Reflection for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)
“Have you already shed your blood in the struggle against sin?”
This is truly a paradoxical question concerning Christian living, for the Apostle is implying for us that a noteworthy receiving of life, comes with a willful giving of life. Holiness is much less a state for our spirits to simply hope for, than a pro-active and dutiful response to offer oneself in oblation for the building of God’s kingdom, “So, let us be rid of every encumbrance, and especially of sin, to persevere in running the race marked out before us.”
Holiness is essentially bearing witness to the exemplar of the Christ who preceded us all, “For the sake of the joy reserved for him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and then, sat at the right of the throne of God.
Think of Jesus, who suffered so many contradictions from evil people, and you will not be discouraged or grow weary.” So, sanctity is both a vision of the Spirit for us, and a mission of the Spirit with us; it is the ultimate end which cannot be accomplished without its praxis.
But it is the Spirit who leads us to himself; it is the Spirit who prods us to this divine direction. We have to be prepared to live a life wherever the Spirit prompts us, even if that life may turn out to be “unpleasant.” Holiness is the consummation which may either be realized through the precarity of Jeremiah’s fate in the muddy cistern of Malchiah; or through the inevitability of Jesus’ fate on the humiliating cross of Calvary.
Our Lord reminds us that he himself must struggle against this “unpleasant” life, that we ourselves must endure and fight against “nonviolent” systems and structures of injustice and oppression, if only to bring about authentic social justice and peace: “I have come to bring fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what anguish I feel until it is finished! Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on, in one house five will be divided: three against two, and two against three.”
For us to live a holy life, we must first confront the irony that we cannot “plan how to live it.” We cannot live it as we wish nor in ways we can choose. We cannot set our own “holiness agenda” in the same way that we would have a “fitness plan” or a set of “life goals” or the determination to follow a “career road-map.” As Christians, we are constantly challenged by the faith we profess, and to live lives modeled primarily on the life of the Christ.
Remember, we are always called to “become Christ,” to joyfully enter into an “unpleasant” life lived in humble obscurity, animated only by a dramatic calling to missionary activity, proclaiming the God who is in all and wishes to be for all; struggling courageously against those who persist in sustaining hierarchical inequalities and social behaviors which engender selfishness and an ethos founded upon a “survival of the fittest,” causing alienation and marginalization on a massive scale; and being vindicated by the same Spirit who swears absolute vengeance against evil and tyranny.
As Christians, are we not called to a martyrdom in behalf of the powerless and voiceless of our country: those persecuted with wages that can hardly support a decent living; those who are being driven out of their ancestral domains, or from the homes and lands in which they know they can best thrive and develop; those women and children compelled by harsh economic circumstances to work, when they should be spending more time being both nurturing and nurtured; those who are unfairly being discriminated from opportunities to provide for themselves, because they have been deemed “inadequate” or “unfit;” those who are consistently arguing for humane and sustainable working conditions and arrangements, but are strangely being silenced for it?
As Christians we are destined to live this same configuration of the Paschal Mystery, to undergo this same life which Jesus lived, to bear the same burden for which he suffered and died.
May we pray: Father, this day I commit myself to the Christ life. I commit myself to a life destined to transform the world in whatever way I can, without living for it. I commit myself to a life hidden from the world, refusing to be recognized by it. I commit myself to listen to the promptings of your Spirit, to go wherever it leads me, and to do whatever it orders me to do. May I be permitted only to love you as much as I would wish.
I commit myself to a life telling the world about your love, even if that love will cause the deconstruction of institutions and social structures that lavish more importance to those who have money, power and reputation. I commit myself in solidarity like Christ to the downtrodden and to the lowly, if only to bear witness to the world that you love all of creation. And if it is necessary that I shed my life for this purpose, then so be it.
As I follow Jesus, please do not forget this wretched yet persevering soul! Amen.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.