Deacon Homily, Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time: August 18, 2019
Deacon Tony Bellitto, St. Stanislaus Parish
Well, that’s uplifting, isn’t it?
When I was in the Deacon formation program, we had to take 4 years of homiletics class, learning how to preach homilies. For each assignment from the instructor, the big question we asked ourselves was, “Which Gospel passage will I be assigned to preach on?” since we each were given a different assignment. So we would hope for something with a straightforward and positive message, like maybe the Parable of the Good Samaritan, or the Prodigal Son, or the healing of the blind man. That would not be too tough. But it would be a challenge to be assigned one of those other more troubling passages where we might ask “Where’s the Good News in this?”
Today’s Gospel reading about Jesus intending to not bring peace, but division among family members would be one of those passages where I might ask the instructor, “Excuse me, could I get a different one, please? My classmate over here got an easier one. Can I trade him for that one instead?”
By the way, it never worked. No trading of assignments was allowed, so we just dealt with it. Good thing, because we were being prepared for times like this today.
But as I thought more about this Gospel reading to prepare for this homily, I came up with an approach that I hope is helpful.
You enter a room that is completely dark – no light at all. When you turn on the light switch on the wall, the ceiling fixture is illuminated, and the entire room becomes completely flooded with light. All the darkness is dispersed.
Now try entering that same room again when it’s completely dark, but this time there’s a power failure. The light switch on the wall does not work. So instead you use a flashlight to shine a beam of light into the room. Now you can see at least a path in front of you. Most of the room around you is still dark, but there is a shaft of light that can guide you safely through the darkness. We’ve all experienced this, haven’t we?
The flashlight divides the light from the darkness. It separates the light from the dark, quite clearly, quite dramatically. Both the light and the dark are still there in the room, existing side by side, but clearly separated from each other into two distinct locations. Light and dark cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
In the first example with the light switch, the darkness is eliminated. In the second example with the flashlight, the darkness is divided.
This, I think, is the kind of division, this separation, that Christ is speaking about in the Gospel passage today. It is an image of what Christ has done for us here on earth by coming down from Heaven. He is most certainly the light that breaks through the darkness.
In the very beginning of the Gospel of John, the Apostle writes, “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
We see this clearly at our great celebration of Easter, commemorating Christ’s resurrection from the dead and his conquering of sin and death. At the Easter vigil Mass, the first thing we do is light a fire outside the Church when nightfall brings the darkness. Then that light from the Easter fire is spread with candles from person to person while the rest of the Church remains dark.
Christ is the light that divides the darkness. Let’s remember that the idea of dividing and separating can be good, depending on the situation, and not just when we’re talking about dark rooms.
Throughout the Scriptures, we see many instances where God divides for good reason:
He separates Israel from all other nations in the Old Testament.
He separates the dry land from the waters of the Red Sea to lead the Jewish people out of slavery.
He separates the wheat from the weeds in the parable about the farmer.
He promises to separate the sheep from the goats on the final day of judgement.
In the Gospel passage today, Jesus specifically talks about division among family members. That can make us uncomfortable. After all, we want to be united with our family, not separated from them. And Christ wants that unity too, among our family members.
But he’s making a larger point here. He’s telling us clearly that following him should take precedence even over family ties. Our relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Savior is more important, and more demanding, than any other human relationships, even more than family. What Christ is saying here is startling, but of course it’s true.
Ever since the early Christian communities were formed in the first century, fidelity to Christ has frequently resulted in painful conflicts and divisions, even in the same family.
A true disciple of Christ is one who hears God’s word and acts on it accordingly. When others in our own family, or in our circle of friends in our neighborhoods or workplaces, disagree with the teachings of Christ and his Church, this inevitably will cause division. But we cannot have peace at all costs, avoiding all disagreements because conflict is unpleasant, pretending “it’s all good” as that trite saying goes. Not when truth is discarded in the process.
Christ’s message is one that has always comforted the afflicted, and afflicted the comfortable, just as Jeremiah the prophet did too, whose story we heard in the first reading, seven centuries before Christ came, because his prophecies were troubling to those still living in the darkness of sin.
This is not the message that the modern culture wants to hear when so many people have bought the lie of relativism, which Pope Benedict XVI has called “the biggest problem of our time” and “a heresy.” That’s quite a statement for a Pope to make, but of course he’s absolutely correct.
We must separate:
What is true from what is false.
What is real from what is counterfeit.
What is good from what is evil.
What is right from what is wrong.
In marriage, we purposely separate ourselves from all other choices of potential spouses, dividing ourselves from the world of other options, in order that we can give ourselves over completely, fully, and freely, to the beloved one to whom we unite our whole heart to.
We purposely separate ourselves from an idea, or way of life, or a person, in order that we can be united with a different idea, or way of life, or person. These are the choices we make, which reflect our values, our beliefs, and our priorities.
Like the effect of the flashlight, we are called to live in that narrow shaft of light, to not stumble out into the darkness that’s still there nearby, where we can easily lose our way. Christ is the light that occupies that space. He illuminates the darkness. Christ’s message stands counter to a world that is plunging itself into the darkness of sin and evil.
We can either despair because some darkness still remains, or we can rejoice because there is a bright light that breaks through that darkness. That beam of light is Christ and the rock solid teachings of his Church, which have withstood the test of time. He shows us a clear path in the midst of all confusion. Either you are with him, or you are not. That clear division will always be there, at least on this side of Heaven.
And so, my brothers and sisters, let’s go back to the dark room that I mentioned at the beginning.
When the flashlight illuminates only a path of light, separated from the darkness that still exists, that’s what we have here on Earth. Light and darkness existing side by side. Good and evil existing side by side. And therein we live out the struggles every day of our earthly life.
But when the light switch on the wall works, and it lights up the whole room dispersing the darkness completely, that’s what we’ll have in Heaven. Light existing without darkness. Good existing without evil. Our faith gives us the hope, the Good News, that this is a picture of what awaits us someday, when we put our trust in the Lord.
May God bless you all.