by Father Patrick Longalong
When I was at my first parish assignment as a priest, I became friends with many families, especially at the parish’s academy. One child of Indian descent deeply expressed to his mother about his desire to be a Catholic. She gave it much reflection and thought, which led to her decision to also become a Catholic along with her son on Easter Vigil.
Ever since that beautiful celebration, I saw them come to Mass almost daily. The young boy would have a smile on his face and would wave to me as he entered the church. I could tell that his mother was very happy to see her son enjoying this newfound faith.
One summer day, she called the parish office to request their apartment be blessed. I immediately went to their home and was greeted by that familiar grin from the young boy at the door while his mother waited at the top of the stairs. We heard Scripture and blessed their home.
Before I left, we had a profound conversation about her faith. It was clear that she had turned herself and her son over to God. She requested a special prayer of protection for her family because her conversion to Catholicism had put herself and her son in physical danger from her relatives who are devout in their religion.
Living in modern-day America, we almost never hear about this situation, if we do at all. But this is a reality in other parts of the world.
This mother’s conversion was initiated by her son’s joy over entering a relationship with Christ. And now she decided to place both her life and her son’s life in Jesus’ hands when they committed themselves to the Lord on that Easter Vigil.
The Gospel of Luke this week is a passage that is quite familiar to us. There are nuances in the English translation, however, that don’t capture completely the full picture of what Jesus is conveying.
Jesus said, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”
The use of the word “baptism” was common during Jesus’ time. But baptism doesn’t simply mean being immersed in water. It has a nuance of being almost overwhelmed with an enormous test or suffering. It is being plunged over your head with an unbearable experience.
It is in this same sentence that Jesus used the word “anguish,” or synechomai in Greek. Clearly, Jesus was experiencing deep psychological and emotional pressure because of the suffering he knew would eventually befall him.
Can you imagine that life? This is the situation my former parishioner is living with. The fear that something tragic will happen to herself and to her son because they became Christians.
We are certain Jesus came to bring peace to our lives and to this world. But that doesn’t mean everything will be easy or everyone will be agreeable.
Who wants to hear that there will be division? Who is willing to suffer? That, however, is the cost of discipleship. There will be some who will question your intentions, your effort, your authenticity and your faith.
The prophet Jeremiah in the first reading was accused of “demoralizing” and not being “interested in the welfare of the […] people, but in their ruin.”
As a prophet, he was derided for his preaching to the extent that he came close to being completely silent. He quickly recognized the Word the Lord placed in his mouth would have to be proclaimed. He had to speak because he was experiencing more agony in his silence.
He clearly expressed that when he said, “I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name. But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot!” (Jeremiah 20:9)
This week, I would like to encourage in our reflection of Scripture the twofold meaning of the word martyr: bearing witness for Christ or dying for Him. There is a tremendous amount of pressure placed upon those who faithfully serve the Lord. But with patient endurance and reliance on the grace given by God, we can achieve extraordinary things.
For now, we are asked in the second reading to “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Readings for the 20th Sunday
in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10
Psalm 40: 2, 3, 4, 18
Hebrews 12: 1-4
Luke 12: 49-53
Father Longalong is the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, Queens Village, and coordinator of the Ministry to Filipino Immigrants.