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Bible Reflections View Comments

Love and Faith in Tough Times
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, August 18, 2013
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Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “Friends are the family you choose.” We might say that about people who share our religious beliefs. We have an image of faith being passed down in families, almost part of our genetic identity. This is especially true in cultures that are traditionally Catholic. Today’s Gospel reminds us that even at the time of Jesus, this wasn’t always the case.

“From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three.” These words from Luke’s Gospel can startle us. We’re so familiar with Jesus preaching a message of peace and love that these words about division and conflict seem harsh, even frightening.

Jesus’s words offer a kind of tough love, a comfort to those who are struggling with family issues and questions of religious expression. They name a reality that many people experience but feel guilty about. To hear Jesus himself say that following him may break even the most sacred bond of family ties can offer hope in the midst of darkness.

Religious identity, and the deeper questions of faith that accompany it, can be a stormy time for many people. Certainly for the early Christian community, people were confronted with the realization that they were no longer welcome in synagogues because of their commitment to the way of Christ. The reality of the communities that produced the Gospels was that people were being rejected by their families of blood and searching for new family ties with those who shared their belief in Jesus as the Messiah.

Many people who come into our Catholic faith from other denominations, other religions, or no religion find themselves wrestling with objections from family members, even rejection. Hearing Jesus’s words today at least gives these people a sense of not being alone in their struggle, as well as some assurance that faith in Christ is worth the price.

Even lifelong Catholics find themselves going through transitions in their faith and their Catholic identity. Sometimes it’s more difficult for these “cradle Catholics,” because there’s no ritual for claiming an adult commitment to one’s religion.

Polls and studies over the years have shown that many people drift away from the Church in their young adult years. They may have been raised Catholic, gone to Catholic schools, but the pressures of being away from home, the fascination with learning new things and encountering new cultures, can distract them from things they took for granted. Often they return to church when they marry or have children, or when they go through some life crisis.

Sometimes young Catholics find themselves searching for a more intense expression of religion than their parents have. Religion can be a way to carve out a distinct identity, a way of being in the world that’s not the same as we had growing up. This can lead to conflict and confusion.

The key, perhaps, is to focus not on the division, not on the conflict, but on the ultimate goal: a deeper commitment to Christ, a closer relationship with his followers, whoever and wherever they are. We will find the love and faith we need if we focus on Christ.


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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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