Sunday, August 18, 2013


Quite understandably, the reading of the Gospel left a lot of folks scratching their heads this Sunday. (One person admitted to rereading it quickly before the homily began last evening...sure that I'd misspoken or that she'd heard me wrong.)  So this morning I felt compelled to quip, "So much for a happy ending..."

   Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time    

When I entered Wadhams Hall Seminary,
there was half an hour set aside before dinner each day
for silent mediation. 
During our first semester,
we new recruits were expected
to spend that entire time in the chapel.
(We always knew how deep the meditation was getting
when one or another of the guys began snoring!)

In my first month or so, I picked up this book of stories—
each of them meant to foster spiritual reflection—
to read during daily meditation.
More than 20 years later, I can still remember a few.
That’s the mark of a really good story!
With that testament to its high quality,
I want to share one of them with you this morning.

The priest announced that Jesus Christ himself
was coming to church the following Sunday.
People turned up in such large numbers to see him.
Everyone expected him to preach,
but he only smiled when introduced and said, "Hello."
Everyone offered him hospitality for the night, especially the priest,
but he refused politely.
He said he would spend the night in church.
How fitting, everyone thought.

He slipped away early next morning
before the church doors were opened.
And, to their horror, the priest and people
found their church had been vandalized.
Scribbled everywhere on the walls 
was the single word "Beware."
No part of the church was spared:
the doors and windows, the pillars and the pulpit,
the altar, even the Bible that rested on the lectern.
Scratched in large letters and in small,
in pencil and pen and paint of every conceivable color.
Wherever the eye rested one could see the words:
"Beware, beware, Beware, Beware, beware, beware . . ."

Shocking. Irritating. Confusing. Fascinating. Terrifying.
What were they supposed to beware of? 
It did not say. It just said "Beware." 
The first impulse of the people was to wipe out
every trace of this defilement, this sacrilege.
They were restrained from doing this
only by the thought
that it was Jesus himself
who had done this deed.

Now that mysterious word "Beware"
began to sink into the minds of the people
each time they came to church.
They began to beware of the Scriptures,
so they were able to profit from the Scriptures
without falling into bigotry.
They began to beware of sacraments,
so they were sanctified without becoming superstitious.
The priest began to beware of his power over the people,
so he was able to help without controlling.
And everyone began to beware of religion
which leads the unwary to self-righteousness.
They became law-abiding, 
yet compassionate to the weak.
They began to beware of prayer,
so it no longer stopped them from becoming self-reliant.
They even began to beware 
of their notions of God
so they were able to recognize him
outside the narrow confines 
of their church.

They have now inscribed 
the shocking word
over the entrance of their church
and as you drive past at night
you can see it blazing above the church
in multicolored neon lights.
from Taking FlightAnthony de Mello, SJ,  
© 1988, pp. 92-93
In the gospel this Sunday,
Jesus identifies himself as both an arsonist and a home-wrecker…
…so graffiti artist isn’t too far off the mark!

One of the very worst things we can do with Jesus, you see,
is to try and domesticate him:
to turn him into a nice, harmless, non-controversial figure;
little more than a faith-healer
and kindly teller of soothing stories.  (cf. R. Barron)
But the Only Begotten Son of God
didn’t leave the heights of heaven
to take on human flesh
and then die—beaten and bloodied—on a Roman cross
because everything here on earth was going along just fine.
Jesus—like the prophets long before him—
didn’t face such openly hostile opposition
because he told people, “Carry on, everybody! 
Keep doing what you’re doing!”
A domesticated Christ makes no demands.
But the real Christ burns and divides:
not in order to destroy, but to restore;
clearing away what has grown old through sin
in order to make all things new.

Many modern Americans freely share
certain of their causes and convictions—
whether it’s about gun control, animal rights,
or who’s gonna win the big game.
We wear an identifying slogan or symbol on our T-shirt,
slap a bumper sticker on the back of the pickup truck,
or engage in animated conversations with friend and stranger alike.
But do we as Catholics feel free to do the same
when it comes to our faith?
Generally…no.  Why? 
Because we don’t want to make a fuss; we don’t want to rock the boat.

Trouble is, if we don’t rock the boat,
then someone or something else most certainly will.
And there are plenty of good reasons to shake things up!
In fact, we forfeit our right
to complain about the sorry state of the world
if we aren’t willing to speak up about and act upon
the challenging and life-changing words and ways of Jesus Christ.

We rejoice that among us today
we have a woman who has freely chosen
to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.
It’s been a long road for you, Dorris.
But as you renew with us today 
your baptismal profession of faith,
as that faith is confirmed by the seal of the Holy Spirit,
and as that faith is nourished for the first time 
at the altar of the Lord, 
it’s important for you—and for all of us—to remember:
The Catholic faith isn’t just a head-trip—
a series of memorized lists and convincing truths.
Nor is real faith simply a heart-warming experience—
a safe refuge, all comfort and joy.
No, faith is an action plan—
bold and risky, requiring that we get our hands dirty,
and calling for changes—serious changes—
beginning in ourselves.

So, beware, beware—always, beware!
Let Christ definitively divide you from all that would divide you from him!
Let Christ set you on fire, then spread the flame around!

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