LIKE FIRE BURNING IN THE HEART
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
August 28, 2011
It is not to be passed off as old wives’ tales … or the stuff that we now call “urban legends” … Persecution does happen. Everywhere. Anywhere. But it is, sort of, understandable if it happens in non-Christian territories … or in uncivilized remote places (if the likes still exist in this shrinking world).
But it does happen where supposedly, Christianity has taken root for many hundreds of years. It does happen right where we are, where faith has been part and parcel of tradition for decades, if not, hundreds of years.
We see it right at the tips of our noses … the growing and gnawing anti-Catholicism on the rise, even from those who claim to be catholics, whilst believing only in stuff they want to believe, and tossing out what does'nt jibe with their personal takes on a motley number of issues.
We hear it right from those who claim they graduated from catholic schools. One high profile legislator even had the nerve to insinuate she has a Master’s degree from a theological faculty in Manila.
No … I don’t refer to open hatred with flaring nostrils and all, directed against the Church. Yes … I refer to nothing like the hatred shown by the Roman powers-that-be in the early years of Christianity, where the prevailing rule was simply “delenda est Ecclesia!” … The Church must be destroyed!
But I see it in the ill-concealed brandished swords of defiance and disbelief to what Holy Mother Church stands for and teaches. I see it in a watered-down style of belonging that does not run in parallel lines with their believing.
I see it in the silence that media people resort to, after working with might and main to pin down some Church leaders on supposedly ill-gotten money from a state-run lottery office. When the truth came out, those who vociferously condemned the same leaders uttered nary an apology, hardly any effort to correct the wrong they had done, with hardly any attempt at restoring justice and giving back the bishops’ good name.
Jeremiah had it coming … He dreaded it right from day one. He was afraid, and rightly so. And so today, even if he gives in to remonstrating with the Lord, and complaining that he had been “duped” by Him, he came to his senses and confessed that this was, after all, the right and the courageous thing to do: “But then it becomes like fire in my heart, imprisoned in my bones.”
He went right on to doing what brought him misery – preaching in God’s name, being the prophet that he was called to be!
It was easy for Paul to wiggle his way out of such predicaments. Being a high profile Hellenized Jew at that time, and an educated one at that, Paul had better choices, sort of. He had “better things to do,” come to think of it. He did not have to stick his neck out or step onto the lions’ lair, so to speak. He could have made a comfortable life for himself. He could have shone out as an orator, a philosopher, and a thousand other possibilities.
But Paul decided to “not conform” to his age. He chose to be “transformed by the renewal of mind” and to follow to “the will of God, [and do] what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
I, too, had my own share of persecution. Years ago, I had the unpleasant experience of being threatened with violence against my person, for the simple reason that I tried to empower the people in the communities around me, to put a stiff resistance to the scourge and the menace of drugs. Somebody did not like it a wee bit. Somebody’s pockets were being affected by it. The drug show must go on. And it was being hampered by my leadership.
For a second time in my life, I got scary feelers from the powers-that-be. Priests ought not to meddle with mundane affairs. Priests, so they told me, ought not have anything to do with secular activities, and simply stay where they belong – in the sacristy!
Persecution happens. I was touched when I read how moved the Holy Father had been during the recent World Youth Day activities in Madrid. He should know. He is at the forefront of so much persecution and hatred against the Church that he represents and heads. I cannot tell you enough how touched I am that he was moved by the sight of 1.5 million young people from all over the world, praying together, worshiping together. As one. As family. As brothers and sisters who both believed and belonged.
I have been a priest for almost 30 years now. Sometimes I feel down and out, beaten by the prevailing culture … overwhelmed by so much indifference and downright negative feelings against Catholicism in many places. As a teacher for more than three decades, sometimes I feel we are just pouring water on a duck’s back, with little solace, little consolation, little promise, and very little sign we are able to get our message across.
Persecution does happen… And I thank the good Lord it does happen. For the disciple cannot be greater than his master. Although humanly speaking, words like these give very little consolation, I need to tell and retell these words. For they are the cause and the reason for the “fire that is burning in my heart.” They are the bases of the strength that still pushes us and goads us on to do what, ordinarily, we should have long ago stopped doing: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
Please help me pray that this fire burning in my heart may never be extinguished by discouragement and fear!