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12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

June 21, 2020

Matthew 10: 26-33

By Rev. John Tran

Today the first reading and the gospel follow the same theme:  To be a believer costs something.  Jeremiah is persecuted almost to death for bearing witness of God’s word.  The Lord had Jeremiah tell harsh words to the Israelites.  God told them of defeat and failure if they did not change their ways.  Others, however, said that Jeremiah was not telling the truth.  He was then persecuted, imprisoned and ridiculed for following God’s command.  What we hear today in the first reading is the suffering of Jeremiah for doing what the Lord said, and being his unpopular witness.  Jeremiah is having to fall back on his absolute faith and trust in God at a time when all seems to be lost, as when he says, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion...’  God has become his rescuer.  Maybe his prayer is like that of Mother Teresa of our day:  “I know God will not give me anything I cannot handle.  I just wish that God did not trust me so much.”

In the Gospel today, Jesus is warning the disciples that they must be fearless.  They have heard much from Jesus in private,  “what I say in darkness, what I whisper.”  He is telling them that the time for learning is over.  The time for getting used to his message is finished.  Now is the time to put in into practice in “the light. to proclaim from the housetops.”  They no longer are just trying to understand what Jesus said, or thinking of his message as theory.  Now is real time, the time to speak openly Jesus word of a new message, different form the one people were used to.  With this new massage is a new way of living.  They must stand out in the crowd.  But when this is done, persecution will follow, life will not be as easy, as predictable as before.  There will be consequences to shouting from the housetops and living out his word.  Suffering will be part of life for them.  But we know that God is with us because we are very valuable to the Father;  we  “are worth more than many sparrows.”

Yes, it is a dangerous time to be a Christian in North America.  And why is that?  It is because as Christians, as Catholics, we rarely stand out in the crowd.  Does anyone even notice the presence of a Christian today?  It is really a matter of not having to stand up for our beliefs in concrete action.  It is a matter of never having to be inconvenienced, having to go out of our way to be a Christian.  We really do not know what suffering for our faith in Jesus Christ is.

Let’s remember what being a Christian was like before the Emperor Constantine made Christianity  a legal religion in the Roman Empire.  This was a time of martyrs, of being considered outsiders because of our way of life and beliefs.  A Christian had to worship in secret, had to witness to Christ by being generous to others in a quiet way.  A Christian had to be ready to refuse to worship the Emperor and be ready to die for it.  It was also a time when we were noticed for loving one another and being open to accept others no matter what their social or economic standing was.  We stood out in a crowd.

In our own time, others after Jeremiah have also reached great heights of heroic action born of deep convictions. In the twentieth century alone, there are many examples. During the Second World War Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan priest who refused to be intimidated by the Nazis, offered his life in exchange for a prisoner, a husband and father, one of the ten whom the commandant of the concentration camp had singled out for execution. A young girl in Italy refused to be intimidated by a man who threatened to kill her because she refused his sexual advances. And kill her he did on July 6th, 1902. Maria Goretti was declared a saint by Pope Pius XII in 1950. Her mother and Alexander Serenelli, the man who killed her, reconciled, were present together at her canonization. 

Today, in Somalia, Robert, a Christian man, has begun another day.  He lives with his wife and five children in a shack made of cardboard, corrugated metal and a little wood.  He is hungry, but there is not breakfast today as usual.  He must look for some manual work.  In many ways he is like many of his countrymen.  The difference is that he is forced to live in a ghetto for Christian who are segregated from their neighbors.  He is hired only after the non Christian men are given a job for the day.  Why?  Because he refuses to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ.  If relief food from other counties is actually given out and not stolen by authorities, there is often none left after the non Christians are given some.  It cost Robert and his family a lot to be a Christian.  And yet like Jeremiah and the apostles, Robert shares what he has:  the good news of the gospel, and whatever small amount of food he has.

This is where we find ourselves in the United States today.  Until a few years ago we seemed to have avoided the drastic decline in church attendance that most of Europe has experienced since World War II.  But recent statistics have shown that we too are declining in Church attendance rapidly.  The only reason the Catholic Church continues to grow in this country is because of new immigrants who are Catholic.

Now, the reason for showing all this is not to say that we are finished.  It is to point out that we are called more than ever by the Lord to stand out in the crowd.  It is a call to each of us as an individual, and to us as a parish.  What do I do as I go through each day that allows me to express my Christian life?  Do I stop from gossiping about someone, or reach out to someone who is considered a minority.  Do I not spend a little money on a small luxury in order to support those in need.  We may see that we are doing this, but do we do it enough to ‘stand out in the crowd.’  What about our parish?  Are we seen as showing Christ in concrete ways in a society which is becoming less and less Christian?  We have an outreach program for the homeless.  What can we do to stand out more as if Christ were here present today?

“I love you, Dad. Happy Birthday.” A friend tells about how when he was a small boy his father’s birthday rolled around, and he did not realize it until it was too late to get his father a birthday present. So, he went through all his resources and came up with 17 cents. He put the dime, the nickel, and the two pennies in an envelope and gave it to his father with a note: “I love you, Dad. Happy Birthday. Thanks for being the best dad in the whole world. Sorry I did not get you a gift. This is all I’ve got.” Years later, at his father’s death, when he was going through his father’s possessions, he discovered within a special compartment of his father’s wallet, the envelope, the note, the dime, the nickel, and the two pennies that his father had carried all those years. (Donald Shelby, “Love is Gratitude”). Why? Why of all the things the father and son had experienced together was this token kept as the most precious reminder of their relationship? Why? It was pure love, and pure gratitude. And that’s what we have in our second Scripture lesson today.

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