Sermon by a Norbertine Priest
In today’s first reading we heard about the Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah. Ole Jeremiah never had it easy. It seems like he was always getting somebody upset at him. He didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this. In fact, he was a very good man. That was the problem, so to speak. He led a holy life, completely given to God; and he spent his days trying to save others. That’s why many didn’t like him, and even hated him. They did not want to be reminded—as they were by his words and example—that they themselves were on the wrong path. The fact is that, though he was constantly being persecuted, Jeremiah was actually a much happier person than his persecutors. He knew who he was, what he was about. He knew he was loved by God, sent by God to do His will, and that he would someday return to God full of glory for the good that he did on this earth.
His persecutors, on the other hand, rejected God and tried to find perfect happiness in this world, chasing after it wherever they thought it could be found, always coming up short, always looking for more, never finding enough. They died the way they lived—miserably clinging to all that passes away. Jeremiah, on the other hand, after a life of much physical suffering, died a holy death, being stoned by idolaters while exiled in Egypt—an Old Testament martyr, if you
will. Like all the Old Testament Prophets, he is considered a saint, and now lives in eternal happiness in heaven, reigning victoriously with God forever. He reached the goal; he obtained real success, the only success that matters in the end.
You can say that Jeremiah is a “man for our times.” No matter how much good he did, it always seemed like the world around him kept getting worse, and he kept on suffering more and more. And though he was a very holy man, even he started to lose his patience and once cried out to God, Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? [Jer 12:1]—questions which might be in our own minds these days. Nevertheless Jeremiah
submitted himself to God’s will and persevered to the end.
Yes, one can get really discouraged these days, especially if you forget the purpose of our life, if you forget the goal for which we ought to be striving, if you forget what real victory looks like. If you’re waiting around for the day when we will all be holding hands singing “It’s a Small World After All,” then you’re going to be very disappointed. Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?, Our Lord asked rhetorically in today’s Gospel. No, I tell you, but rather division. Or as the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel once said, “What were you expecting, Disney Land?” (Of course, our Lord is not the one who causes division. He just preaches the truth and never waters it down; and He knew in advance that some would follow Him and some would not.
Christ, the Prince of Peace, will give us perfect peace, but that’s in the next life; that’s a reward for those who follow Him here below and persevere till the end. Until that day comes, it’s a battle—as we all know by experience. The life of man upon earth, said Holy Job, is a constant warfare. He meant a spiritual warfare.
There is plenty on the evening news to get one upset. There’s plenty to get one depressed. But the only thing we should really hate—and hate with all our heart—is sin. And the only thing we should really fear—and fear with all our heart—is committing a sin. We heard St. Paul exhort the first Christians in today’s second reading: Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus [Heb 12:1]. Very often when we see how the world around is getting so bad, we are tempted to get mad at God and quote ole Jeremiah: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? But that should be a sign to us that we are beginning to lose focus on the true goal: holiness—our own and that of those around us.
Do the wicked really prosper? Having all the money one can dream of—is that going to bring you happiness? Do we who live in Southern California really need any more proof that this is completely false? Having all the power one can dream of—is that really going to bring you happiness? If you’re even just a C- student in history, you know that the majority of mob bosses, cartel leaders, dictators and Wall Street gurus are some of the most miserable individuals one can ever meet. Why do the wicked prosper? They don’t.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ has never been easy; it never will be in this life. Our Lord Himself told us, The world hates you because you are not of the world. Consider the following passage from an early Christian writer—you know, from those “good ole days,” when Roman Emperors were lopping off the heads of the first Christians and our forefathers in the Faith had to celebrate Mass in secret, even literally underground in the Roman catacombs. Here’s the quote;
it’s by an ancient Christian writer named Diognetus:
Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens.
They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, yet they live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of evildoers, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray at this Mass for the grace to imitate the Prophet Jeremiah as well as all the early Christians, who did not have it any easier than we; but they persevered amidst many evils and sufferings and now see with perfect clarity that the sufferings in this life are nothing—nothing—compared to the glory which God has in store for those who love and follow Him. To Him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be all glory and honor. Amen.