Monthly Archives: June 2016

Orlando and a God of Life

Homily for the 12th Week of Ordinary Time — Cycle C 2016

Readings for the 12th week of Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Zechariah 12:19-11; 13:1
Galatians 3:26-29
Luke 9:18-24

Perhaps you have heard of the terrible event that happened in Orlando early last Sunday morning. Most of us are aware of the murder of 49 people in a nightclub and dozen others who were wounded by a single gunman. And, perhaps, you came here today hoping to get a reprieve from the news of such violence.  After all this is church, not the news. You might say to me, “People come to church to hear comforting words about Jesus’ love for them, not to hear commentary on the news, Father!”

Yet, the event of last Sunday kept coming to my mind as I read the words of our first reading. “They shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son or firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem (or Orlando) will be as great as the mourning that followed a previous tragedy in the plain of Megiddo (or Sandy Hook).” The Scriptures insist we apply the Word of God to our present situation.

Evil is very present in our world. The seductive voice of the devil still influences people with the promise that God will be served or the world will be a better place if violence is used to impose your will on others. Violence, killing, seeing human beings created in the image of God as somehow inferior to yourself, a “true believer” is the work of the devil still rebelling against the Rule of God and His kingdom of love. Therefore gay folk must be killed. People who worship Christ as God must be eliminated. It’s o.k. to use violence to silence those who disagree with my political point of view. Our world still experiences the seductive voice of the Evil One.

417px-JesusTeachingAs Catholics, our Holy Father, Our Bishops, our Scriptures would have us be clear about how God operates. Today’s Gospel reading has us recall how Jesus Christ taught his disciples to respond to evil. And it’s not with more violence.

First, God is a God of life. God never causes death or condones violence that brings death to any of his children created in his image. Those who claim to kill in the name of God are not hearing our God’s voice but the voice of the evil one who tells the lie that violence against human beings pleases God or will make the world a better place. Instead, God uses his son’s non-violent acceptance of death as the means of destroying evil.

Secondly, this God of life is the one God worshiped by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Unfortunately, the sacred scriptures of all three faiths descended from Abraham have been perverted by people seduced by evil throughout human history. The same God of all three faiths wishes to establish a way for humans to live in reconciled peace. This God worshiped by Jew, Muslim and Christian does not cause or condone evil. There is no room in the Christian heart for judgement of another person because of their religion rightly practiced. God is all good. God is great. God is life. God, by his very nature is incapable of causing death. But, in Jesus Christ, we believe, God has taken on death and destroyed the power of death to deny humans life. This is what Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel. God will destroy the power of evil that causes human suffering through His own death. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed by evil men and on the third day be raised.” Because Jesus became human, every human who loves others and who sacrifices his or her self for others (like some of the people in the Orlando club did) is Jesus enabling every human life to reveal the presence of the divine image in this world. And those who love unselfishly, Paul reminded us in the second reading no matter what their ethnic origin, (Jew or Gentile), economic status (slave or free), sex or sexuality (male or female), there is the potentiality of that person being Christ in the midst of the present day world.

Therefore, in a sense, an evil man once again killed Christ. Once again, in our own day, Jesus is persecuted, denied, and tortured. And once again, we are asked to believe with eager expectation that Jesus has THE WAY to defeat hate. He has THE WAY to destroy the power of death seemingly so powerful in our midst.

In the Gospel Jesus predicts death will not defeat Him. “The Son of Man will suffer greatly, but on the third day He will rise, again.” Those who are killed because of hate remind us to trust that the love of Jesus that did not resort to violence to win the victory over evil is the only way to live. Sacrificing of the self for the good of others, in union with Jesus, is the only way to peace, that is the ultimate reconciliation of humanity. Unfortunately, so many people on our planet and even in our country have closed the “ears of their heart” to this truth revealed by Jesus to the whole of humanity. So, evil seems to prevail, but only for now.

The events of Orlando bring us face to face with evil in our own backyard. The question of Jesus should be ringing in our minds. “Who do you say that I am?” A nice man with some nice thoughts to share? A fool? By our presence in this church memorializing him, thereby recognizing he lives in our midst, we are hopefully saying, “You are the one who can save humanity from its self and its violence. Not just at your return at the end of time, Jesus, but even now. We will not give into the voice of evil that says violence is the answer. We’ll even risk our lives for others, for we claim Jesus is the Christ, the God who reveals sacrificial love is stronger even than hate and death. Thoughts and prayers or hashtag “we are Orlando” is not a bold enough statement of our faith. Action that says we’re willing to follow Jesus promoting the dignity of every human, even to the death of our self at the hands of evil persons, is the only correct answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” You, Jesus, are the love of God for all humanity. You are mercy that definitively fixes the human condition so influenced by evil. You alone, Jesus, are our savior. May your church strive to more perfectly be your presence in a world that still knows the effects of evil so that we may share in your victory over the power of death.

©2016 Rev. Joseph C. Rascher

(May I suggest you check out a statement by Sean Cardinal O’Mally, Archbishop of Boston who, I think, says more eloquently what I tried to preach
http://www.cardinalseansblog.org/2016/06/17/reflecting-on-the-orlando-tragedy/)

 

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A God of Life Not Death

I know it’s been a least 6 months since I’ve posted…more about why in another post I’m preparing. For now, I invite you to read my homily from the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C in the Roman Catholic Lectionary.

Homily for the Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Readings for the Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C
1 Kings 17:17-24
PS 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
Galatians 1:11-14A, 15AC, 16A, 17, 19
LK 7:11-17

Funeral homes are not comfortable places to visit. Anyone who visits the family of the deceased finds it awkward, an uncomfortable duty to go to the funeral home and stand in front of a casket. What do you say? How can I make the wife, the husband, the parent of the person whose body lies in the casket feel better like people naturally want to do?

God, in the person of Jesus has empathy for the funeral home experience. Jesus encounters a funeral in today’s Gospel. Surely, God’s emotional heart revealed in Jesus feels the pain of the mother following her son’s casket to the graveyard. Like any decent human, Jesus most likely was wondering, what do I say, what do I do?

800px-Nain_widow's_son_is_resurrected_by_Christ

Nain Widow’s Son is Resurrected by Christ – mosaic in Monreale Cathedral

This story and others like it in the Gospels show us the death of people is not an unknown experience to God. In Jesus, God knows first hand, in an emotional way the pain and grief of death. Jesus encounters human grief and  human death not just in the young man of today’s story but many times Christ comes face to face with death in the Gospels. There is the time he visits the home of a dead little girl and says “Teletha kum” that is, “Little girl, get up!” Another time he cures from a distance the servant of a Roman official who claims he is not worthy to have the Christ enter his house. Of course, the experience of death got very personal when Jesus takes  four days to get to the home of Lazarus only to find out he’s too late and his friend is  already in a grave.

The death of people pulls at the heart of Jesus. Maybe that’s why he was willing to suffer death hoping somehow his own death would destroy death for he had seen how he was able to bring people back to life on numerous occasions. Each of these encounters with death stirs up God’s mercy and is sign of power of Jesus to control death. In Jesus, our God reveals his empathy, God grieves over the human condition that leads to death.

Here is the point of the Gospel. God desires life for his creation. God is a God of life! Death is not something The Lord sends humans, but rescues humans from. Death is not something God does to people (like the prophet Elijah of the first reading seems to imply). Death is something God controls. The Almighty has the final word over death.

Yes, the Lord knows the time of our deaths, but God doesn’t make death happen for death is the consequence of humanity refusing to live in God’s realm from the beginning. Death resulted because humanity refused to submit to God’s authority from day one. (“Hey let’s eat those apples God said not to eat! What’s the worst that could happen?”) You might say humanity brought it upon itself and God had to rescue humanity by becoming human so that he could die and restore order to creation. The Good News revealed in Jesus is that death isn’t as powerful as we think it is. Life is God’s desire for us. By having faith in Jesus Christ, by being a member of his Body we can have some control over our destiny, eternal life or eternal suffering. With Jesus we participate in the restoration of the human person created from the beginning to be alive able to know, love and serve God, without fear of life ending.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Resurrection_of_the_Widow's_Son_at_Nain_(La_résurrection_du_fils_de_la_veuve_de_Naïm)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

Brooklyn Museum – The Resurrection of the Widow’s Son at Nain (La résurrection du fils de la veuve de Naïm) – James Tissot – published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US.

Because we are the Body of Christ, we also have the power to give life to those who are in the grip of the power of death. Yes, we won’t resuscitate a body like Elijah or Jesus in today’s readings. You and I will never be able to go to the death bed of a loved and make a dead body live, again.

But…
When Jesus resorted life to the young man, the mother was also given her life back. It the culture of Jesus’ day, she would have had to beg to continue to eat, to live. Women didn’t work. The culture of the day dictated that women rely on the men in their family to provide them a home, food and safety. The woman of Nain has no other men to give her life. Her only son is dead and she’s a widow. Jesus gives life to two people in the story.

Everyday we encounter the cultural forces of death that attempt to deny people life till they are born away in their caskets, too.
Hunger…
Illness…
The violence of war remotely revealed on our media screens…

What do we do? Ignore the grief, the suffering in front of us? Or be the Christ who is en-bodied in the church and reach out and touch those affected by death’s influence?

We need to listen to the voice of empathy tugging at the heart of Jesus beating in us that made him stop and touch the casket. We raise up to life those we feed through food banks and Rice bowl collections.We make life more comfortable for the sick person we visit or bring to the doctor or run the errands of a senior citizen who can no longer drive. In voting, in letter writing, being politically involved we have a chance to move our leaders and representatives to build a more just world were peace can take hold instead of resorting to violence. As members of Christ by baptism, we too, like him, can face death declaring God is a God of life.

Once we say we belong to Christ, we have a decision to make. We must choose to extend the power of Christ over death or we can just walk on by, ignoring the grief of humanity facing a grim future because it seems like we can do nothing. The spirit of Jesus lives in his church, us. Let our hearts beat with the empathy of Jesus, stopping to touch the lives of those under the power of death and bring them life.

© 2016 Joseph C. Rascher

O God, from whom all good things come,
grant that we, who call on you in our need,
may at your prompting discern what is right,
and by your guidance do it.
Through our lord Jesus Christ, your son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the holy spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Opening Collect for the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Roman Missal, 3rd Edition


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