Homily — 12th Sun. OT A June 22, 2008

Homily — 12th Sun. OT A                June 22, 2008

This week, Jesus continues his pep talk which He gave His Apostles before sending them out to preach the Gospel on their own.

He has just finished telling them that many people they encounter will reject the Gospel when they hear it preached by them; He says that people will go so far as to hand you over to courts and scourge you in synagogues.  He tells them that if they persecute you in one town, flee to another.

But after all that, Jesus tells them Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. . . . for whoever acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my Heavenly Father; But whoever denies me before others I will deny before my  heavenly Father.

Jesus is telling the Apostles and telling us that even if the vast majority of people around us reject the Gospel, that doesn’t give us any excuse to not preach it by our actions and words.

Yes, at times to be faithful to Christ will take great courage, but in those times we are to remember that God loves us so much that every hair of (our) heads is counted.

When we put fear of displeasing our good and loving God over fear of displeasing others and fear of persecution by others, we have nothing whatsoever to fear.

And this weekend the Church gives us three inspiring examples of believers who courageously continued to be faithful to God despite great opposition and persecution from those around them.

The first example of such a person the prophet Jeremiah who we see today in the first reading.

Jeremiah started his career as a prophet during the days of the pious King Josiah.  It was a time of religious renewal and reformation in Israel, a time when prophets like Jeremiah were well respected and their words heeded by the princes and people of Israel.

But after King Josiah died, people backslid into idolatry again.  They no longer wanted to hear prophets like Jeremiah reminding them about how they should be living.

And neither did the Kings of Israel that came after King Josiah — instead,  they surrounded themselves with prophets who told them false prophecies of God’s blessing on them and future prosperity, none of which was the truth.

Throughout this period in History, Jeremiah kept faithful to the Lord, and kept preaching the Commandments of God and prophecying what God told him to whether it was popular or not.

And because he did so, the High Priest of his day had him scourged and imprisoned.  It was this occasion that caused Jerimiah to say what we hear in the first reading:  I hear the whisperings of many: Terror on every side!  Denounce, let us denounce him!  All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine, (to trap me)

But Jeremiah realizes that every hair of his head is numbered. . . . the LORD is with me, a mighty champion he says.   And years later, after his prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem proved true, Jeremiah was vindicated as a true prophet of the LORD and is now among the canonized saints of the Old Testament.

The other two examples of faith in the midst of great opposition the Church gives us this weekend are Ss. John Fisher and Thomas More, whose feast day is today, June 22.

John Fisher was the Bishop of Rochester and Sir Thomas More was the Chancellor or Second in Command to King Henry VIII in 16th century England.   Both men refused to acknowledge the King’s divorce to Catherine of Aragon and his remarriage to Anne Boylen because he was denied an annullment by the Pope.

At that time, every other Bishop in England but John Fisher and every other politician in England but Thomas More signed an oath which claimed that Anne was the legitimate wife of Henry VIII.

Bishop John Fisher defended Queen Catherine in court and said that like his patron St. John the Baptist, he was ready to die in defense of the indissolubility of marriage.  After a number of imprisonments and 2 assassination attempts, the King finally managed to condemn him to death in a court of law June 17 1534.  It is said St. John Fisher accepted the sentence with “calm, dignified courage.”

He was beheaded on this day, just 2 days before the feast of John the Baptist, who also lost his head because he refused to acknowledge King Herod’s illicit marriage, a similarity that was not lost to the rest of Catholic Europe who viewed him as a saint and a martyr.

St. Thomas More’s story is more well known, especially because of the 1966 Academy Award winning movie A Man for All Seasons starring Paul Scofield, which everyone should see.   Like St. John Fisher, More was courageous and at peace until the end, saying that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first” and even joking with the executioner before he was beheaded two week’s after St. John Fisher.

Hopefully, none of us will ever have to endure such opposition as did Jeremiah or the English martyrs; but certainly if we are faithful to Jesus, we will meet with opposition both in the world and sadly even within the Church and within our own family.

When we do, may we not be afraid, but rather may we remember that if even so much as a hair of our head is touched, God will vindicate us, so much does He care for those who strive to truly follow His Son.

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