Sunday: A Fire in Summer

Here in the lazy days of summer, the readings for this Sunday (the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C) are an antidote for complacency. Consider what they ask us to do.

1-. Have a mission for the whole world …

“I have come to set the earth on fire,” says Jesus in the Gospel, “and how I wish it were already blazing!” Jesus didn’t come to keep himself pure, he didn’t come to calm everyone down, he didn’t come just to die either. He came to set the earth on fire, to start a revolution of love and truth.

What is true for them is true for us: Our Christianity is not a defense against sin or a remedy for temptation or even just a vehicle of silent suffering: It is a fire of love and truth that needs to be spread. There must be some way we can spread it in some small way to those we know.

2-. … but have a mission for your family too.

 Jesus says he did not come to bring peace, but division. “A father will be divided against his son and a son against his father,” he said, “a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Notice what he didn’t say. He didn’t call his followers to the false peace of avoiding one another or the false charity of saving each others’ feelings.. He wants a son and father to have to confront each others false ideas in charity; he wants in-laws who are slipping to have to reckon with the faith of in-laws who aren’t.

A Christian’s first mission field is the family; this is the place where the commitment to faith is first put to the test.

2-. Have patient trust in God when the culture ostracizes you …

In the first reading, officials objected that “Jeremiah ought to be put to death” because “he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city.” Jeremiah disagreed with the moral errors of his time. By sharing the truth he had made himself offensive to his own culture.  So for the good of the people he was rejected and placed in a cistern to die. There he sat until in mysterious circumstances he was saved in the nick of time.

The same thing happens today. Society rejects those who take seriously the right to life, the nature of marriage and other unpopular Church teachings. We won’t be eliminated, but we will be placed in the cistern of public scorn and left to sit there, feeling helpless and ineffectual. Until God ratifies the truth, as he did for Jeremiah and certainly will do in today’s culture, also.

3-. … but never give up striving.

The second reading, though, reminds us that our role is not simply longsuffering. We are meant to “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,” says St. Paul. “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.”

So as the heat of the summer starts to wind down and the busy year ahead looms in the near distance, the Church is asking us to plan ahead. We probably have career and family plans for the fall. What about plans for our Christian vocation?

It is up to us to advance the faith in the world, build our families at home, accept persecution with trust, and strain to run the race to the end.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.