Catholic Contemplative Affiliation

Sunday Readings




Twentieth Sunday of the Year

August 14, 2022

Readings: Jeremiah 38.4-6, 8-10; Hebrews 12. 1-4;  Luke 12. 49-53

In his book, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh: An Introduction to Eastern Christian Spirituality, the Jesuit priest, George A. Maloney, writes: “If today many basically good Christians do not become outstanding, saintly persons, the reason perhaps may be the exaggerated misunderstanding coming down through the centuries that is attached to two long-established words in the Christian tradition of both East and West: ‘asceticism’ and ‘mysticism.’  The teaching of the universal Church holds that both are inseparable elements in the development of a total Christian life” (p. 101).

The term, asceticism, is based on a Greek word which means “exercise”, a discipline needed to enter into the contest of achieving something against obstacles.  In sports, an athlete who does well is one who exercises discipline in his or her training.  A true athlete is an ascetic. The athlete must overcome obstacles, internal and external, to the perfection required to be victorious.

Our goal in the Christian mystical life is to live the life of the Triune God, to participate in the mutual knowing and loving that is at the heart of the divine life.  We share in that life through our union with Jesus in the Holy Spirit.

Now in some degree or other, we with Jesus in the Holy Spirit live in the Father in the assembly that is the Church at the heart of the human race, one with the assembly that is in the glory of heaven, our ultimate condition. This life in Christ is the Mystery; all Christian life in its most basic is mysticism.

But there is great opposition to that sharing in the divine life.  Sacred Scripture outlines the three-fold opposition: the world, the flesh and the devil.  Therefore, we must be ascetics, disciplined in overcoming the obstacles to achieve the victory through grace.
The world is the organized secular culture that is opposed to living in the reality of God in Christ.  Sometimes, the opposition is obvious, sometimes subtle, sometimes alluring, sometimes violent, sometimes well-intentioned. 

The flesh is our own seeking self at all costs, making our selves the center of life.  It is our reliance on ourselves as the measure of reality.  It is our wounded nature, made in God’s image,  but now somewhat distanced from His likeness, because of the original sin of Adam.  We have weakened wills, darkened minds, our sensual and emotional life is out of balance.  We are subject to illness.  We must die one day.  We have the accumulation of our personal sins and vices.  (Greater is our innate goodness, beloved of God and called to redemptive grace, but the reality of our struggle must not be denied.)

Satan is the leader of those spiritual beings who are in rebellion against God.  They wage a war against God in the creation that God has made in which there is freedom of will to accept or to reject God.  Sacred Scripture, especially the New Testament, is filled with references to the warfare being conducted by demons, “powers on high.”   Pope Francis makes frequent reference to the devil as the enemy with whom there is “no dialogue.” 

Practically speaking all three combine to make a united force against our union with Christ. 

Part of the battle plan of our enemies is the modern mentality of dealing only with the observable, the measurable in opposition to the spiritual realities.   At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, it is shown how the devils acknowledged that they knew who he was and that he was coming out against them.  Jesus said that we should know that a stronger one was present because, the Stronger One, the Christ, was finally defeating the power of Satan.  God is at war with evil and we are combatants but the victory already belongs to Christ Jesus. 

One blessing of our times is the progress that has been made in psychology so that we can understand how our mind works and how delusion, narcissism, addiction, “tapes” of our wounded souls are operative in our spiritual life.  These insights help us to understand the extent of the internal struggle.  These psychological insights point to the discipline required in the work of healing through grace.  But the psychology is only one part of the whole system.  Again, this wonderful tool is misused when it is divorced from the faith-context of Christ’s Kingdom.

Another blessing is to know that the work of social justice and works of compassion are part of the asceticism combating social evils.
In this context, then, we can understand the impact of today’s Readings from Sacred Scripture as they outline the spiritual combat against the forces inimical to life in Christ.  The call is to discipline ourselves for the combat.  We are powerless of ourselves; Christ’s grace strengthens us with the infused virtues of the Holy Spirit.
The First Reading shows the fate of God’s prophet in his struggle to combat the rebellion against God.  He echoes the call to God’s people to return to their first love, God, who “has loved them with an everlasting love.”  What is the fate of Jeremiah, beloved prophet of God?  Is it celebrity?  No:
And so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern…. And Jeremiah sank into the mud. 

Is there anything more graphic of the struggle than the real possibility that it all ends with sinking in mud?  Each day how many times do we find ourselves in the mud?  Are we surprised?  Don’t we know it is part of the combat, part of the struggle?

The Second Reading tells us that there is a cloud of witnesses.  We are not alone in the struggle.  There is no true asceticism except it is lived out in the Mystical Body of Christ.  We are one among many who have struggled and who are struggling in this perennial battle to remain in the life of God against all the active and passive obstacles to sharing in the divine life.

Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith.  For the sake of the joy which lay before him he endured the cross, heedless of its shame.
It is emphasized again that there is inevitable opposition.   Remember how he endured the opposition  of sinners….   Love demands fidelity.  The sweetness of divine love is found only in the daily struggle of fidelity.  Hence do not grow despondent or abandon the struggle.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus makes it clear: We struggle in a fallen world.  The work of redemption moves among the wounded in battle.   It is not a Platonic philosophical picture of an ideal world that Jesus describes.

 Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth?  I assure you, the contrary is true; I have come for division.

In the Liturgy of the Hours in the Psalms we sing about warfare, about our Warrior Beloved, the Christ.  Christ conquers for us in the spiritual warfare we must enter if we are to have eternal life now and hereafter.

The last enemy, death, will be made my friend, conquered in Christ Jesus and in the Holy Spirit. 

Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus who inspires and perfects our faith (Second Reading). 

Notice that word, “inspires” which means literally to breath into.  Think of mouth to mouth resuscitation.  Christ breathes into our mouths the life-giving Holy Spirit.  When one dies, he expires; when one comes to life, he or she is inspired, “life breathed in.” 
Faith in the midst of the warfare is breathed into us by Christ.

It is the Paschal victory we celebrate in the Holy Eucharist, the victory of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Savior.  It is the goodness, the truth, the beauty of creation that we celebrate.  All creation is basically good, coming like all good gifts, from the loving Triune God.

We must remember, however, our constant YES to our participation in God’s goodness demands a NO to the world, the flesh and the devil.  That surrender to the Triune God is the fire Christ longs for. 

I have come to light a fire on earth.  How I wish the blaze were ignited!  I have a baptism to receive.  What anguish I feel till it is over.  

Our asceticism is our acceptance of the discipline to enter the fire and endure the divisions consequent to our Yes to life, light, and love.  The Mystery of the Eucharist—Sacrifice, Communion and Presence—is the ecclesial source of the victory of Christ.

--William Fredrickson, (OblSB; D.Min.)



For questions, comments or other communication, please contact:
William Frederickson