No Cross No Crown, Roman Catholic Man.
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. Luke 12:51.
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This is one of those Sundays when the Christian scratches his/her head and wonders what the Prince of Peace actually means when he says things like the quotation above, taken from today’s gospel. There’s more:
From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three… a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother…
You will recall the rule that polite dinner conversation absolutely forbids any talk about two topics: politics and…. religion. Every individual has a set of opinions, convictions and rock solid beliefs that might well be triggered into action by wandering into either of these two topics and the dinner table might well become a battleground. What it shows, of course, is just how important religion and politics are, even in this age where organized religion seems to be collapsing, and politics seems to be wandering into Wonderland where we are all mad, according to the Cheshire Cat. The fact that Jesus expressed these sentiments 2000 years ago suggests that nothing has changed, in that regard at least, in all that time. And it was true even earlier as we see from the first reading. The prophet Jeremiah lived more than a half-millennium before Jesus, and he proclaimed a message which was unwelcome, that the people were turning away from God, and he warned that trouble would follow. For that he was thrown into a deep well, traditionally called the “miry cistern” from the Douay (and the King James) Bible: “And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire…” with the intention that he would die of starvation, the punishment for demoralizing society. People do not want to hear that which they do not want to hear! And let us not forget today’s second reading: “Consider how [Jesus] endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” The author of the Letter to the Hebrews means that, so far, his readers have not been put to the ultimate test, where they might face martyrdom rather than abandon their faith in Jesus. It seems that all three readings today point to one thing: which belief each one of us cherishes would we be prepared to die for?
That is a question that is probably impossible to answer. Only an actual test of faith can provide the answer. Luckily, at least in parliamentary democracies today, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, so martyrdom there is not an option for believers, though there are still some other countries where that might not be the case. But on many other levels our faith in God can be tested to the core. For example, it can be tested in our pocket, with a call to help others who have nothing, such as these people:
English Channel Migrants, BBC News, 12 August 2020.
Arriving illegally from France on the southern coast of England, very lucky to have escaped drowning, despite life jackets, these refugees are utterly destitute, friendless and facing a hostile, unknown future in a country whose language is probably but one of the many enormous challenges they will face. Now Jesus could be talking about them, or about us who have the uncomfortable question before us: What am I going to do about it?
So the lessons for today seem to be:
- If I know something is wrong with my family or at work, what will I do about it? Silence is not an option. Indeed, in the legal maxim, qui tacet consentire videtur, if you are silent in a bad situation, then you are deemed to have agreed with the situation. If you say nothing about the situation, then you do not have a problem with it. So you have to speak up!
- Jesus proved beyond doubt that he believed in his mission totally, and was prepared to die for it, and did die for it. What in my belief system is so precious that I will go to the wall for it, and defend it completely, to my last breath?
- There will be opposition from someone who does not accept my set of beliefs and might act accordingly. Will I defend my central beliefs against against that person? Am I so certain of them that I will defend them to the bitter end? Am I prepared to run the race, with its pitfalls, chasms, dangers and gale force winds right to the end no matter how bitter the opposition to all that might be? It is not easy to do the right thing; no cross, they say, no crown. Or, put another way, no pain, no gain. Unhappily not one of us can avoid pain in this life, from the Queen of England to the poorest beggar. It is what we do when afflicted with bad fortune is what counts, and there can be gold in such moments. Or, as St. Peter says in his second letter, “It is a blessing for you when they insult you for bearing the name of Christ, because it means that you have the Spirit of glory, the Spirit of God resting on you” (1 Peter 4:14).
in 1977 I was assisting in a parish for the summer in Manchester in England. I was asked to take communion to those who could not make it to church. I remember two such occasions vividly. One was an old lady being taken care of by her daughter and son-in-law. I was welcomed most warmly. You can always tell what sort of atmosphere a house has in the first moments, and this house was very welcoming. I was taken upstairs, and found their mother in an immaculate bedroom, and she was clearly in good, capable hands. She received communion, and then asked me if there was anyone I would like her to pray for. Well who doesn’t? I told her and she promised to do that. Bed-ridden and essentially a burden and useless in the eyes of the cold world outside, in the eyes of God she was acting as God’s true child. I was also asked to take communion to a middle-aged lady, unmarried and in the last stages of terminal cancer, yet still at home. She had a grey pallor and was clearly very ill. Yet her spirit was vibrant, her attitude positive, her faith in God rock solid. These two people were undergoing their own crucifixions “with their eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” as today’s second reading says. No cross, no crown and did they ever have a cross. They were the living embodiment of what today’s readings talk about. They had nothing, but everything.
St. Augustine, AZ Quotes.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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