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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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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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