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Bishop's Homily for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Lord challenges us to ask if we are really on fire with our faith.

By Bishop Larry Silva
August 18, 2019

[St. Damien of Molokai Church, Kaunakakai (Confirmation and First Holy Communion)]

These days if you go to a restaurant or a hotel, you can check on what others have said about it.  Is it clean?  Is the service good, poor, or just mediocre?  What is the quality of the food?  And while opinions differ, I doubt if anyone ever says, “This place sounds pretty mediocre, so let’s go there.”  No, we at least hope for an experience that is the best that can be offered.

This brings to mind the encounter of St. Francis of Assisi with the Sultan.  St. Francis lived during the times of the Crusades, when the Muslims had taken over the Holy Land, and the Christians were trying to win back the Christian shrines that figured prominently in the life of Jesus and of other Biblical characters and events.  St. Francis was a man who was on fire with God’s love, so he decided that he would go and try to convert the Sultan, so that he would become a Christian and the problem would be solved.  In fact, he made an extremely positive impression on the Sultan, but in the end the Sultan said something like, “If all Christians were as much on fire for Christ as you are, I would consider becoming a Christian.  But I do not see that they are.”  So Francis went home with a new friend, but without having accomplished his mission.

The gospel today is a challenge for all of us.  Yes, we are practicing our faith.  We are here at Mass and praising the Lord.  We try to serve him in other ways.  This is a good thing that we want to affirm.  But the Lord challenges all of us to ask if we are really on fire with our faith, a fire that will spread and give light and warmth to others, or if we simply let the spark burn here, but blow it out until next week when we meet here again.  Is our witness to Jesus such that it would attract anyone’s attention, or are we simply mediocre in our faith.

One example of wishy-washy is in our first reading.  King Zedekiah is first approached by people who want to put the prophet Jeremiah to death, so he gives them the power to do so.  Then he is approached by someone who wants to save Jeremiah’s life, and he gives him the power to do so.  If this were repentance for a prior bad decision, it would be one thing and would be more commendable.  But it seems to be a weak and wishy-washy attitude that wants to please whoever happens to be before him.

Do we have the same attitude regarding life issues?  Perhaps we profess the value of life from the moment of conception until natural death when we are here in the safety of church, but when we meet someone who is pro-abortion or pro-assisted suicide, we keep our convictions to ourselves, or worse, we give the person the impression that we support his or her viewpoint.  We may profess the value of chastity, but when someone is not living it and even touts sexual promiscuity as a virtue, we say nothing, because it would be just too uncomfortable to confront the person.  We are surely against violence against others, but when we witness the bloodless and even legal violence that has become so acceptable in our culture on the internet or in our legal system, we say nothing.

Jesus challenges us to be on fire with our faith, because it is only that kind of fire that will enable us to spread the faith.  But he warns us that being fired up in this way may cost us something.  It may cause divisions in our relationships.  It may cause people we love to shun us, criticize us, or even persecute us.  Yet if our faith is only something we live in a mediocre way, will anyone be attracted to it?  Will anyone be burned with the amazing fact that the very Son of God laid down his life for us, because he never backed off from telling the truth and preaching the truth to others?  Will anyone be on fire with the Holy Spirit if we confine that fire to the safety of this church?  Will anyone who does not know Jesus be inspired to come to know, love, and follow him if we present him only as someone who is wishy-washy, who will tell us only what we want to hear, or who will not play with the fire of love because it is just too dangerous?

There is no one who was more fired up with the Holy Spirit than Jesus, and he has called and anointed each one of us to be his followers, to speak the truth and live the truth, and thus to set the world on fire with his love, cleansing it of all sin, and setting it ablaze with his glory.