20 Sunday C: Set the Earth on Fire

Contemporary prophets in the Church:  
The Jesuit Cardinal Avery Dulles, writing about the role of prophecy in the modern church communities in his book Models of the Church, remarks: “Christianity is not healthy unless there is room in it for prophetic protest against abuses of authority.” God continues to send such prophets to every parish community and it is the duty of the bishop, pastor and parish council to listen to the well-intended and constructive criticisms of such Jeremiahs.

Tony De Melo:  Where's the Fire? 

There was a man who invented the art of making fire. He took his tools and went to a tribe in the north, where it was very cold, bitterly cold. He taught the people there to make fire. The people were very interested. He showed them the uses to which they could put fire: they could cook, could keep themselves warm, etc. They were so grateful that they had learned the art of making fire. But before they could express their gratitude to the man, he disappeared. He wasn’t concerned with getting their recognition or gratitude; he was concerned about their well-being. He went to another tribe, where he again began to show them the value of his invention. People were interested there too, a bit too interested for the peace of mind of their priests, who began to notice that this man was drawing crowds and they were losing their popularity. So they decided to do away with him. They poisoned him, crucified him, put it any way you like. But they were afraid now that the people might turn against them, so they were very wise, even wily. Do you know what they did? They had a portrait of the man made and mounted it on the main altar of the temple. The instruments for making fire were placed in front of the portrait, and the people were taught to revere the portrait and to pay reverence to the instruments of fire, which they dutifully did for centuries. The veneration and the worship went on, but there was no fire.

Where’s the fire? Where’s the love? Where’s the freedom? This is what spirituality is all about. Tragically, we tend to lose sight of this, don’t we? This is what Jesus Christ is all about. But we overemphasized the “Lord, Lord,” didn’t we? Where’s the fire? And if worship isn’t leading to the fire, if adoration isn’t leading to love, if the liturgy isn’t leading to a clearer perception of reality, if God isn’t leading to life, of what use is religion except to create more division, more fanaticism, more antagonism? It is not from lack of religion in the ordinary sense of the word that the world is suffering, it is from lack of love, lack of awareness. And love is generated through awareness and through no other way, no other way. Understand the obstructions you are putting in the way of love, freedom, and happiness and they will drop. Turn on the light of awareness and the darkness will disappear.
Fr. Jude Botelho:

Jeremiah had the unpleasant task of warning the people that if they continued in their corrupt way of life and did not repent and return to God their nation would be destroyed. The people did not like Jeremiah’s warnings and complained that his message was demoralizing the people. He was accused of treason and punished by being lowered in a cistern where he was stuck in the mud until he was rescued. Jeremiah knew he had to speak the truth and warn the people no matter what the consequences for his life. Despite his pain, the prophet remained faithful to his mission.

Courage to confront
In the 1920s an English adventurer named Mallory led an expedition to conquer Mount Everest. His first, second and even his third attempt, with an experienced team, met with failure. Upon his return to England, the few who had survived held a banquet to salute Mallory and those who had perished. As he stood up to speak he looked around and saw picture frames of himself and those who had died. Then he turned his back on the crowd and faced a large picture of Mount Everest looming large like an unbeatable giant. With tears streaming down his face, he spoke to the mountain on behalf of his dead friends. “I speak to you Mt. Everest, in the name of all brave men living, and those yet unborn. Mt. Everest, you defeated us once, you defeated us twice; you defeated us three times. But Mt. Everest, we shall someday defeat you because you can’t get any bigger and we can.”
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’

Today’s gospel is called the gospel of fire because of the inevitable confrontation it speaks of as part of living the Christian life. Jesus bluntly states the meaning and purpose of his life when he says, “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already.” Once touched by Jesus our lives are never the same. He ignites us to live fully; He pushes us into the centre of life so that we are forced to take a stand for or against him. “Do you suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” These words of Jesus disturb us. In today’s gospel Jesus talks about his mission by using the metaphor of lighting a fire, and he refers to his passion by using the image of a baptism to be received. Both fire and water are ambivalent symbols. Fire can be awesome and it was seen by the Israelites to symbolize the presence of God. It was also terrifying in its power and symbolized its ability to cleanse, divide, destroy and purify, as the Jews experienced during their Exodus. Jesus also says he has a baptism to receive, which brings to mind another ambivalent symbol of God’s activity –water. This water brings life, refreshment, cleansing and healing but also destruction and death. Today’s gospel puts Jesus and what he stood for in sharp perspective. No one who accepts Jesus can be the same. His message would bring a sword, even to people who were closely related to each other.

Fiddler on the Roof
An example of the opposition that faith brings about in a family occurs in the play Fiddler on the Roof. The plot centres around a man named Tevye, the father of a poor Jewish family. He has five daughters but no son. His eldest daughter marries a tailor who was not chosen for her by the traditional matchmaker. After a struggle with his conscience Tevye accepts the marriage. His next daughter marries a college student who has broken with many Jewish traditions. After a struggle with his conscience, Tevye accepts this marriage too. Finally, his third daughter, Chava, marries a non-Jew, a young Russian soldier. When Golde, his wife breaks the news to him, Tevye sings a song. In it he pours out his heart to God. At that moment Chava appears and pleads with Tevye to accept her and her husband. Tevye looks up to heaven and says: “How can I accept them? Can I deny everything I believe in? On the other hand, can I deny my own child?” (But if I deny everything I believe in…) if I try to bend that far, I will break... No Chava.” – When Jesus invited people to follow him, he realized what he was asking. For them it meant leaving father and mother and family for God.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

The Disciplined Wild Man
“Christianity is not a dull religion!” Nothing could be farther from Jesus’ intention. His own life shows this. He preached on street corners as well as in synagogues. He constantly met new and interesting characters (from wealthy tax collectors to pushy prostitutes.) He was faced with every kind of human problem (from intellectual tests to family squabbles about inheritance). He enjoyed banquets and fasted for weeks in the desert. He asked little children to come into his presence just to enjoy them, and at other times he had fierce battles with the Pharisees whom he called “hypocrites and whitened sepulchers.” William McNamara in his book The Human Adventure, has a fascinating chapter which describes the contemplative active Christ – “The Disciplined Wild Man”! What an appropriate title for Jesus. What a fitting description for the Word of God who came to set the world on fire.”
Eugene Lauer

We stand for God?
Some time ago a newspaper columnist Arthur Jones, shared an important moment in his earlier life with his readers. It happened when he was drafted into the Royal Air Force and found himself in military barracks with 30 other men. On the first night he had to make a decision. He had always knelt to say his prayers. Should he continue to kneel now that he was in military service? He squirmed a little and then said to himself: “Why should I change just because people are watching? Am I going to begin my life away from home by letting other people dictate what I should do or not do?” He decided to kneel. By the time he had finished, he became aware that everyone else was aware of him. And when he made the Sign of the Cross, he was aware that everyone else knew he was a Catholic. As it turned out, he was the only Catholic in the barracks. Yet, night after night he knelt. He said that those ten minutes on his knees often led to discussions that lasted for hours. On the last day in boot camp, someone said to him, “You are the finest Christian I’ve ever met.” He replied, “Well, I might be the most public Christian you’ve ever met, but I don’t think I’m the finest. Still, I thank you for what you said.” – That story illustrates one of the points of today’s gospel. Commitment to Jesus means taking a stand on certain things. And sometimes that stand sets us in opposition to other people.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

Jesus came to light a fire
The fourth graders were studying the Pilgrims coming to America and settling in New England. The teacher asked, “Why did the Puritans leave England for America?” A pupil immediately raised his hand and answered, “So that they could carry on their religion in freedom in their own way, and force others to do the same.”
Application: Is our faith afire burning within? Would others know we are Christians by observing us day to day?
Gerard Fuller in ‘Stories for All Seasons’

Families will be divided
Sr. Tina (name changed) was one of the finest students I’ve had. A ‘doctor’ of science, she lectured in a prestigious college in Mumbai before expressing her desire to enter a convent. This broke the heart of her mother who wanted to see her ‘successful’ by worldly standards. Sadly, Tina’s mother refused to speak to her and didn’t even turn up at peak moments of her life like religious profession. This is an example of what Jesus means by prophesying, “From now, families will be divided... Mother against daughter and daughter against mother.”
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’
1.     Apple and the GPS Glitches:
Apple had to issue a warning recently. Customers who were using a GPS national park hiking trails "app" on their iPhones were warned about some serious "glitches." In several national parks the identified trailhead, the mileages, and the directional guides . . . all were completely off. Several hikers got seriously lost because they trusted downloaded trail information that was fatally flawed. Those hikers had faith in the electronic guidance their hiking "app" had given them. But that faith was rewarded with a "wandering in the wilderness" experience. 
If truth be told, we don't take much "on faith" anymore - or do we? Let's be more precise: We don't take much "on faith" anymore at least from human sources. Anything a politician or a government bureaucrat or a corporate CEO or now even an athlete says and swears is immediately suspicious and suspect. Network media, government warnings and recommendations of professionals like doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, tarot card readers - these days we take them all with a hefty helping of salt, or buckets full of aspirin.   
But as the emergency Apple "app" warning revealed, we do seem to place faith in our electronics. We have more faith in Artificial Intelligence than human intelligence. We input all of our most private information - personal, financial, medical, emotional, and we trust that it is safely stored away. We routinely hit "send" secure in our faith that our message will go swiftly to its appointed destination without interception or invasion. We trust our family trips to a GPS screen and a computer-generated voice that tells us where to go.
What would you do today if your GPS suddenly instructed you to drive your car around the beltway seven times, honking your horn all along the way? What if your GPS insisted this was the only way to reach your desired destination? Would you "have faith" and follow directions?
2.     Without the Fire the Seeds Will Never Grow  
Stretching south for hundreds of miles from Glacier National Park lay a majestic mixture of valleys, rushing streams, and gargantuan mountains called the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Backpackers have hiked there for decades looking for elk, grizzlies and golden eagles. Fortunately the grizzlies stay up in the high country, but a golden eagle may be spotted and the elusive wolverine may be tracked.  
The Bob Marshall Wilderness hosts some 90,000 packers and hikers each year, most of them in the months of July and August. They must come in either by foot or horseback. No motorized vehicles are allowed. The forests on those rugged mountain slopes are thick with Lodgepole Pine, a tough, hardy tree with cones so thick that only extreme heat can burst forth the seeds. That's where fire comes in. For thousands -- oh, millions of years -- lightning has cracked the big sky out there down to the forests below. (Often the lightning will hit the Douglas Firs, less rugged than the Lodgepole Pines, and a forest fire will begin.) For years, of course, the United States Forest Service fought furiously to put out these fires. More recently, they have adopted a policy of managed fires. They have learned these fires have a purpose. Without them the seeds of the Lodgepole Pines are never released. Without them much of the underbrush and plant life there does not regenerate. The earth needs a fire cast on it or it will die.
Jesus, speaking to Peter, that blustery, Lodgepole Pine kind of a man, said, "Peter, I have a fire to cast over the earth, and how I am constrained until it be kindled!" What did Jesus mean? He knew that Peter, like all of his disciples, was a wilderness that needed fire or he would die. Peter needed the fire of God's Word to keep his heart from freezing over and to keep the passion of his soul from cooling down.
John G. Lynn, Trouble Journey, CSS Publishing
3.     Like Fire Cast On the Earth  
Martin Luther knew that the ice of human nature had frozen things over in his day, most especially he thought, in the heart and mind of a man named Erasmus. To that Dutch humanist Luther wrote the Word of God always puts the world in a state of tumult because it comes like fire cast on the earth. "For the Word of God comes, whenever it comes, to change and renew the world."  
Nowhere does the fire of God's Word burn off the ice and cause tumult more than in the differences between generations, in the relationships between father and son and mother and daughter. These relationships tend to freeze over into a cool placidity where mother thinks her daughter must be just as she is, or son thinks he must be a carbon copy of dad. Not so, says the gospel. There will not be agreement between mother and daughter or father and son so much as there will be distinction; each will have a proper share of the kingdom of God. God's Word burns off the ice of mutual identification and kindles the fire of proper identity over and over again.
John G. Lynn, Trouble Journey, CSS Publishing.
4.     Splintered Families
There is evidence of splintered families all around us and among us. A cartoon strip showed a young woman talking to a minister. She said, "John and I are having a terrible time, and we need your advice. We are trying to decide how to divide the furniture, who gets what of the money we've saved and who gets custody of the children."
"Oh," the minister asked, "are you contemplating divorce?"
"Oh, no," she replied. "We are trying to work out our prenuptial agreement."
Carveth Mitchell, The Sign in the Subway, CSS Publishing Company.
5.     A Weird New Religious Cult  
A sociology professor every year begins his course on "The Family" by reading to his class a letter, from a parent, written to a government official. In the letter the parent complains that his son, once obedient and well-motivated, has become involved with some weird new religious cult. The father complains that the cult has taken over the boy's life, has forced him to forsake all of his old friends, and has turned him against his family.  
After reading the letter, the professor asks the class to speculate what the father is talking about. Almost without exception, the class immediately assumes that the subject of the letter is a child mixed up with the "Moonies," or some other controversial group. After the class puts out all of the possible conclusions they can think of, the professor surprises them by revealing that the letter, was written by a third century father in Rome, the governor of his province, complaining about this weird religious group called "The Christians."  
William H. Beljean, Jr., An Interesting Letter
6.     Giving Your Life to the Mission  
This past week I have been thinking about people who have been obsessed with mission. Some years ago, Scott Carpenter died. Scott Carpenter was one of the great citizens of the United States of America. He was one of our seven first astronauts. He was truly a great man. Scott Carpenter was a man who had a sense of mission. Let me read what Scott Carpenter had to say, "This project of being an astronaut and going to the moon, gives me the possibility of using all of my capabilities and all of my interests and gifts at once. This is something that I would be willing to give my life for. I think a person is fortunate to have something that you care that much about that you would give your life for. There are risks involved, that's for sure." Then Scott Carpenter went on to say in the following words in a letter to his wife, "My dear, if this comes to a fatal, screaming fiery end for me, I will have three main regrets. I will have lost the opportunity to prepare for my children's life here on this planet. I will miss the pleasure of seeing you and loving you when you are a grandmother. And will have never learned to play the guitar." Signed, Scott. He cared for his wife. He cared for his children. He wanted to play the guitar. But more than that, more than his love for his wife and children, more than his wanting to learn to play the guitar, Scott Carpenter was willing to give his life for the mission to go to the moon.  
What does it mean to give your life for THE mission of Jesus Christ?
Edward F. Markquart, Christ Brings Division
7.     Making Decisions  
A teenage girl at summer camp was torn between two sets of friends. Some of them were sunbathing on the dock, saying to her "stay with us." But her other friends were in a rowboat saying "no, come with us." There she stood, one foot on the dock, the other foot on the edge of the boat, and the boat was moving. Trying to appease everyone, trying to not decide, she ended up falling into the water; and worse, her hair got wet! 
But I think this is exactly what Jesus is addressing in the gospel lesson today. He is warning us that there will be times when following him will require us to turn away from something else. There will be times in this life when we will be required to say "yes" to one thing, and therefore "no" to the other. And of course, the action we most often take is the same one that girl did on the swimming dock. We try to go in both directions. We try to say "yes" to it all, and we end up falling in between the seams, and being miserable. 
Steven Molin, Flashing Yellow Lights
8.     Trouble Makers 
 Thank God for those free thinkers throughout Christendom who have brought fire upon the earth, the early Church and the Catholic Church which has prevailed for almost 2000 years holding the banner of Christ.
Martin Luther, who called the church back to a Gospel which emphasized grace rather than works. John Wyclif and William Tyndale, who against the wishes of church leadership produced the Bible in the language of the people. William Wilberforce, against the will of many within the church, fought the evil ravages of the institution of slavery. Hudson Taylor, who dared to adopt the customs and culture of the people to whom he was a missionary. He converted people to Jesus, not to Western culture. He changed the focus of foreign missions. Men like John and Charles Wesley, Charles Finney, and Spurgeon, who called upon their churches to reform. They woke the world with their fiery preaching.
These men were trouble makers. Thinkers. Applecart shakers. Men who muddied the water just like Jesus. Heroes of the faith, we now call the, because they were not afraid of division. They knew Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword. In other words: Truth. God's truth is like that. It is a double edged sword. What sounds like peace, the peace that Christ gives, really isn't peace as the world would have it. It is peace as God would have it. And what kind of peace is it that God wants? He wants the peace that exist between you and Him when the weight of your sins no longer are a snare and you can run with endurance the race set before you.  
Brett Blair
9.     What Is Unique About Christianity? 
The story of Jesus sitting and debating the Law with rabbis reminds me of another debate that took place in a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God became incarnate in human form. But someone quickly said, "Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form." Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead. 
Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, armful of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, "what's all this rumpus about?" Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, "We're debating what's unique about Christianity." "Oh, that's easy," answered Lewis. “It’s grace.”  
The room fell silent.  
Lewis continued that Christianity uniquely claims God’s love comes free of charge, no strings attached. No other religion makes that claim.  
After a moment someone commented that Lewis had a point, Buddhists, for example, follow an eight-fold path to enlightenment. It’s not a free ride.
Hindus believe in karma, that your actions continually affect the way the world will treat you; that there is nothing that comes to you not set in motion by your actions.
Someone else observed the Jewish code of the law implies God has requirements for people to be acceptable to him and in Islam God is a God of Judgement not a God of love. You live to appease him

At the end of the discussion everyone concluded Lewis had a point.
Only Christianity dares to proclaim God’s love is unconditional. An unconditional love that we call grace.
Christians boldly proclaim that grace really has precious little to do with us, our inner resolve, or our lack of inner resolve.
Rather, grace is all about God and God freely giving to us the gifts of forgiveness, mercy, and love.

10. The Priest with Fire:  Father James Gilhooley
A priest was getting on a bus. Somehow his shoe came off and fell into the street. Since he could not retrieve it, he took off the second one. He threw it out the window in the direction of the other one. To a puzzled looking passenger, he said, "The fellow who finds the first shoe now will have a good pair to walk about in."

I have just returned from retreat.  Hopefully I am filled with grace. But certainly I am filled with gossip from my fellow priests. They were filled with information about new assignments from our bishop. The shocker is that a certified firebrand among the brethern has been sent to a very proper and wealthy parish as pastor. The priest in question has been lining up on the side of the poor, disenfranchised, and the oppressed since he was priested a quarter of a century ago. Wherever he goes, fire follows him. He has all the scars, many of them quite glorious and even enviable, that go with such a career.

Everyone at the retreat had an opinion pro and con on the appointment. Most dared not speak them publicly since the bishop himself was present. But the one point on which all agreed is that the parish will become a different creation. Given his track record, the new man will most assuredly bring fire to the parish in question. The fox-hunting set there will never be the same again. These aristocrats may well come to feel that they are among the hunted.

But today's Gospel tells us that fire is precisely what the Teacher brought to the earth. Therefore, can we fault a priest if he himself brings that same torch to a small corner of the Teacher's Church? Do you really think the Christ would fault him especially since he is but following His example? Quite obviously our bishop does not fault him.
From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

1.     “Be God’s prophets and God’s microphones” (Oscar Romero).

God sends His prophets to give the world His message in every century. Oscar Romero, Blessed Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dom Helder Camara, Maura Clark, Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford, Jeanne Donovan, and Ella Baker were all twentieth century prophets who had the courage of their Christian convictions to follow Jesus and proclaim his undiluted message which cast fire on earth and caused healthy division in the society as today’s gospel points out.  In 1980, in the midst of a U.S.-funded genocidal war against the so-called leftist rebels in El Salvador, Archbishop Oscar Romero who sided with the poor, exploited farm workers, declared: “If they kill all your priests and the bishop too, each one of you must become God's microphone, each one of you must become a prophet."  "I do not believe in death without resurrection."  "If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people."  Amid overarching violence, Romero wrote to President Jimmy Carter pleading with him to cease sending military aid to the brutal military regime because, he wrote, "it is being used to repress my people."  The U.S. sent $1.5 million in aid every day for 12 years.  Archbishop Romero’s letter went unheeded.  Two months later he was assassinated.  Ending a long homily addressed to the pro-government land owners and peasants and the military and broadcast throughout the country, his voice rose to breaking, "Brothers, you are from the same people; you kill your fellow peasants . . .  No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God.”  There was thunderous applause; he was inviting the army to mutiny.  Then his voice burst, "In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people I ask you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: stop the repression."  Oscar Romero gave his last homily on March 24, moments before a sharpshooter felled him at the altar of a hospital chapel.  Reflecting on the day’s scripture, he had said, "One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives."  In an interview as he was flying to Brazil in May, 2007 Pope Benedict told the reporters, “Romero as a person merits beatification.”  In July 2007, the new Salvadoran conservative government said it would formally request the Vatican to beatify Romero although it will not accept responsibility for his slaying.  Today’s readings remind us that the Church needs prophets like Romero and cautions contemporary prophets that their course will not be easy.  (  

2.      Apathetic Attitude:  

In 1993, the total attendance at worship services in the United States came to 5.6 billion. The total attendance for all pro-basketball, baseball and football games combined was only 103 million, less than 2 percent of the number who attended worship ["To Verify: Statistics for Christian Communicators," Leadership 15 (Fall 1994), 50).] We complain about a shrinking church membership when the numbers actually point to a shrinking sense of excitement and exuberance for Christ's sake. In the name of sports, those 103 million get stadiums built, get team franchises moved, give local economies a boost and get whole regions of the country stand-up-and-shout excited. In the name of Christ, how much more could 5.6 billion accomplish in this country in the world if they were as "on fire" as the sports fans?

3.     Courage to confront:  

In the 1920s, an English adventurer named Mallory led an expedition to conquer Mount Everest. His first, second and even his third attempt with an experienced team met with failure. Upon his return to England, the few who had survived held a banquet to salute Mallory and those who had perished. As he stood up to speak he looked around he saw picture frames of himself and those who had died. Then he turned his back on the crowd and faced a large picture of Mount Everest looming large like an unbeatable giant. With tears streaming down his face, he spoke to the mountain on behalf of his dead friends. “I speak to you Mt. Everest, in the name of all brave men living, and those yet unborn. Mt. Everest, you defeated us once, you defeated us twice; you defeated us three times. But Mt. Everest, we shall someday defeat you, because you can’t get any bigger, but we can.” Today’s scripture challenges us to confront the world with prophetic courage of our Christian convictions (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies).