At first I struggled with finding the link between the first reading and the gospel passage for today, until I remembered that the Prophet Jeremiah is often offered as prefiguring Jesus’ own journey, his paschal mystery. The way they treated Jeremiah for his truth telling would be the way Jesus himself would be treated—and worse! So we hear Jesus’ words of “bringing division” (not our usual image of him), and we know from the first reading that he is no doubt headed for big trouble. We love the image of Jesus walking through the locked doors of the upper room after he has risen, and saying to his disciples who had abandoned him, “Peace be with you!” But stop and think what all transpired before that moment: abandonment, cruel crucifixion, and profound confusion and bewilderment on the part of those who had placed all their hope in the Messiah.
When I was a kid growing up, I became fascinated with what happened if you stomped on an anthill. I was mesmerized by the image of all the ants scattering in every direction in frenetic confusion and at a complete loss as to what just happened. (This was, obviously, before St. Francis of Assisi got to me and I began to view ants as my brothers and sisters.) Soon, however, I discovered that if I returned a day later or so, the ants had completely reorganized and built the mound back up higher than it was before! I believe the parallels between ant behavior and the human experience are many. I dare say that many of you have already compared your own experience of life or the events of human history to the destroyed anthill image long before I related it to you today.
In some ways, I suspect that Pope Francis’ papacy is stepping on the secure anthill of our church. Like Jeremiah was attempting to shake the people up with his “Repent! Return to the Lord your God!” and like Jesus was warning his followers that “From now on a household…will be divided,” Pope Francis is declaring a dramatic and fundamental return to the Gospel—even telling hundreds of thousands of youth in Rio and around the world to “Shake up the Church!” Already spin doctors, talking heads and ecclesiastical pundits are scurrying like ants to figure out just what the new pontiff is talking about—where is he leading us? How DO we get back to being the Church? It almost seems that The Holy Father was given Jesus’ own mandate: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it already blazing!” If this Pope leads us to renewed life in Christ, what a gift!
In some ways I feel as though our little anthill here at St. Rita Parish has also been stirred up by our call to stewardship and our efforts towards a Capital Campaign. Before I applied to be pastor of St. Rita, one priest friend described the parish as “sleepy.” Well, I didn’t find the parish comatose, but I did find it in need of a wake-up call. Nobody wants to be awakened out of a comfortable snooze, but once awake, the promise of a new day can be exhilarating and exciting. As we move on and move forward, my prayer is that no one will want to throw me down a muddy cistern, and that all would want to embrace the call of Jesus to renewal in His way, His truth, and His life. After all His fire is not the fire of destruction and ruin; His fire is the fire of The Holy Spirit and of transforming grace. What a gift!