It is my great pleasure to welcome the Class of 2020 and also welcome back all returning students to our community. I hope the summer months afforded you a chance to travel, explore, stretch your minds, spend time with family and friends or otherwise renew and reinvigorate the spirit that drives and sustains you. Great to see you again! To the new members, I want to assure you that you have come to a “home away from home”. We are a vibrant faith community, who through liturgy, formation, fellowship and service to others, bring the light of the Gospel to the University and beyond. We are excited you are here and we look forward to sharing the gifts and talents you’ll bring to this community.
Running the race with endurance!
The readings this Sunday invite us to reflect on the difficulty inherent in being a true and committed disciple. The first reading narrates the ordeal of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived in an age of great upheaval which saw the collapse of the Assyrian empire, and the emergence of an even greater one in Babylon. After being subject to Assyria for some time, the Israelites’ faith in God and their forms of worship were tainted by pagan practices. Jeremiah’s role was to condemn idolatry and help his people rebuild their faith. But the ruling elite blocked all his efforts and he had to suffer for it. This illustrates Jesus’ words in the Gospel. Those who follow Christ need not expect a trouble-free life. The Gospel contains sayings about the nature of Jesus’s mission. Three images are used; fire, baptism and division.
Fire is a powerful and ambivalent gift; it can give light and strength, it can purify, it can destroy. Jesus has come to light the world with fire of God’s love. His fire burns away all that cannot live in the presence of such love. It is a fire of loyalty and commitment. It is the fire of faith and conviction that gives our life energy, direction and definition. Baptism is used here in a metaphorical sense. The “baptism” that Jesus must undergo is his passion – God’s redemptive plan for us. As for causing division, it is not that Christ came to set people against each other. Division, in this context, is the price of authentic peace – doing the right thing at the risk of inconvenience and ridicule. Jesus calls for total loyalty even if it causes severe dissension.
In the book of Hebrews (second reading) we hear how living our faith can be compared to running a race. We have witnessed an exciting phenomenon of marathon running. Thousands of people around the word take part in city marathons. Following Christ is like running a race. It is easy to start a race – we are high on adrenalin. However, it is not easy to persevere when energy begins to wane and fatigue set in. Marathon runners draw strength from the presence of supportive spectators. The author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that we are surrounded by a “cloud of witness’, referring to the saints who have run the race before us, cheering us on as we set our eyes on a great prize at the finish line. The author further gives two secrets that will help us persevere to victory. The first secret is to get rid of everything that slows us down in the race. You cannot run as fast as you can if you are wearing three overcoats andz carrying a super-sized backpack on your shoulders. It is impossible. God wants us to shed all of our excess baggage and wants us to be streamlined. We need to shed every burden and every sin, every habit of selfishness, every ounce of laziness, the slightest remnant of envy, lust, and greed, every doubt and fear. They slow us down. The second secret is staying focused. But that is not enough. Runners can be thoroughly be streamlined and still lose the race. They can get distracted by a number of things and take their eyes off the finish line. To win the race, they must not let themselves be distracted. They must stay focused on the finish line.
Both, Jeremiah and Jesus experienced trials and anguish, reminding us that it happens in our lives as well. We are dogged by weaknesses, fears, temptations, and doubts. While we are meant to draw inspiration from the saints, it is especially on Jesus that we must fix our eyes. The track on which we are running is marked by his sacred feet. No footprints are sure than his. And we are not running the race on our own. We are running it as members of a community. Therefore, let us support each other especially when things are difficult.
As we embark on this school year journey together, my sincere hope is that we share our unique gifts and find our best selves to support, embrace and care for each other.