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Contrast, Conflict and the Call to Conversion

By: Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

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CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

103 - For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body. [66] 104 In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, "but as what it really is, the word of God".[67] "In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them."[68]

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One of the great joys of my service as a member of the clergy (a Deacon of the Catholic Church) is preaching at the Divine Liturgy on Sundays. When I was ordained, the Book of the Gospels was presented to me by the Bishop with this charge: "Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose Herald you now are, Believe what you read, preach what you believe and practice what you teach"

On the Sixth Sunday in "Ordinary Time" the Church presented the faithful food at the Ambo, through readings from the Prophet Jeremiah (17:5-8), the Responsorial Psalm (1:1-2,3,4, and 6), St. Paul's admonition to the Corinthians (15:12, 16-20) (to live as though they truly believed in the Resurrection) and that profound call from the Lord Jesus Christ (recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter Six "the Beatitudes.") to live radically differently lives in this world. What a rich fare.

As I prayed through the text before preaching, a theme emerged "Contrast, Conflict and the Call to Conversion." I now share that theme with my readers so that together we can continue our reflection and respond more fully to the food found in the Sacred Scriptures. We must now become what we have consumed.

In the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah we heard the contrast. It was between the one who "...trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD." And those "whose hope is the LORD." Those who trust in themselves are "...like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stand(s) in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth." Of those who trust in the Lord he proclaims "Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit." The contrast is clear.

The same theme was echoed in the Psalmist David who proclaimed that the one who trusts in the Lord is like a "tree like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade."

Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus called his disciples to follow Him in this world by living differently. The path to being "Blessed" (or "happy") is to empty ourselves. It is the hungry, who will be filled with God. It is the poor, who can participate in His redemptive mission: "And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven."

I found a hinge to bringing these texts together in one of my favorite passages from Pope John Paul's Apostolic Exhortation entitled "Christian Family in the Modern World: "History is not simply a fixed progression toward what is better - but rather, an event of freedom. Specifically, it is a struggle between freedoms that are in mutual conflict: a conflict between two loves - the love of God to the point of disregarding self and the love of self to the point of disregarding God (John Paul II, Christian Family in the Modern World, n. 6)"

Our personal histories are also to be changed by our personal response to this "event of freedom". Our path to conversion, to actually living these Beatitudes, is a life of ongoing conversion. Every day we are invited to hear the invitation into an intimate relationship with God, a life of holiness, of self-emptying. We are invited to place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. What the Church desperately needs in our day are men and women who truly "incarnate" the love and the life of God. Simply put, the Church needs saints, holy men and women, who understand their own poverty and freely embrace it through giving their own "Fiat" of surrendered love. Those who choose to love -and to live- as Jesus loved and lived, now continue His redemptive mission on earth through their participation in the mission of the Church.

This invitation, and our response, involves conflict, a "conflict between two loves." The choice is ours. Only these kinds of men and women will be "blessed", becoming a source of stability for a Church that is still reeling under the weight of a season of purification. Only these kinds of men and women will be like "trees", solid, rooted, fruitful, and a refuge for others. They will stretch their roots deeply into the living waters of the grace of God and reach out to embrace the world in the grasp of God's redemptive love.

Will we hear and respond to this call to conversion? Will we recognize the contrasts and engage the conflict? Will we hear the voice of the Father who "...comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them" in the Sacred Scripture? Our response to the Readings from the Divine Liturgy of the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time must be more than simply the refrain we uttered at Mass. Our response must become embodied in our lives of discipleship.

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Keith Fournier is a married Roman Catholic Deacon, who also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Church with approval. He is a human rights lawyer and a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He is a co-founder of the Your Catholic Voice Movement and also the founder of Common Good.

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