Dear fellow pilgrims,
Today, I feel like the readings today are so strong and self-explanatory they do not even need to be discussed. St. Paul is speaking such fire to the Ephesians in an amazing series of verses we should all memorize. (Check out my brother’s blog post about how a changing understanding of this verse was pivotal for his decision to become Catholic). And, Jesus is challenging our view of Him as the one who brings only comfort and joy and peace to our lives.
Across the two readings, here is what I see…
These readings leave no room for Christian mediocrity or laxity. St. Paul longs for the Ephesians to be filled with the “fullness of God” that “surpasses all knowledge.” Jesus longs for the world to be set on fire with His love, and already aches for it to be “already blazing.” Jesus goes on to say that He has come to incite division, which says to me that if your belief in Christ and discipleship with Him are not producing any friction or difficulties in your life, you’re not really living out His teachings. Jesus’ message does not fit into a neat and tidy box we can open and admire when it’s convenient and put away when it’s scary or inconvenient. Jesus anticipates His own death (the “baptism” He speaks of), which itself would testify to the boldness of His message and its implications.
I also see a theme of family being the place where either division or wholeness manifests. The readings speak of families as the Church as well as domestic families and across generations. God “names” each one of these families, He knows in advance in what context we will encounter our faith in Him and also challenges to that faith. Most often, it is the hardest to evangelize and talk about God with those closest to us… but we must do so to be authentic in our faith.
It is so difficult to speak with family about difficult issues of faith because of the fear of division, but without genuine sharing and knowledge of each other, how authentic can we claim these relationships to be? Of course there are complex family issues that take a long time to pray over and find the right time and way to communicate in the most effective way, but how often to we use that plan to shield our own sense of responsibility instead of propelling us to deeper prayer and discernment? How deep is our belief in Heaven as our one true home, heaven as the undivided Heart of God?
(Note: I also have to mention that I have seen many Christians abuse this verse, and other verses in the Bible that talk about how the world was against Jesus, to justify uncharitable ways of confronting people of their sin. As St. Paul says, we must first be “rooted and grounded in love,” but this does not mean being endlessly accepting. There is space here to jump off into a broader discussion and more research into a “right” way of having conflicts between Christians and between Christians and Non-Christians that I encourage us all to have in conversation with others in person!)
As we approach the beginning of Advent, I invite us all to examine how we long to keep our relationship with Jesus in a comfortable space where we are not challenged but always affirmed.
In what ways have the fires of love for Jesus in our hearts grown dim?
How have we compromised the authenticity of relationships with family members or close friends over not wanting to cause division, when we are really being called to witness to the truth of His love?
How can we anticipate celebrating a very warm and fuzzy holiday season with wide-eyed wonder, but also humble reverence and holy fear of why God came to us as a helpless infant?
I don’t have all the answers for you, but I can assure you that if you ask, God will guide your heart to special treasures of contemplation that He has in store for you this Advent.