Stop the yielding

When we are attentive to the words and teachings of Jesus, we grow accustomed to hearing things which strike us as strong. Today we hear Jesus saying that he came to set the earth on fire and to bring division instead of peace to the earth and to families. It isn't necessary for us to be reminded that the one who says these things is the one we call the Prince of Peace. It does not seem to be the case that Jesus was using dramatic expressions to get His listeners' attention. Division among people and peoples isn't something to trifle with. He means what He says. The Prince of Peace came to set things ablaze and to bring division. Great. What have we signed up for in following Him? Doesn't He teach us to be peacemakers and to forgive? Isn't He the one who says we should love our enemies and pray for our persecutors? Yes, yes and yes.

Recently many young people (and their somewhat young chaperones) participated in World Youth Day. In Krakow, a city scarred by much conflict (e.g. in the Nazi and Communist occupations), the young people of today found hope brought about by God's mercy and forgiveness. Healing has occurred and hope has returned to the people of Poland. When we look at the famous holy citizens of Krakow in the last century we find clear and authentic Gospel living. St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Maria Faustina are, of course, the most known recent saints of Poland. Their lives were fashioned and shaped by the tumultuous times in which they lived. By God's grace and their own free response they were able to be living expressions of the important Scripture verse "where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more" (Rom 5:20). In times of trial the love of the Lord Jesus is made known to us through the character of the believers, given and blessed by God, who live unyieldingly and heroically their faith in Him.

Returning to our Sunday Gospel, we apply this idea of unyielding lives of faith. Perhaps unyielding is not a frequently used word. For people fooled into being soccer fans it might be familiar in the context of good goalie techniques. No fan hopes his team will sign the league's most yielding goalie. In matters of faith it is totally appropriate that we be unyielding. Of course, it is important to be clear about what that means. Unyielding faith, when not tempered by charity (and mercy, love's second name), can produce fanatical and hate-filled zealots. Belief in our gracious God, on the other hand, produces within each individual a unique expression of the way God actually is. Made in His image and likeness we are able to bring His real response to the situations and people in our lives by the very response we give to Him. In daily life we can see this happening. When we live partially, yieldingly, for Him we treat others and we respond to situations partially like He would and partially like we want to. In this way we provide for people and the world a mixed message about God. Selfless love and selfishness do not work well together. The "fire" Jesus wants to set ablaze is the fire of His love. The effects of His love in relationships and situations make renewal and change possible. In the same way, the wholehearted decision to live for Him brings about a clear division between His disciples and other people. Although division can be painful, it is also necessary for clarifying who we are and where we stand. Love works hand in hand with truth. The invitation and offer we make to others by our authentic lives of faith is an invitation that must be clear, not muddled.

The God who wants to bring peace and love and mercy to the world can only do so when He has the freedom to act in our lives in the ways He knows to be the best ways. His ways are not our ways. Our ways are not His ways. When we decide to live our lives His way we will find the road to peace and harmony that endures. That project requires our unyielding choice to live for Him and let Him lead. Peace, forgiveness, loving our enemies, praying for our persecutors - all of these occur in lives lived totally with and for Jesus.

Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Louis Church in Alexandria.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016