As Christians our fundamental stance before God is to acknowledge God’s dominion over the world. The Lord is our God. God alone we worship – not money, not personality, not wealth, not power. Perhaps the greatest distortion of the Gospel comes from so-called Christian groups who preach the gospel of prosperity. Many of these preachers have never studied theology and are ignorant of authentic biblical studies. ‘Have faith,’ they say ‘and you will be wealthy and prosperous.’ It was recently said that the outcome of better relations with North Korea could be the building of hotels on the shoreline as a great source of wealth for the country. Our prayer and hope is that any new relationship will not only reduce the danger of war but give an opportunity for a new emergence of human rights and freedom. For me it remains a strong prayer but a distant hope at this time. Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies but prayer does not allow for adulation of one who is a murderer and brutal dictator.
For us Christians to do the will of God (love of God and neighbor, living a virtuous life, living by faith, and offering our sufferings with Christ to God) will create a righteous society where genuine peace prevails. Peace is not just the absence of war but guarantees that people can live in dignity developing their God given potential and enjoying their legitimate share in the goods of the earth (fresh water, earning a livelihood, raising a family, receiving a good education, having access to health care, finding time for leisure etc.etc.) Peace is not about the acquisition of unlimited wealth but rather about a just distribution of wealth that allows all people to participate freely in creating the common good for themselves and others. For working people this means a living wage. For the elderly, the ill, those suffering from physical or mental limitations this means a helping hand from society and government. When huge amounts of money go into armaments, it is difficult to meet all the human needs. Especially crucial to maintaining the peace, is the care of our earth, our common home. When we pollute we damage the earth and its inhabitants and drive people into poor health and poverty. Those who deny the necessity for environmental care of our earth are not peacemakers and usually are worshippers of economic wealth at all costs.
Our God is a God of peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Mt. 5:10
This very day hundreds of parents are mourning – suffering terribly – because they have been separated from their children. These parents are not criminals but good people who have fled violence and poverty seeking a better life for themselves and their families in a new land. It is unconscionable that the country we live in and love hides behind its laws in separating children from their parents. Little children are traumatized. Mothers and fathers are painfully stressed as their own flesh and blood are pulled away from them. All law must be interpreted and applied in a way that honors the dignity of the human person. Using the law to oppress and degrade families because they have crossed a border illegally smells of a police state. What is more degrading and terrorizing than to snatch people’s children away from them? Border control can be firm but respectful and careful about people’s human rights and dignity. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Mt.5:4) God brings comfort to these families and we are called to be God’s instruments.
During these past eight months since my injury, one of the greatest blessings of which I became aware was being a member in the family of the Church. So many people prayed for me; so many sent me cards and notes and visited me. Everyday a meal was lovingly prepared for me. People drove me to my appointments and performed tasks for me in the house that I could not do for myself. I who was a highly independent individual became completely dependent on others. I prayed to God for healing but God did not answer my prayer as requested. Nevertheless God did answer in a different way my prayer and the prayers of all those praying for me. I am by the grace of God walking.
I told my doctor that there are three things involved in healing and recovery if it is meant to be: the human body itself, medical intervention along with nursing care, and prayer.
Jesus says in Mark’ gospel that his family – his sister, his brother and his mother – are those “who do the will of God.” What is the will of God that makes us into a family? The will of God is first of all to believe – to have faith in the one true God and His Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord. Secondly it is to live a virtuous life (in spite of all our sins and failings). Thirdly it is to do good for others in this world. Fourthly, it is to offer all our sufferings to God. When we offer our sufferings to God we join our sufferings to those of Christ and actually participate in the redemption of the world.
Yes, during these past eight months I have experienced what it means to belong to the family of God in the Church. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” “And looking around at those seated in the circle he said: ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.'”
Homily for Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the sixth century Pope Gregory the Great described how arrogant people govern. They simply dominate and crush. We would say they have a mean streak which sees everyone else as a competitor to be conquered. They do not use rational arguments and their actions are characterized by cruelty and violence. Their authority is an exercise of domination which comes from their power rather than an authority which comes from living an authentic life based on the truth of what they say and do. What we are talking about here is the sin of pride which destroys oneself and others as well. Humility is the virtue of truth and honesty. Humility has nothing to do with letting people walk all over you nor with weakness of character. Humility in words honors what is true. It abhors the lie. Humility in action conforms to what one believes and professes. It abhors hypocrisy. Weakness finds a home in arrogance. Strength rests in genuine humility.
Yesterday in an opinion article in the New York Times, Stephen T. Asma argued in “What Religion Gives Us (That Science Can’t)” that we need religion. He wrote from a purely human perspective with no reference to God. According to Asma, religion “isn’t terribly reasonable” and in fact “its irrationality may even be the source of its power” in affecting one’s emotional well-being. He claims that “religion can provide direct access to ‘the’ emotional life in ways that science does not.” He sees religion as “a road-tested form of emotional management.” “Religion,” he says, “trades in magical thinking and no proof.” But for Asma this magical thinking gives us something of value in our emotional life.
This is the very error that Pope Francis speaks about in “Rejoice and Be Glad! The Call to Holiness.” It is a great error to look upon religion (and in my case Christianity) as some sort of aid organization, ignoring a personal relationship with God. Religious faith is first of all a relationship of trust in God. It is not some magical formula that guarantees a fixed outcome. Neither is it unreasonable to have confidence in God. The Catholic tradition has long held the close relationship between faith and reason since both seek truth which is one. From the earliest days of Christianity magical spirituality as practiced by the gnostics (who claimed a hidden knowledge) has been condemned. Christianity is a way of life rooted in human nature created by God (grace builds on nature) and not some unreasonable exercise in magic. Of course, religion is good for the human person and the human family. God is for us. Out of love God has created us and redeemed us to know God and to love God in this life and in the life to come. Religious faith gives us a meaning and purpose for our lives. Asma is right in approaching the positive value of religion but is far from the point in not seeing religion as a bond with a transcendent God.
In “The Call to Holiness” Pope Francis gives play to the importance of humor by quoting a prayer of St. Thomas More: ‘Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor.’ To my way of thinking humor helps to keep ourselves properly tuned amidst the experiences of life. None of us should take ourselves too seriously.
When couples celebrate their golden wedding anniversaries I ask them what made their marriages successful. Often they respond that one of the elements was a sense of humor. In a homily at a funeral a humorous anecdote about the deceased can help bring healing to the mourners. A few good laughs at an event can make for an enjoyable evening and help build a spirit of community. (By the way I am not speaking about crude, biting and derogatory humor. I am speaking about good humor that makes one chuckle about life in a positive vein.) We can reduce stress in our own lives when we can laugh at our foolish mistakes. It is said that God has a sense of humor because he created each of us with our own idiosyncrasies but at the same time has destined us to be with Him forever in the glory of heaven.
A keen sense of humor can help keep us from making harsh and unreasonable demands on ourselves as well as on others. I wonder if one of the reasons so many young people have taken their own lives might be a fear of failure to live up to the demands they make upon themselves or others have made upon them. As adults do we lay heavy burdens on our young people to succeed at all costs? Do we take the joy of youth out of their lives? I think of Jesus’ yoke and burden which is light. My father used to say that one can get too much religion – meaning too many rules and demands and missing the heart of religion which is faith in God. What we desire in ourselves is the fullness of God.
“Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor.”
When are we going to fix our broken and inhumane immigration system? It is absolutely cruel and unjust that children are separated from their parents who enter this country illegally looking for a decent life for their families. Would you not be traumatized if you were a parent and your children were taken from you when you came to the United States fleeing violence, poverty or oppression at home? Our Attorney General called such parents “smugglers.” He said “If you are smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. What has gone wrong with us as a nation on how we enforce our laws? Have we as a nation lost our humanity? By law immigrants are allowed to seek asylum whether they come to a port of entry or at the border or cross between ports and end up in Border Patrol Custody.
No one denies the appropriateness of proper border security. But we fail as a nation when we treat people without papers as criminals and call them “smugglers of children.” When parents are arrested their children are not allowed to accompany them to jail where they wait to be prosecuted or sentenced. Children are placed into the care of sponsors. The Assistant Secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services reports that 1, 475 children placed with sponsors are missing. There are some gruesome stories circulating about children falling into human trafficking. Some parents are known to be deported without their children. If parents are traumatized, what about the effects on the children. Can we not find a humane way of addressing our immigration challenges?
When the people were bringing their children to Jesus and the disciples tried to prevent them, Jesus GREW INDIGNANT and said to them “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them. For such is the kingdom of God.” (Mk 10:13-14)
I think we need to grow indignant about how immigrants without papers are treated in a way that dehumanizes them. Their human rights must be respected while at the same time we reform our immigration system. We need legislation to establish new pathways to legalization and citizenship, to insure reasonable control of the border, to address the causes of immigration, and to review policies of the United States that might contribute to the violence and corruption in other countries which gives rise to people fleeing from their homelands.
Let’s take a look again at the plaque of Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”