Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Mass for the 60th Annual Novena to St. Jude – October 26, 2017
Listen once again to the words just proclaimed by Jesus in our gospel today. “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! … Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
Unsettling words aren’t they? Do we really need to hear Jesus speak about division and upheaval in our lives and in our world? … Don’t we hear that enough these days from world leaders who seem to be looking for a fight? … Aren’t our lives surrounded by more than enough discord and pain and suffering? … Are these words germane to our lives as we participate in this annual Novena to Saint Jude – these days in which we look for God’s grace and peace to make our way through life?
Simply put – Yes! The words of Jesus in today’s gospel are far more relevant that we might ever imagine or believe.
Every one of us in this church today is undoubtedly holding up to the Lord a particular person or situation that is in need of God’s grace and healing. Frankly, most of us probably have a roster of individuals for whom we’re praying these days. Perhaps for some of us, we’re praying about our own particular needs. Such prayers are more than appropriate. For most of us, however, our prayers are likely “other centered” and capture, in their very nature, the selfless love that so characterized the life and ministry of Jesus.
Our prayers – and who and what we pray for this day – begin to give us a glimpse into why today’s gospel – that initially seems rather unsettling – is so significant for our reflections these days.
You see, the effect of Jesus’ mission in our world was hardly to establish peace at any price. Quite the contrary, Jesus’ mission was to proclaim a message of selfless love, justice, mercy and forgiveness – a message that by its very nature turned his world upside down and divided families, neighbors and friends.
For example, when Jesus forgave a woman caught in adultery, many people thought that he was going “soft” on sin. And when he challenged the righteous men, who may very well have been involved with her, to face their own sinfulness before they cast a stone in condemnation of the woman, we can see the foundation for division being laid.
Or when Jesus healed a Gentile – hardly deserving of God’s grace and love from the perspective of some – we can see how selfishness and narrowmindedness can get the best of faithful Jews who had believed that they had cornered the market on God’s.
These two simple examples alone enable us to see how Jesus’ commitment to the truth of God’s merciful and faithful love began to sow seeds of division and upheaval among those who should have known better. Yet, for Jesus, what was always at the heart of his ministry was hardly the desire to establish a sense of harmony and peace rooted in superficial worldly values, but rather the urgent need to proclaim the values of God’s kingdom – values rooted in justice, mercy and forgiveness – to every soul who authentically sought to engage the truth of God in their lives.
Are you beginning to see how is this gospel reality reflected in the prayers that you offer today and throughout this novena? If you’re still uncertain, take a look at the people and situations for which you are praying today. … Maybe you’re praying for your son who has lost his way – but you won’t write him off. No, you’re praying for him to come back even when others are telling you that he’s too far gone. … Or perhaps your prayers are for a relationship that has gone awry and needs healing and you know reconciliation will only happen when you’re not too proud to take the first step and ask for forgiveness. … Or, like so many of us who have countless numbers of personal needs, your prayers during this novena are not solely for yourselves, but for the sake of others who suffer and are in pain.
My friends, when the prayers that we offer during this novena are rooted not so much in the self-consumed, self-centered values of our world, but rather, in the timeless values of the gospel of Jesus – when those same prayers are characterized less by a desire to convince God of what we want and need, and more by a posture of trust in the mercy and goodness of God who first gave us life – we will come to recognize beyond a doubt the value of prayer, the power of faith and the peace that it brings at our center – even in the midst of a complicated world.
I came upon a wonderful reflection on today’s gospel from a meditation on the daily scriptures written by a Carmelite sister from England. “Many of us see the Church and Faith, as we call it, like an insulated, armored carriage in which we can sit secure behind curtained windows as we hurtle through the dark forests. … How different from the reality that Jesus speaks about in the gospel. Do not think I have come to bring peace but a sword. I have come to cast fire on the earth. … The true experience of faith is more that of the biblical imagery of a frail boat tossed like a cockleshell on the waves with not a chance of survival in itself. Only the presence of the Lord is its security, and he is asleep, seemingly inactive. … His only certainty and security lay in the love of his Father. … That is what faith is about. And this is what it means to know the Lord.”
May the blessing of these treasured days of prayer, more than anything, provide us with an ever-deepening sense of trust in the Lord, who promises to carry us through the storms of life and bring us to peace.