Episode 2 of 4 in our series, The Challenges of Following Jesus.
Are you a troublemaker? And if not, why not?
Well… aren’t we Christians supposed to be nice? We help people. We turn the other cheek when people offend us. If politicians pass laws we don’t like, or a producer puts on a play mocking Our Lord, wouldn’t we be tolerant and say “God forgives, why cause trouble?”
And yet… we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. We call them saints.
To be sure, some were recognised as saints because of the depth of their prayer-life.
Many were martyred for simply admitting they believed in Jesus.
Others founded religious orders to help people who were sick or in need of education.
But then… there are the troublemakers!
In our First Reading, the Prophet Jeremiah had been thrown into a pit for preaching God’s word.
We also find, in the Old Testament, the story of Esther. She was the one who, when the Prime Minister got permission to massacre Jews, spoke up to the King and said: “excuse me, why are you allowing the persecution of my people?”
St John the Baptist preached about many moral issues, but was executed because he said to the King: “It is against God’s law for you to marry your brother’s wife.”
St Thomas Becket was murdered in Canterbury because he irritated Henry II to the extent that the King muttered “who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”
St Catherine of Siena had the courage to tell the Pope to go back to Rome at the time when the Popes had taken refuge in France, at Avignon.
St Thomas More refused to accept King Henry VIII’s wishes above God’s law, and was beheaded.
Venerable Margaret Sinclair left school, aged 14, to work in a French polisher’s in Edinburgh. When the Duke of York visited, workers were docked a penny to pay for a new pavement. As trade union rep, Margaret led the protest – why does a duke deserve a pavement if the workers don’t? Aged 23, she entered a convent, caught tuberculosis, and died two years later.
Blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg died in 1943 while being transported to Dachau after organising protests outside concentration camps and speaking against anti-Semitism.
Blessed Bishop Vilmos Apor of Hungary opened his bishop’s residence as a centre for refugees when Russian soldiers invaded. He was shot on Good Friday 1945 while pleading with drunken Russian soldiers not to take some of the women refugees for their own purposes.
Mr Shahbaz Bhatti was the only Christian member of the cabinet of Pakistan when he was assassinated in March 2011 for criticising his country’s Islamic blasphemy laws. A year later, hundreds of Catholics across Pakistan marked the anniversary by holding rallies and calling for Bhatti to be recognised as a saint.
These witnesses show us what it can mean to be faithful to the teaching of Jesus.
Pope Francis, preaching in May this year, noted that everyone who follows Jesus will enjoy many good things but will also face persecution. Like Jesus, our only road to holiness leads to the Cross. The Pope warned that “when a Christian has no difficulties in life – when everything is fine, everything is beautiful – something is wrong.” If we have truly encountered Jesus, something “goes deep within and changes us. And the spirit of the world does not tolerate it, will not tolerate it, and therefore, there is persecution.”
“Think of Mother Teresa”, said Pope Francis. “What does the spirit of the world say of Mother Teresa? ‘Ah, Blessed Teresa is a beautiful woman, she did a lot of good things for others …’. The spirit of the world never says that the Blessed Teresa spent, every day, many hours, in adoration … Never! It reduces Christian activity to doing social good.”
In this way, our Pope reminds us that what the world admires about saints is not what we should admire most about saints. The world notices their good works. We are called to recognise their dedication to God and their willingness to carry the Cross.
If we wish to become saints, our first calling is not to imitate their works, but to ask God to inspire us with the same Holy Spirit which inspired them. The gifts promised to us when we were confirmed – among them wisdom, understanding, courage, and respect for God – are offered to us precisely so that we can become God’s troublemakers in this world. Because we are baptised, we share in the work of Christ the Prophet, the one who speaks out about what is wrong in the world around us, even when that offends our family members or friends.
Our Lord himself warns us that his message will result in division, turning family members against each other. Does Jesus want to destroy families? Absolutely not! Yet, it can happen that one member of a family “catches fire” with faith, while another does not. In my own family, I chose to become a Catholic, and then a priest, even though my parents had grave reservations. Fortunately, they have now come to terms with my decision – but I would have become a priest whatever the consequences, because I had already made a decision, in my heart, to do whatever God asked of me, whatever the price might be.
Since I announced the news that I was to move parish, a few of you have commented that my preaching duing my time with you has been “challenging”. Yes, I will plead guilty to that. I always try to follow one simple rule. I aim for the sermons that pass my lips to never be more challenging than the teaching of Jesus himself. It is in this spirit in which I ask you to reflect on today’s Gospel and ask yourself: “Am I a troublemaker?” If you’re not, don’t worry, it’s never too late to begin!
Pictured, clockwise from top left: St Thomas More (statue at Chelsea Embankment, London – author’s own photo); Shahbaz Bhatti (from Wikipedia, under Fair Use provisions); Venerable Margaret Sinclair (Catholic Online); Queen Esther (Sweet Media, licensed CC-BY-SA-3.0)