In Response to Hate: Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dignity Nova/DC – July 28/29, 2012 (Readings)

No doubt the biggest news items you’ve heard over the past week or so include:

  • Coverage of the horrific violence that happened last weekend in Colorado when a heavily armed man – who is probably mentally ill – shot up a movie theater, killing and injuring so many; or
  • The build up to and the non-stop coverage of the Olympic Games that are getting underway in London; or
  • Local coverage of the 19th International AIDS Conference that was finally able to be held here in the US; and
  • Of course, the coverage of this year’s campaign as President Obama and Governor Romney continue to slug it out for the keys to the White House.

What you might not have heard, however, are these stories about…

  • The man in Oklahoma City who sustained 2nd degree burns after his car was vandalized and fire-bombed; or
  • The 17-year old young woman in Louisville, Kentucky who was attacked by a group of adults as she walked home from a convenience store with two younger boys, who are neighborhood friends; or – and most troubling of all,
  • The 33-year old woman in Lincoln, Nebraska whose home was set on fire after 3 masked men broke in during the night and mutilated her skin, carving slurs that justified the classification of this horrific act as a Hate Crime.

The common thread between these last three is that all three victims are gay.  All three were known to be gay or lesbian and were simply going about living – just like you and I do every day – their daily, fairly mundane lives.  Suddenly, out of the blue and without warning, a violence borne of hate tore their lives apart in ways they will never forget and in ways that will leave lasting scars – both literally and figuratively.

Today’s Gospel reading is the first 15 verses of the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.  Over the next several weeks – in fact for the entire month of August – we will hear practically the entire rest of this chapter and its more than 70 verses.  For the most part, this section of John’s Gospel is referred to as the “Bread of Life Discourse,” and it starts off with this passage we just listened to, the miracle story of the multiplication of five barley loaves and a few fish so very familiar to us all.  As we move through the following weeks and hear Jesus explain in various ways that the Bread of Life, the Bread from Heaven, is indeed his very Body and Blood, the final Gospel reading of August will conclude with these words:

“’The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe’….  As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

To be a follower of Jesus is not easy – it never has been and never will be. If we doubt that, we simply need to hear again that even among those who knew Jesus in the flesh, even among those who saw him with their own eyes and who heard him with their own ears – even among these some came to a place where following him was too difficult, where being his disciple was too demanding, and so they turned around, they went back to a “former way of life” and could not find it in their minds or their hearts to continue accompanying him, allowing their lives to be transformed by the Gospel of Love and of Peace that he preached.

What I’d like to draw our attention, to, however, is not the theological and spiritual significance of these very important Gospel passages.  These Scriptures are indeed quite formative for us as Catholic Christians, and especially for our understanding of sacramentality and our unshakeable belief in what we call the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine of Eucharist.

No, what I’d like to draw our attention to is the second reading from Ephesians – especially in view of those news stories I mentioned.  Scripture scholars tell us this letter was written probably not by Paul himself, but by a disciple of Paul. As a whole, the overall theme of the Letter to the Ephesians speaks to the Unity that should exist among the followers of Jesus. As the letter states, we are called to preserve unity in the Spirit through the bond of Peace.  The author challenges us not simply to believe something, but actually to live our lives marked by virtues that characterize Christian behavior. The three virtues named here are humility, gentleness, and patience.  By embracing these and living these, we will then be united in the Spirit through that bond of Peace.

That’s all well and good for us who believe the same things, who see the world through similar eyes, and who place our faith in the same God Whom we believe is indeed “over all and in all and through all.”  But what about those who may not only believe differently than we do, but who even hate or despise us for whatever reason?  How do we respond to those who speak words of hate to us or to any one else who is “other” simply because of who they are? What do we when face to face with those who who teach their children to hate, and who say that it’s OK to do violence – which is the offspring of hate – towards those who are different? What do we do when words which sew the seeds of hate sometimes come from those in our midst most called to preach the Gospel and its fundamental assertion that we are all the beloved sons and daughters of God? And … when we see what others can do to our LGBT brothers and sisters, how is it possible to be humble, gentle, and patient in the face of that!? And of course, perhaps the most difficult question of all is, where might there be hatred in our own lives and hearts, and how do we respond when the forces of this world tug at us incessantly, trying to pull us back to a “former way of life”?

I ask these questions not because I have any answers, but simply to remind us that the world in which we live and the Peace that God alone gives will shine forth only when we who claim to be Jesus’ disciples live our lives each day with greater humility, gentleness, and patience.  Even for those who would do us harm, is not this our call as disciples? Let us pray that even in the face of the most horrific acts of violence as well as the daily acts of unkindness we may encounter, we may always respond to one another and to all with humility, gentleness and patience.

The Advents of God: Past, Future, and Every Day In Between – Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent – Dignity NoVA/DC
December 3/4, 2011

Readings

If I were to ask you to come up with a short list of words that characterize Advent for you, I suspect most of us would include the words “waiting” and “patience.” In fact, during his homily last weekend, something that our homilist said about patience really caught my attention and gave me pause. Perhaps you remember that our homilist asked the rhetorical question whether we, as gay Catholics, have something to teach the wider Church about the nature and value of patience, given the degree of patience that we and those who have gone before us have had to demonstrate as we wait for society and Church even still to recognize our full humanity and the wholeness and holiness of our sexuality.

And so as we think about patience and the value of waiting during this Advent season, a couple of questions come time mind. The first is … who is coming, for whom are we patiently waiting? And the second is … how will we know him when we see him?

Unlike Vladimir and Estragon, the characters in Samuel Becket’s existentialist play, “Waiting for Godot,” we are not waiting for someone who never shows up. Despite their being told that Godot will surely come tomorrow, we know that in this dramatic presentation from the Theater of the Absurd, Godot will not come tomorrow, nor any tomorrow thereafter. Of course, the fact that the title character never arrives suggests that he doesn’t even exist. For we who believe, however, just the opposite is true. We wait for God whom we know will come – and we know this precisely because God has already come. Probably more important than the fact that God has come in time in the past, and out belief that God will come again in the future … is our belief that God does come and is coming into our daily lives each and every day. That’s the fundamental message of the feast we are preparing to celebrate, isn’t it? The message of Christmas – without which there is no Christianity – is that God became incarnate, in time, in the very flesh and blood of humanity. Christmas also means that this Incarnation was not limited to one time, one place, one person. But it means that the Incarnation is for all time, all places, all persons.

Even if our faith is strong in answering the “Who” question, I wonder if the “how” question challenges us just a bit. Here’s what I mean. Our faith tells us that God came in the person of Jesus two thousand years ago; and it also tells us that God will come again in glory at the end of time. But what about now? What about these “in between times” before the First and Second Comings? Do we also believe that God is coming into our world and our lives right now? Do we have eyes to see the presence of God all around us, even at this very moment? Do we really believe that the Incarnation of the Divine in Jesus of Nazareth was precisely to remind us of the Incarnation of Divine in the flesh and blood lives of every woman, man and child on the face of the earth?

I put that question not only to the wider church and all who claim to be followers of Jesus; I put that question not only to all of you gathered here tonight; but I put that question also to myself … because if the answer is “yes,” If I say that yes, I do believe that God is present here and now in me, then what does that belief tell me about the way am – or should be – living my life? What does that say about the things I do or don’t do? … about the choices I make or don’t make? … about the love I give or fail to give others who are in my life?

St Teresa of Avila

St Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

One of the greatest mystics of our Catholic tradition was Teresa of Avila, the discalced Carmelite nun who, with little formal education or training, wrote deeply and profoundly about the marriage of the human and the divine. In her most developed book, Interior Castle, Teresa writes about the human soul describing it as a castle made of a single diamond; and within that castle are seven mansions that lead closer and closer to ultimate union with God. Teresa – writing for her sisters to help them on their own spiritual journeys of faith – answers my second question and tells us very clearly how we will know when God is present. Teresa reminded her sisters and reminds us across the centuries that even when we are engaged in what some might call “worldly” activities, in the daily “stuff” of every day life of – in both its pleasures and its struggles, in both our successes and our shortcomings – it is in the midst of all this that God comes into our lives, hearts and our souls.

Teresa wrote: God’s “appeals [to us] come through the conversations of good people, or from sermons, or through the reading of good books; and there are many other ways, of which you have heard, in which God calls us. Or they come through sicknesses and trials, or by means of truths which God teaches us at times when we are engaged in prayer.”

Teresa reminds us that God comes to us through the life of someone in whom we can see beauty and truth. God comes to us in the wonder of nature, the crispness of an autumn day, and the stillness of a breath-taking sunset. God comes in the love of another person who loves us so deeply and so unconditionally that our defenses are lowered and we dare to accept the fact that we are lovable. God comes when we gather with friends and family to share a meal, when we reach out a hand to someone we’ve hurt, or even simply to someone who is alone and for whom solitude is less a choice and more simply just the way life is. God comes when we give without fanfare or recognition to those in need – especially when we give not from our bounty, but from our necessity. Most of all, she reminds us that there is no limit to the countless ways in which God comes into our daily lives. Perhaps that’s we need especially to hear; that during this busy, over-scheduled and distraction-filled time of year, we need to be reminded that every step along the way, every word we speak, every action we take, every person we meet … these all have within them the possibility to be encounters with God incarnate in our world.