No one can feel happy with Jesus today. Could you imagine him saying and using these “hateful” and “demoralizing” words: “I have come to bring fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Pure fear-mongering and even double-standard for one called the Prince of Peace, isn’t it? If Jesus were to exist physically in the world of today, he would have been grill for the media meal and pilloried with proper trashing by CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and their likes. The same fate befell Jeremiah for his prophecy that Israel, for their sins, would lose the war with Babylon. Such a doom prophesy was thought to be demoralizing to the soldiers and the citizens.
Can you imagine someone telling an American mom that her kids are not that awesome? That person would immediately incur her wrath be marked a “hater” with any of the modern phobias – homophobia, trans-phobia, joy-phobia, kid-phobia, etc. We want things to be nice, pleasant, and cordial. Even though our parents taught us to form thick-skin about things, recently, we’ve become so soft-skinned that we cannot handle little disagreements and criticisms. Anyone who disagrees with us is assumed to hate us. That is why the fire that Jesus talked about is raging ferociously today.
And you know... several priests and bishops of our day got the memo, too, and apply the same rule at the pulpit: no controversy. Stick to what will make people feel good and want to come back next Sunday. You know, people have a lot to worry about at home—the impending divorce, custody battles, inflation, recession, the weight they have to lose, kids in college, the next vacation, mounting interests on their credit cards, terrorism, etc., etc. So, when they come to Church, they want to be spared of more trouble with Church doctrine, evangelization, and discipleship; rather, just give them fun to make them forget their problems. Make them laugh to quell their sorrows; tell them only about God’s mercy; no mention of sins and the need for repentance and a change of heart and life. They want to be lulled into a paradisiacal utopia.
I got into trouble with a parishioner a few years ago because I said during my homily that people who missed Mass on the Solemnity of Assumption, which is a Holy Day of Obligation have mortal sin in their soul and would need to go to confession before they could receive the Eucharist. Right after Mass, someone was at the lobby waiting to pounce on me like a bulldog. As soon as I got outside the Church to greet the people, he ferociously yelled at me: “I totally disagree with you. Where is it in the Bible that if you miss the Mass of Assumption, you have committed a mortal sin?” The answer to that question is that he either received a poor catechesis or have drunk the liberal cool-aid and become one of the different shades of cafeteria Catholics, who pick and choose from the menu of Catholic doctrines what sounds convenient to believe and what to ignore and discard. It was, however, clear to me that the homily thrust a red coal right inside his heart and conscience. And all he needed was —to humble himself, confess his sin, and be freed.
Jesus knew very well that not everyone would accept his teachings. He knew that the portrait of God He was painting was much different from the way many understood God; the kingdom about which He spoke was the exact opposite of that for which the Jews hoped. But that didn’t stop Him nor would the divisions in ideologies and opinions in today’s society stop me or any faithful preacher and teacher of the Gospel from declaring the truth. A faithful disciple knows that he or she is called to proclaim the truth of the kingdom, even should that turn him or her into a troublemaker.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Oko