Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bring Fire on the Earth

The Gospel for Monday of the 15th week of ordinary time presents some interesting challenges. In this Gospel (Matthew 10:34 - 11:1) Jesus says that he has not come to bring peace but the sword and to set members of a family against one another. A similar passage in Luke (Luke 12: 49-53) adds, "I have come to bring fire on the earth...." This passage seems to contradict the many passages in the New Testament that emphasize love and the need to preserve the unity of the community.

Some commentaries suggest that the images of fire and conflict represent a judgement against non-believers. Other commentaries suggest that the passages refer to the conflict that already faced the early Church because of persecution by civil and religious authority. I suspect that the second explanation is the best one. Still, I think that the passage could have an important message for the Church today.

We know that we live in a society that believes that each individual constructs their own reality. Increasingly people seem to feel that ideals which come from an external source (like that magisterium of the Church) are invalid and damaging to individual freedom. Some people seem ready to reject the teaching authority of the Church simply on the basis of personal opinion. This creates problems for the Church. On the one hand we want a Church that is welcoming and is intended to embrace as many people as possible and so we, in the Church are often reluctant to "correct" Catholics who hold positions that are contrary to established Church teaching. The controversy over abortion is an especially vivid example of this. The question of the ordination of women is another example.

Now some people feel that not correcting these Catholics who they call "Cafeteria Catholics" is a disservice to both the Church and the individual. They suggest that allowing such dissent to continue unchecked blurs the truths the Church has worked for centuries to pass on. Further, they suggest, that to be charitable to someone who dissents without seeking to correct them tends to jeopardize the salvation of their souls. So, sometimes it might be necessary to have confrontation in the Church in order to provide correction of some kind. So, for example we see the controversy over a bishop refusing the Eucharist to a pro-abortion politician. Agreeing with this point of view has some risks however. The danger of an over zealous emphasis on correctness can result in a cold emphasis on the externals of faith rather than on personal faith and relationship to Jesus.

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