14 August [Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time]
Lk 12:49-53

"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  I have a baptism with which to be baptised, and what stress I am under until it is completed!  Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!  From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

Hindu scriptures (sutras) begin with the word ‘Athato’, ‘Now’.  The Brahmasutra begins ‘Athato Brahma jigyasa’: ‘Now the enquiry into God’.  Before Vatican II the Latin liturgy prefixed the words ‘In illo tempore’ (‘At that time’) to every gospel reading.  This was quite gratuitous, for it does not occur in the gospel passages.  We know the importance of the historical events in the Christian faith, but liturgy is not history; it is a re-enactment of those events in the present, the Now.  It was a bad approach (and it was also bad Latin). 

The past has great attractions.  It has all happened already, and so it is unlikely to disturb us.  It is when we are most lazy and self-satisfied that we are most conservative.  Everyone is a conservative for an hour or two after dinner. 

It is strange that in most parts of the world the Christian faith (in mainline Churches at least) has come to stand for everything that is safe and conservative.  As Philip Brooks wrote, “The religion of Jesus has so long been identified with conservatism… that it is startling sometimes to remember that all the conservatives of his own times were against him; that it was the young, free, restless, sanguine, progressive part of the people who flocked to him.”  It may be for the same reason that people have been flocking out of the Church.  It has had no fire in its belly, no power of prophecy, because it was more interested in conserving the past than in engaging with the world around it.  In the past the Church failed to be prophetic about the abolition of slavery and torture and the persecution of Jews, and about democracy and religious freedom…. 

One reason, it may be, why there is such a profound lack of prophecy is that we tend to think of faith as something one ‘has’, a possession.  If you are in secure possession of it you are safe; then all you have to do is be careful not to lose it.  There are all sorts of influences out there that could make you lose your faith, so you have to avoid them at all costs.  But faith is not something one has; it something one does.  “I have come to bring fire on earth.”  What is fire?  Is it just some ‘thing’ lying there safely, needing to be protected on all sides?  No, it is energy, and it is not safe to have it around.  If it makes you feel safe, it is not faith.


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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