One of the most-talked about Television series of 2022 is the streaming service Paramount-Plus’ “The Offer.”  This 10-episode show is a biographical drama that traces the development of “The Godfather,” which has been named one of “the greatest and most influential films ever made.”  It was surprising that the story of what went on behind the scenes was as compelling as the movie itself. The writers, directors, and particularly the producers had to navigate studio politics, the egos, competition between actors and actresses, Mafia (not that such a thing exists) as well as FBI pressure.  One of the most interesting things was learning that the Italian-American Civil Rights Action League had started in some part in response to the book “The Godfather” and is depicted in the tv-series as having rallies and calling for boycotts of Paramount to try to stop even the filming of the movie.  The IACRL was instrumental in getting assurances and concessions from the creative team responsible for The Godfather that Italians would not be depicted in certain ways that they felt were demeaning and stereotypical to those of us who are Italian and to our culture – particularly that the word “mafia” would never be used in the script.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the 20th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – August 14, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim

Fifty years later and realizing what a legendary film “The Godfather” is, it was kind of surprising to learn about all of this.  That it would have been not only considered so controversial but that it brought about that type of reaction – calls for protests and boycotts – and the effect that those changes had that not only affected the development of the film but appeased the IACRL to such a point that they would end up backing the filming and release of the movie.

It’s safer talking about a protest or a boycott over the filming of The Godfather 50 years ago than mentioning the litany of examples we could find in 2022.  Whether it’s something serious like issues regarding racism, health policies, economic issues, or something seemingly ridiculous like a group of students at a college who held a protest demanding the abolishment of low grades (so there would be nothing below a “C”) it’s interesting to see what motivates people, what they deem as most important that they MUST take a stand, make demands, call for action, for change.  What it is they’re most passionate about.

At the heart of today’s Gospel passage, that’s what Jesus is getting at.  Which sometimes surprises people.  Hearing Him using terminology like “I have come to set the earth on fire”; Expanding on that by disabusing the cartoon- peaceful caricatures of Jesus being all rainbows, handing out puppies to people, and instead talking about how following Him won’t just be controversial, won’t just be divisive, but even divisive in our most intimate and personal of environments – among families – it is unsettling.  Makes us want to turn to those “Good Shepherd passages” right?  Which makes you wonder are these scriptures in opposition to each other?  Was Jesus having a bad day here and they’re capturing the Good Shepherd at a grumpy moment?

Not really.  It is not uncommon for us to also have those stained glass images of Jesus in long robes gently carrying a sheep on His shoulders, forgetting that what’s implied in that, what He means when He calls Himself a “Good Shepherd” is the willingness to sacrifice everything for the sheep, to go in search of the lost sheep, to protect the sheep from threats to its health and safety, to lay down His life for the sheep…  That’s taking a stand, that makes demands, and calls for action.  Jesus is passionate about the sheep – He’s passionate about us, and saving us from sin, from death – and will demonstrate that on the cross.

So it is not unreasonable that He turns around and is looking for some reciprocity on the part of His followers.  For us to have our hearts captured by His heart.  For us to catch that passion He has for us – for Him.  And there’s no shortage of ways and examples that have happened throughout the history of the Church’s 2,000-plus years that continues to this very day.  You have great extremes like people who suffer persecution and martyrdom for being Christian.  People are surprised to learn that “the persecution and genocide of Christians across the world is worse today ‘than at any time in history,’ and Western governments are failing to stop it (Newsweek )

You have the notable, laudable examples that we celebrate like men and women who discern the priesthood, and religious life; or those who dedicate years of their lives to missionary work both domestically and internationally.  You have everyday examples like those of you here today honoring the Lord’s command to “keep holy the sabbath” and making coming to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday a central part to that command.  All of those examples are important and essential in a variety of ways.

But the universal call, the passion, the action that Jesus seeks – this fire He’s come to set that He wants to fire up every single one of us about?  It’s a little more basic: it’s fighting against evil, it’s a total rejection of sin.  And while it’s good that we can get fired up about the sins, and injustices we see out in the world – and put our bumper stickers on, boycott certain businesses, and maybe even take part in different protests ourselves to bring about some societal changes in the world – the greatest battlefield, the most important battlefield – is far closer to home – it is in our hearts.  It is about bringing about changes there.

St. Paul emphasizes that point in the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews.  He talks about how we’re surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses – that would be the Saints in heaven, the ones who were on fire about pursuing Christ and rejecting sin when they lived this earthly life we’re experiencing and now enjoying the fruits of that by eternal union with God in heaven – those saints are encourgaing us to “persevere in running the race that lies before us… keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader, and perfecter of faith.”  Paul speaks from his own experience.  He had been persecuting the first Christians seeing them as heretical to his Jewish faith and causing additional threats by gaining unwanted attention from the Roman empire.  When Paul encounters the Risen Christ – Jesus directs the question personally “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9: 4)  Jesus directs Paul to see that in his misguided passion, in his desire to set all the things right in the world (as he saw it), Saul was blinding himself from how in fact he was sinning, how he had allowed evil into his life and twist him.  That’s why Paul speaks so eloquently from the heart in this reading where he encourages us not to “grow weary and lose heart.  In your struggle against sin.”

So for each of us, who all have politicians we support and those we vehemently oppose; who have causes that are near and dear to us; issues that are so important that we find ourselves moved to action, the Lord is asking us to direct that same energy inwardly.  Asking us to be focused on the only thing that matters the most in life – whether we are pursuing living eternally with Him or not – where are we in that pursuit?  How seriously do we take making a regular examination of conscience to see where I’ve failed in that daily pursuit of Him, living as a follower of His, seeing Him and serving Him in those around me, especially those in need – and bringing them to the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we confess those sins and experience Jesus’ healing, mercy and forgiveness?

St. Mother Teresa once said:  “Don’t allow anything to interfere with your love for Jesus. You belong to him. Nothing can separate you from him. That one sentence is important to remember. He will be your joy, your strength. If you hold onto that sentence, temptations and difficulties will come, but nothing will break you. Remember, you have been created for great things.”   St. Mother Teresa belongs to that great cloud of witnesses encouraging us from heaven to pursue that greatness that Jesus calls us to.  May each of us continue persevering in our runs, and never grow weary.