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9/3/17 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Jesus Christ loves us enough to tell us the truth about ourselves. Those who selfishly use other people instead of seeking their authentic good rarely tell them hard truths. It's too risky. Pointing out their failings may result in offense and rejection - like the parents who are afraid to discipline their child. But love will take the risk, because love always goes after what is best for the beloved. A true friend will tell you when you're wrong, so that you can straighten out.

Christ is a true friend, and he shows it in this conversation with St Peter.  Jesus just finished elevating Peter to a position of prominence in the coming Kingdom (the passage we just listened to follows immediately the one where Christ dubs him the "rock" upon which he will build his Church). But then Jesus makes the shocking announcement that he is going to suffer greatly and be killed - he predicts his passion. Peter, puffed up with naïve self-importance, takes the Lord aside and disagrees with him. That's when Christ comes down hard on him - very hard, calling him "Satan" and telling him that he is thinking like a pagan, not like a Christian. Only a true friend would do something like that.

Not everyone liked Jesus. Many Pharisees and Scribes positively hated him and had been plotting his death almost since the beginning of his ministry. When Jesus made his speech about the importance of the Eucharist (John 6), of eating his flesh and drinking his blood in order to receive eternal life, most of his followers walked out on him. Here too, by being so firm with Peter, he was risking a walk-out. But in every case, Jesus cared less about personal popularity than about the saving truth.

He is a friend we can count on.

Being honest about the hard truths got Jesus in trouble - in fact, it got him crucified.

It also got the Old Testament prophets in trouble, and Jeremiah, the author of today's First Reading, is a prime example. He lived in Jerusalem in the final years before that city was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians, in 588 BC His God-given task was to warn the Israelites that if they didn't repent and return to the commandments and the faith of their fathers, disaster would strike. No one wanted to hear that, especially not the corrupt rulers, so they tried to silence him. They spread lies about him, accusing him of sins he never committed. They imprisoned him more than once. One time some false prophets even threw him into an old well, filled with mud, and left him there to die. Another time the king asked him to write down his prophecies, and when the scroll was read in the king's presence, he became so infuriated that he ripped up the scroll, threw the pieces into the fire, and then had Jeremiah arrested. And yet, God continued to give Jeremiah the courage to speak the hard truths, to warn the Israelitesencouraging them to repent. This experience of speaking the saving truth even at great personal cost is what Jeremiah describes in today's Reading: "...the word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself... I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it."

Jeremiah was a preview of Jesus. Jesus loves us too much to hide the hard truths - even if he knows that we don't always want to hear them.

The Church too follows Christ's example; it continues teaching the truth of the Gospel, even though that truth is not always popular.

This is not because the Church is power-hungry and tyrannical.

This is because the Church of Christ, like Christ himself, loves every person deeply; it is the extension of Christ's own love into every nook and cranny of human history. A mother who gives her children ice cream and candy instead of solid food, just so they will like her, is not really loving her children. Just so, a Church that changes its tune according to what's popular and fashionable is not loving its members. The Pope and the bishops continue to preach hard truths like the objective immorality of abortion, contraception, divorce, and cloning. The Church bends over backwards to explain the reasons behind these teachings, although few people make the effort to understand them, but it loves humanity too much to pretend that destructive moral choices are not destructive.

The Church also continues to insist on other hard truths that never make it to the headlines: the uniqueness of Jesus Christ among the world's great religious figures, the necessity of weekly Mass, the indescribable benefits of regular confession, the responsibility of every Catholic to reach out to the poortend the sickavoid gossip and laziness, practice self-control, honor their parents, and never slack off on daily prayer.

It was a risk for Christ to be so firm with Peter; it is a risk for the Church to be firm with us. 

But if we humbly take our medicine as Peter took his, we won't regret it.

Christ is coming again, and to those who have courageously taken up his cross and trusted in his loving demands, he will give a bounteous reward.



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