15 July – Memorial for St. Bonaventure, bishop, religious, doctor
St. Bonavenure (1221-1274) entered the Franciscan Order when he was 22. At the age of 35, he was chosen General of his Order and restored a perfect calm where peace had been disturbed by internal dissensions. He did much for his Order and composed The Life of St. Francis. He also assisted at the translation of the relics of St. Anthony of Padua.
There came to power in Egypt a new king who knew nothing of Joseph. ‘Look,’ he said to his subjects ‘these people, the sons of Israel, have become so numerous and strong that they are a threat to us. We must be prudent and take steps against their increasing any further, or if war should break out, they might add to the number of our enemies. They might take arms against us and so escape out of the country.’
Accordingly they put slave-drivers over the Israelites to wear them down under heavy loads. In this way they built the store-cities of Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. But the more they were crushed, the more they increased and spread, and men came to dread the sons of Israel. The Egyptians forced the sons of Israel into slavery, and made their lives unbearable with hard labour, work with clay and with brick, all kinds of work in the fields; they forced on them every kind of labour.
Pharaoh then gave his subjects this command: ‘Throw all the boys born to the Hebrews into the river, but let all the girls live.’
Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be those of his own household.
‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me.
Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.
‘Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me.
‘Anyone who welcomes a prophet will have a prophet’s reward; and anyone who welcomes a holy man will have a holy man’s reward.
‘If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.’
When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples he moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword
This is a hard verse to read if we do not understand the context in which Christ spoke this to his disciples. I believe that many of us may have the experience of divisions happening within the family. The nature of human relationships is already fraught with differences and mundane annoyances, so why would Jesus mention the obvious that He has “come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother…”? Isn’t Jesus’ other name the ‘Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6 and John 14:27)? If so, how could he advocate violence and discord?
Firstly, the mention of ‘a sword’ refers to a spiritual sword, in the spiritual sense. Jesus is aware of the resistance and conflict that will come up against those who choose to follow him. He is speaking to his disciples who have already left home, family, and town, to take this winding journey with him across the plains and deserts to preach the Gospel and ministers to all who came to listen to him. By now, they would not only have experienced rejection from new communities, but they would have already been judged by their families for their insanity or disloyalty to their tribes. In this address, Jesus is acknowledging their sacrifice and also reminding them of the cross they would have to constantly pick up.
As I reflect on the misunderstandings I have encountered within my family and friendships of how and why I have chosen to follow God, to be a Christian, I feel that these words of Christ are balm to my soul. I do not see him advocating violence with a physical sword, but I see that He is affirming what I have already known – that the peace He brings to me, is a peace between myself and God. And that choosing Him would entail henceforth a division between the lens I view the world, and the way my ‘tribe’ views it. I have chosen this path to follow Him. And I can only choose for myself – this is absolutely clear.
For those who reject God, and the only way of salvation through Jesus (John 14:6), they will find themselves perpetually at war with God. Jesus acknowledges the earthly implications of such a divergence in spiritual ‘routes’ that we take from our families and loved ones. As the first reading of Exodus relates to us the persecutions the Israelites faced from the Jews, in our time today we may see arguments, aggravations, or abuse and torture, from people who reject all those who choose to follow Christ. It may even devolve to making life very hard for believers to practise their faith, to pray, to worship, etc. I have heard stories of children and typically wives, who face the wrath of their fathers or husbands if they want to attend church services or be baptised. Some even do so in secret to avoid ‘getting in trouble’ – “A man’s enemies will be those of his own household.”
However, those who come to Him in repentance will find themselves at peace with God. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are restored to a relationship of peace with God (Romans 5:1).
Some may reject Christ because they do not yet understand. Ignorance may be their temporary reason. However, we know that some ultimately choose blindness over enlightenment, stubbornness over obedience. These are the ones we, as Christians, ought to pray doubly hard for.
We do not know the hour or the day when they may meet their Maker. Neither do we know the hour or the day when they would believe. I have seen miracles happen in the lives and families of friends, and from anecdotal accounts – I pray the same for the ones in my family who are still wrestling immensely hard with letting God into their lives.
Whom among your family are you called to pray for today?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Jesus our Lord and Saviour, I pray for my earthly family who do not yet know you and the promise of Eternal life and love and restoration and peace that you offer. I seek the mercy from your Sacred Heart to touch them and move them to open their hearts a crack so that your Holy Spirit may enter.
Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord for all the promising and uplifting conversion stories I hear. They shine a light unto my path when I am tempted to lose patience and fervour in your promises.