August 14, 2022 –
The 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
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“No, I tell you, but rather division.”
The family is the chief earthly example of the “cloud of witnesses” described in today’s Second Reading. Another term for this “cloud of witnesses” is the “communion of saints”. One of the great truths about human families is that we tend over time to resemble those we are close to, for good or ill. It’s in the domestic church—the family—that we first see and then learn to practice the Faith.
Each person has her own portrait of God in her mind. Each Christian paints such a “portrait of God” from her spiritual experiences growing up, from personal devotions, and from her relationships within the Communion of Saints.
Parents, in the eyes of a child, are the first images of God. Often, it’s from a mother that a child has his first glimpse of God’s tenderness and gentleness. Likewise, it’s often from a father that a child has his first glimpse of God’s steadfastness through adversity.
What parents teach by word and example is echoed in Christian devotions. For example, some devout Catholics pray the Stations not just on Fridays of Lent, but 52 Fridays a year. They do this to express their thanks to God the Father for giving up His Son. They also give thanks to Christ for handing over His life for us poor sinners. For the Christian with a deep devotion like this, she sees clearly how much mercy the Father has for her: as if the Father sacrificed His Son for her alone.
But Jesus talks in this Sunday’s Gospel passage about what happens when a family is divided. For example, when parents fight with each other, and a child sees his father running away from adversity instead of standing steadfast, or when a child sees his mother acting viciously towards his father, it’s not surprising that a child’s belief in God is shattered. The percentage of children from broken homes who grow up and choose not to practice any sort of faith shows how important the roles of mother and father are, and how big an influence parents have on their children’s practice of the Faith.
Today’s Second Reading and Gospel passage can seem to be talking about two opposite things. The Letter to the Hebrews encourages us that, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, [we should] rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us, and persevere in running the race that lies before us ….” This “great cloud of witnesses” doesn’t just mean the saints who are already in heaven. It includes also those who share our Faith here on earth. After our participation in the Mass, the example of our parents, and private devotions, it is through other fellow Christians within this “great cloud of witnesses” that we are either strengthened in our Faith or grow weaker.
This presents a responsibility that each of us has as a baptized Christian; that is, as one member of the communion of saints. Each of us has a responsibility to be there for others and to be an example for others. This is where our Gospel passage comes in. Although our Second Reading talks about the importance of the communion of saints, Jesus in our Gospel passage says that He came into this world to bring division. He did not come to establish peace on earth.
Now maybe this isn’t a picture of God that we like. Maybe we want to think about God as a teddy bear. But either Jesus is lying in today’s Gospel passage or we must accept that following Jesus sometimes means causing division. If we are not willing to stand for our Catholic Faith and recognize it as a treasure from God to be shared with others because it has the power to give eternal life, then there’s not much reason to be Catholic.
What is our Faith worth? Jesus answered this question in a very clear way. To see His answer, all we have to do is look at the Crucifix. But consider the example that we see in the crucifix. This example, through the mystery of the Eucharist, becomes the true presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood, soul and divinity. Jesus offers us His sacrificial Self so that we might have the strength to live for others within and for the sake of that “great cloud of witnesses” that is His Church.