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly… and be killed… (Matthew 16:21-22). Again, Peter replies, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
For the first reply, Jesus commends Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon,” because Peter spoke by the prompting of the Father. But Peter’s reaction to Jesus saying He would suffer and be killed,” even though spoken out of concern and compassion, gets a rebuke from Jesus because it contradicts God’s plan for salvation.
Our ‘concern’ can be misguided. If, as Peter did, we speak against truth (God’s divine will and plan, as revealed in Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and the teaching magisterium of the Church).
Recently, I spoke with a mother of two pre-teens who is worried about the words and images popular music, games, the internet, social media, and ‘smart’ devices are having on her children. While trying to instill Christian values, she feels overwhelmed by the continuous barrage of lifestyle options invading her children’s minds. She already sees signs of rebellion when teaching them her counter-cultural Christian standards.
Parents, teachers, preachers, and all people of goodwill who take their responsibility to speak truth seriously, based on a firm belief in God, experience frustrations and challenges. Like Jeremiah, some of us may try to avoid our ‘prophetic’ call. It would be easier to say nothing, look the other way, or tell people what they want to hear.
However, living according to God’s Way compels us to speak the truth with love. We cannot be silent or complicit in matters of faith and morals contrary to God’s word and the Church’s teachings.