Evil can be strong, but God’s love and mercy is stronger

Readings for Today

(Homilies given at Our Lady of Lourdes, University City, MO, on June 30 and July 1, 2018.)

It is no secret we live in a broken world. We are surrounded by violence. People are suffering unjustly. Children are separated from the parents. There is family brokenness. And we sin. But despite all of this, the love and mercy and forgiveness of Jesus is stronger. It can heal. It can raise people from the dead. And if we accept this in faith, we can live forever.

Here’s what I think: It’s a spiritual problem

Westside Middle School, Jonesboro, Arkansas.

James Parker Middle School, Edinboro, Pennsylvania.

Thurston High School, Springfield, Oregon.

Columbine High School, Littleton, Colorado.

Lake Worth Middle School, Lake Worth, Florida.

Santana High School, Santee, California.

Red Lion Area Senior High School, Red Lion, Pennsylvania.

Ricori High School, Cold Spring, Minnesota.

Red Lake Senior High School, Red Lake, Minnesota.

Campbell County Comprehensive High School, Jacksboro, Tennessee.

Platte Canyon High School, Bailey, Colorado.

Amish School, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

Central High School, Knoxville, Tennessee.

Discovery Middle School, Madison, Alabama.

Millard South High School, Omaha, Nebraska.

Chardon High School, Chardon, Ohio.

Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, Connecticut.

Sparks Middle School, Sparks, Nevada.

Arapahoe High School, Centennial, Colorado.

Reynolds High School, Troutdale, Oregon.

Marysville Pilchuck High School, Marysville, Washington.

Townville Elementary School, Townville, South Carolina.

North Park Elementary School, San Bernardino, California.

Freeman High School, Rockford, Washington.

Aztec High School, Aztec, New Mexico.

Marshall County High School, Benton, Kentucky.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida.

27 school shootings in the last 20 years. And this does not include suicides, gang related violence or deaths that resulted from interpersonal troubles.  Let that number sink in for a moment.  27 school shootings in 20 years.  An average of a little more than a school shooting a year.  Nowhere else in the world is there this level of violence in schools.  Nowhere.  Whatever is happening here in the United States simply does not have any other countries to compare to in terms of this issue. 

And this is just schools.  This does not include the Las Vegas shooting, the Pulse nightclub shooting or the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.  Just schools. And the pace of these school shootings is escalating.  Fifteen have occurred in the last ten years. Ten have occurred in the last five years.  That is two a year.    

We have a school shooting problem.  We have a shooting problem.  We have an incarceration problem.  And, once again, little is likely to come from this latest school shooting.  There will be no honest discussion about a complex problem, because we will cling to our tired clichés.  There will be people who will pray, and while spiritually beneficial, all too soon there will be another incident where we will be called to pray again.  We will hear again that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  We will hear again that simply banning automatic weapons will solve the problem, when the gun responsible for the most deaths is the handgun. And once again, no meaningful search for a solution to a problem will happen.

Why? Because before we discuss solutions, we must admit the problem.  It is not just a gun problem. We have a spiritual problem.  I am not simply discussing a problem related to going to church or belonging to a religion.  We have a spiritual problem because in too many instances we sell our values for short term gain.  And it is not just Republicans.  And it is not just Democrats.  It is what arises from politics that have become tribal. It is what arises when people stop using words like evil and sin. 

When we do not believe every human being has a right to be born, we create the seeds of violence.  When we refer to immigrants as criminals, rapists and murderers, we sow the seeds of violence. When we become comfortable when almost 1 in 5 children live in poverty, we sow the seeds of violence.  When we allow schools in high poverty areas to languish, we sow the seeds of violence.  When we are comfortable with children not have equity and access to the type of education that would provide them the opportunity to succeed, we sow the seeds of violence. When we are ok with the culture that makes it possible for men to sexually harass, assault and abuse women, we sow the seeds of violence.  When we objectify people through pornography, and sexualize human beings in the interest of selling a product (I am pointing out your World Series ads a few years ago, Hardees) we sow the seeds of violence.

Bottom line.  We are our brother’s keeper.  We must see Jesus in every other human being, without exception. (This means doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.) We must welcome the stranger. We must care when people do not have access to basic needs.  We must fight for the right of every human being to be born and cared for after birth.  We must fight for a country that seeks to provide opportunity for all, regardless of income.  We must fight for an end to human trafficking, pornography and the sexual exploitation of women.  Put simply, I must emulate Jesus, in whose image I and everyone else is made.

We need to admit our spiritual problem.  A problem with the spirit.  We need to be kind to each other.  We need to be responsible for our own sins.  We need to be responsible and admit that we choose not to help others when we could.  We need to admit that we are responsible, each one of us, for sins of justice that perpetuate, and even make worse, the imbalance of opportunity among peoples in this world.  We need to understand that when we think of ourselves as over and against other human beings, and we do little to understand people who disagree with us, we make it even more likely that people will be left out and ostracized.

Saint James reminds us of this in his letter.  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

Respect for human dignity cannot be limited to certain human beings.  Respect for human dignity cannot be limited to respecting only people who look like us. It cannot be limited only to people who agree with us, or see the world like us. We must stop referring to people with whom we disagree as crazy or evil.  We must stop using belittling nicknames for our political opponents.  I have never referred to another politician with a derogatory nickname.  This is not because I am better than anyone else.  It is because I know I must respect people to have any influence on making things better.

I am tired of the same old stupid lines that come out after tragedies like this.  Yes, despite drug laws, people still do drugs.  So, should all drugs simply be legal? Gun control alone, in whatever form it takes, will not end violence.  Can we, for once, rise to the occasion of a tragedy, by demonstrating a willingness to admit we have a violence problem.  Can we put away the clichés and admit that for whatever reason, the United States is an outlier with gun violence.  Can we research to find out why? Can we have logical, evidence-based discussions to discover a solution? Can we admit that this is a complex problem that will not be easily or quickly solved?

Can we stop blaming the mentally ill? Yes, there are mentally ill people who are violent.  But people who are mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence, not perpetrators.  While it is estimated that one in four people will experience some sort of mental illness, 25% of people are not engaging in violent behavior.  Correlation (when something is related) is not causation (when something produces an effect). I could find correlation between being male and violence.  Does that mean then that we should pass laws to keep men from guns? Of course not. 

I do believe we need to discuss reasonable gun restrictions.  When the United States turned its attention to cars, to make them safer, cars became much safer.  I realize the Constitution does not make having and driving a car a right.  But with every right comes responsibility.  And as much as I wonder why people need an AR-15, the most problematic gun in the United States is the handgun.  We need to be able to discuss the issue of gun violence. And we need a national solution.  Yes, some cities have restrictive gun laws.  But, drive a few miles, and guns are easy to get.  We need to sit down and talk with each other about this problem, and a whole host of others.  But we won’t.  And, in fact, until we admit our spiritual problem, it will not make a difference even if we did.

Deep Regret – With or Without Hope: Homily for November 25, 2017

Readings for Today

There is nothing worse than coming to the awareness of deep sin.  It can be quite challenging when we realize we have turned our backs on God.  It is sad when we discover the heartache of evil.  When that happens, we have a choice.  We can choose to give in to despair, or we can choose to have hope.  If we do not recognize the power of God’s forgiveness, or we are too proud to acknowledge his greatness, we despair. When we turn our hearts back to God, trusting in the mercy and forgiveness we do not deserve, we have hope.

What will you do in answer to God’s goodness? Will you humbly confess your sin, or will you stubbornly persist in evil? Will you be greedy generous? Prideful or humble? Seek out God’s mercy and you will live.

Has God Rejected Us?: Homily for Saturday, November 4, 2017

Readings for Today

It can feel at times like God has rejected us.  Such is the question in today’s first reading.  The recent events of our lives, those violent acts that have made the news can cause the feeling of rejection.  But how often are the evils in our world the result of human sin?

To be sure, in some way, all evil is the result of the fall from grace.  All evil arises from sin, for God is only goodness. What humans need always to recall is the constant need for forgiveness and conversion.  Every sin we commit contributes to the proliferation of evil in our world.  So ask God for the grace of conversion.

What does protection mean?: Homily for Monday, October 2, 2017

Readings for Today

I heard about the shootings in Las Vegas before I recorded this homily.  It is really awful. I am shaken, as I am sure others are too. Life is so fragile. In just an instant, life can change. Perhaps what is most difficult about a mass shooting is the ordinariness of the location. We feel safe.  We do not expect it.

So just what does it mean when we ask God to protect us? What does it mean? Does protection by God mean we have guaranteed safety? That cannot be true, as we know there are martyrs who gave their lives for the faith and were not safe, at least in the eyes of this life. Protection by God is protection for eternal evil. Our guardian angels protect us from anything that threatens our salvation. And that is pretty wonderful.

The Power of Repentance: Homily for Tuesday, July 18, 2017

To listen to the entire homily, click here.

Readings for Today

Tyre and Sidon did not really have a good reputation.  In the book of the prophet Joel, they not only rejected the religion of Joel, but placed the silver and gold from the temple into their own temple.  And when mentioned by Jesus, the big problem is the lack of repentance.  There is no acknowledgement of sin.  There is no desire to change ways.  And for this failure, Jesus chastises them.

What about us?  Do we recognize our sin?  Do we bring this sin to Jesus to be forgiven? Do we seek reconciliation? In the modern day it is easy to excuse sin.  It seems that in modern culture there is simply no longer a sense that there are bad or immoral actions.  There can be a tendency to allow anything as long as it does not seem to bother anyone.  Perhaps the challenge is that we no longer believe in miracles.  We no longer can see the action and presence of God.  Make the first words of the gospel your own.  Repent.

The Divisive Jesus: Homily for Monday, July 17, 2017

To listen to the entire homily, click here.

Readings for Today

Divisive.  It is not common these days to think of Jesus as a divisive person.  It seems the popular notion is that Jesus is a warm fuzzy teddy bear.  He loves us.  He does not challenge us.  He never scolds us or thinks we do anything wrong or sinful.  Jesus reaffirms what we already believe.  But today is different.  Today we read in the gospel about a Jesus that comes to bring division, not peace.

It is important to remember that being a Christian is not always easy.  That is why we need grace.  We need the help that God gives us to be faithful to our relationship with Jesus.  Being a Christian means standing up for what is good and right.  And there is a cost to us when we do so.  Sometimes the cost is standing up for what is right and losing friends.  Sometimes the cost is not giving in to fear and welcoming the stranger.  Sometimes the cost is not accepting the priorities of the workplace and to make other aspects of life more important.  And always the cost is recognizing that as important as family relationships and friendships are, there is no relationship more important than the one we have with Jesus.

Wickedness: Homily for Tuesday, February 14, 2017

To listen to the entire homily, click the links above.

Readings for Today

Wickedness.  There are moments where you just want to give up. Things are too difficult, Life is too hard, you just can’t feel like you can go on.  All in all, you just want to give up. To be sure, there are moments in our life where we just feel completely overwhelmed. And, this is somewhat normal from time to time. Life is hard. It’s difficult. And so it’s not unusual that we come to certain moments in our life, where we feel that left to our own energy and actions, we simply can’t be successful.

It could be easy, to put God in a similar place in today’s reading. He certainly seems at first glance, to be overwhelmed, fed up, ready to give up. Fortunately, God is not a human being. God is more. God is divine. God is eternal. God is constantly pouring out love to help humanity to understand what it means to follow him. And so in the midst of all of this wickedness, in the midst of all of the sin, when a mere mortal could be tempted to give up, God calls Noah.

It is no secret, nor great theological statement that sin angers God. And so it is not beyond the pale for the divine God to express anger at the sins of the people. But what is unique to the divine God is God’s constant ability to pour forth a new covenant. Today, the covenant will be extended to Noah. There’s a covenant given later to Abraham. There is a covenant that will be given to Moses. There’s a covenant that will be given through David. And when humanity does not accept fully and totally all of these covenants, God sent his only son. Human beings might be tempted to give up. But God never gives up on those who seek his new life, his forgiveness, his mercy and his love.

Open: Homily for the Memorial of Saint Scholastica, February 10, 2017

To listen to the homily, click the links above.

Readings for Today

Open.  This word has so many applications.  One use refers to a business when customers can purchase something.  Another use refers to a road that is clear, free from obstructions.  Another use concerns an athletic competition, as in the US Open.  The word open can refer to what we can see, either good things or not so good things.  And in today’s first reading, and the gospel, the notion of open plays an important role.

In the first reading, Adam and Eve’s eyes are opened.  But instead of being opened to good things, Adam and Eve are now able to see evil.  They use their power of choice to reject God.  When they reject God, it is not the case their lives become better.  In becoming open to evil, they become closed to God.

When the deaf man encounters Jesus, his ears are opened.  Through the healing action of Jesus, the man can now hear God.  He can now proclaim the Good News.  Which he does.  Despite being told not to, the man cannot help but do so.  He tells anyone and everyone what Jesus has done for him.  Everyone hears the Good News.  Everyone proclaims the marvelous deeds of Jesus.

It is for this reason, listening and proclaiming, that this phrase is used at Baptism.  Just as Jesus opened the ears and loosened the tongue of the man, so too he does in baptism.  When we are baptised, we are just like the deaf man.  And the odd paradox is, that when we are opened to God, we become more closed to evil. God says to you and me today, speaking to our hearts: Be opened!

The Butterfly Effect and Baltimore: It is all on us

Edward Lorenz. You may not know who he is, but chances are you have heard of his contribution: The Butterfly Effect. In popular understanding, it is the notion that the flapping of butterfly wings in a distant place, say India, can cause a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. But like many popular understandings, the actual theory of the Butterfly Effect is not nearly as simple. I have thought of it a lot in these past few weeks of unarmed black men being shot by white police officers. And both in discussions with friends, commentaries on the news, the situation seems to be reduced to simply standing with the police or against the police, as if those were the only two options.

But like almost everything in life, to reduce the complexities of these shootings to one simple concrete factor, to limit understanding to a binary choice, is to miss the point that many factors go into what we see at the present time. Rather than the simple trace of causality of a hurricane to a butterfly, the physics theory of the Butterfly Effect actually says quite the opposite. While it is true that there can be a direct line of causality, it is not the case that the direct line of causality is easy to find. In fact, given that at any moment there are many such minor, often infinitesimal such changes, it is precisely that such a line of causality cannot be found, at least by us. There are trillions and trillions of such minute moments to keep them all straight.

So, as much as we like to simplify things, not only is it challenging in the physical world to do so, it is equally challenging in the world of events as well. Protests in Feguson, Missouri, or Cleveland, or South Carolina, or Baltimore are simply do not fit into an easy explanation where there are heroes and villains. Rather, in each person there is both hero and villain. And all of our own little comments, actions, and attitudes have brought us to this moment. Everyone. All of us.

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