Do you know you are made in God’s image? Most of us would answer yes. But do we really believe it? How often do we excuse doing something wrong by saying, “I’m only human?” When we know we are in God’s image, we know we are at our best when we are human. It is when we sin that we are less than human.
The Incarnation then, is about the wonderful event where God took on human flesh. Think about that for a moment. God is one of us. Emmanuel. God with us. And that is marvelous indeed.
It appears that every day there are new revelations about some sexual harassment that has occurred. While some of it may be news to men, at least to the women I have spoken with, the prevalence of this sexual harassment is not a surprise. Why is it we cannot treat each other respectfully? Why is it that we cannot see in everyone the image and likeness of God?
Each reading from today’s Mass, in its own way, focuses on how it is we can be people with greater respect. The first reading focuses on the tremendous gift of women. While the duties listed may not apply today in the same way they did when this book was written, the message remains the same. Women have a dignity and a unique way of witnessing to the Lord that is a great gift. The second reading reminds us about the light of God which leads the way. The gospel reminds us to trust in the Lord and to use what he gave us for the building of the Kingdom of God.
Yet again there has been another mass shooting in the United States. Yet again there will be calls for more gun control or calls for more guns. We will ask for prayers for the victims of this tragedy. There will be news stories, but then life will go on as usual. And Las Vegas will be added to a long list of other mass shootings in the United States. Orlando. Blacksburg, Virginia. Newtown, Connecticut. San Bernadino. Charleston, South Carolina. There are many other places where mass shootings have occurred in the United States but have been forgotten.
The violence problem has no simple solutions. Rarely do we consider the complexity of questions that do not yield to answers expressed as either this or that. We want to jump to these quick answers. We often rely on those answers we have already come to believe are absolutely true, so that they do not allow for any other interpretation. More gun control or more guns. But are we more violent? How is it the United States has so many more gun deaths than other countries? And why is it likely that at the end of the day we will be no closer to a solution to the epidemic of gun violence?
Perhaps we must look deep within ourselves. Maybe we need to ask why, on the surface, we have more gun deaths than other countries. Are we more violent? Is there something about Americans that makes us more likely to attack each other? Why is it we have so many more prisoners than other countries? Do we break the law more often? Are we more anti-social than citizens of other countries? Is there something in being an American that makes us so much more violent than the rest of the developed world? Why is it these instances of tragedy seem to be occurring more frequently?
While clearly the United States is diverse, a reason suggested by some for the greater level of violence seen in the United States, there are areas of the world that are more ethnically and culturally diverse, that at the same time do not appear to have as much violence or crime. Canada, for example, has many fewer gun deaths while being quite diverse.
The challenges we face with gun violence and other types of violence cannot be easily solved. Even if we could pass meaningful gun control, there is no guarantee that would solve the problem. There are an awful lot of guns out there. They would still be out there. And while there are mass shooters who obtained legal guns, there remain an awful lot of guns that are available illegally.
Moreover, while automatic and semi-automatic guns gain a lot of attention, the gun of choice in the United States remains the handgun. I am not aware of many discussing banning handguns. Guns only seem to get our attention after a mass shooting. Each and every day people in the United States are killed by guns. And each and every day it seems we become more polarized, more divided. So it seems there needs to be more than just a discussion about gun control or more guns. The problem requires a much more difficult, but much more meaningful discussion about the state of our country. There needs to be a recognition that we face a problem that is neither Republican or Democrat but is rather a problem of our society that can only be solved if we work together.
It does appear that any discussion of our problems must include discussions about our society. We are angry. Almost every significant issue divides us. And not only do these issues divide us, these issues cause us to insult each other, even hate each other. We call those with opposing viewpoints idiots, crazy, and refer to them by even worse names. We find it increasingly difficult that people who disagree with us might also want the common good. They might also want what is best for the country.
Whether or not one agrees with Donald Trump, is it really acceptable to have a president who speaks about women the way he does? Do we really want to accept a news culture that seeks to find the dirtiest, meanest stories about people even if they are not true? Do we really want to be okay in a society where demonstrable facts can be stated to be untrue, and some will believe that what is true is, in fact, not true? Can we, just for a moment, seek to stop blaming and start listening?
It would be unwise to speculate on the motives of the latest mass shooter. But if we are to have meaningful dialogue to solve difficult and complex issues, we must first realize that there are certain aspects that are unhelpful to such a discussion. There are certain “fundamental principles” that must be accepted. And they all involve how we view human beings.
We cannot ever say there are good people who march with white supremacists. White supremacy can never become acceptable. Ever. We cannot insult people who suffer from natural disasters. We cannot reduce the killing of unborn babies to the euphemistic word “fetus.” We cannot objectify human beings sexually, for then it becomes easier and easier to objectify them in other ways too. We cannot describe all welfare and food stamp recipients as lazy, or moochers. We cannot ignore that one is much more likely to suffer at the hands of poverty if they are a person of color. We cannot equate all cops. Most are hardworking, upstanding, courageous men and women who keep us safe every day by putting their own lives on the line. We cannot ignore black Americans who are crying out for justice. We must provide a reasonable answer to the question about why so many of those in prison are black, when whites and blacks commit drug crimes, as one example, in roughly the same numbers. Quite frankly, whenever we sin against the human dignity that all people possess, we open the door to the type of violent behavior that we see all over the world. Behavior we just witnessed in Las Vegas. And the obvious answer to the question Cain asked God about whether he was his brother’s keeper, is yes. We are our brother’s keeper. We are our sister’s keeper.
If we cannot admit the dignity of all human beings, then finding a solution to this problem is not possible. While the above list is by no means exhaustive, the list represents some real challenges. At the heart of all of these issues is the question of human dignity. As Christians, we believe every human being is made in the image of God. In the gospel of Matthew, we are told by Jesus that the way we treat others is, in fact, the way we treat Jesus. Think about that for a moment. We are all held accountable for the way we treat others. Every one of us. Every time.
Certainly, there is evil in the world, because of Original Sin. Despite sin, just imagine how different our world could be if we realized that every human being is made in God’s image, and must be treated this way. What if in discussing an issue like this mass shooting, we could begin from the premise that we have a violence problem? We want to be safe. But at what cost? Hardening our hearts to those in our world in desperate need because we are afraid? Hardening our hearts because we do not want to be generous? Giving into our anger because the suffering of others can remind me of my own suffering, my own vulnerability? Or, do we want to address this problem in a way that helps us to preserve the dignity of every human being? What if we committed to hearing, listening, dialoguing with each other? What if we sought to imitate Jesus and were generous to not only those we care about, but also those we may not like.
I do not know what the solution to gun violence is. I do not know how to solve the situation about health care in a just way. I do not know how to create more just economic situations so that all people are given the opportunity to thrive. But I do know that every time I set myself against another, dismissing them, either their ideas or their very persons, I am part of the problem.
Why does it become so newsworthy when Republicans and Democrats work together? I think it is because we are more concerned about our side winning, and not what is best for our country. And when winning, not what’s best for every human being becomes the goal, we all lose.
I am a racist. There, I said it. Admitting to being a racist is not something I say with pride. I am not proud. But many decades ago I learned about my racism, my prejudice. And I must confront the racism that lives within me.
I remember the first time I realized I was a racist. It was an occasion when I was the only white person in a supermarket filled with black people. For the first time in my life I was a minority. And I was afraid. Not because anyone was speaking badly to me, or yelling at me, or following me around the store. In fact, everyone else did not even notice me, because they were busy shopping.
I was afraid only because the other people around me were all black. There is no other way to put it. And while it was decades ago, that experience shaped me profoundly. It resulted in an awareness that I needed to confront my prejudice. I had to admit it existed. Prejudice was not something “out there” but rather was something within me.
And I think of this prejudice when I read about events around the world and close to home. I remind myself of this experience when I get angry at others for acting differently than I do. I remind myself of this experience when I feel helpless against events out of my control.
A couple of days ago I stumbled across a video that posed a question: What is it like to be you? The question has gotten me to think a lot. I should admit I do not know what it is like to be people that are different from me.
As I look at what is going on around the world, I realize how little I know about what it is like to be someone else. I do not know what it is like to live on a Caribbean island that might be months without power because of multiple hurricanes. I do not know what it is like to have my house completely flooded. I do not know what it is like for the land around my house, and perhaps my house too, to be destroyed by a raging forest fire I can do nothing to prevent.
I do not know what it is like to be a victim of crime. I do not know what it is like to be at war, or in war. I do not know what it is like to be a refugee, forced to flee my home because of evil ISIS, with nowhere to go. I do not know what it is like to live in a country with limited freedom, where speaking against the government might get me thrown in jail or worse.
I do not know what it is like to be pulled over by police for no reason, asked what I am doing in a neighborhood in which I do not belong. I do not know what it is like to be in jail. I do not know what it is like to be black, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim or Arab.
I do not know what it is like to be a cop. I do not know what it is like to put my life on the line every single time I put on the uniform or go to work. I do not know what it is like to be homeless. I do not know what it is like to be without work. There is simply a lot I simply do not know when it comes to the lives of others.
But I wonder what my life would be like if I did. I have celebrated Mass, heard confessions and listened to those in jail. I have spent time listening and getting to know people who are homeless. I know personally those who were given hope by DACA, only to be worried now it will be taken away. I know more than a few people who have witnessed someone get shot. I heard from people who got help for a man shot right outside their door.
I do not know what to make of the last few days in Saint Louis. I have come to love living here. I am glad my Dominican priory is in the city of Saint Louis. I like Saint Louis. I can honestly call it home.
At the same time, I am not naïve. Like many major cities, and like many small towns, there is in Saint Louis and elsewhere a history of racism. And I am not naïve. Racism is still alive and well. In a small way, I make it so.
While I get angry about broken store front windows, and feel sad for the small business owners who own these small businesses, I must remember that often I am not aware of the broken windows that are part of other areas of the city in which I live. I must remember the unequal education that comes from different schools. Because I must remember I choose to live with people who are just like me. And all too often, so do you.
When I get angry about the way the police are treated, I must remember that I have never been pulled over without cause, like other people have experienced. I have never been asked why I am driving in a certain area, because I do not belong there.
When I hear about how people were treated badly by the police, I must remember the many cops I know who risk their lives daily for the safety and well-being of the communities they serve. I must remember they are people who put their lives on the line every single day. I must remember that often they are heroes.
I must remember that life is not either-or, but both-and. How often do I fail to listen to another point of view because I do not like it? If there is a sadness I feel for my city, my country, and the world, it is that all too often the other is seen only as an enemy.
I must remember that I can be both afraid of other people and see them as another Christ. I must remember that it is too easy to leap to conclusions without knowing the facts. I must remember that it is easier to disagree with someone by relegating their opinion to extreme mocking and insults. I must remember how in the short term it is easier to make enemies than friends.
But I also must remember that with the prejudices that live within me so does the Christ. That I can be filled with the Holy Spirit, and not a spirit of vengeance. I must remember to seek to understand why people get so angry they destroy. I must remember to seek to understand people who are afraid, and want greater border security to feel safe. I must remember the fundamental belief that everyone, every person, everywhere, regardless of who they are and where they live and what they look like, that everyone, regardless, is made in the image and likeness of God, and has a dignity that comes from God.
I pray I am less racist today than I was those decades ago when being a minority made me afraid. I pray that realizing how I have never really been a minority, I cannot know what so many minorities feel and experience in their lives, often every day. I pray for the grace to confront the prejudice, the racism, the evil that still resides too often in what I say and do. And I pray that others can do the same.
Change is the first word of the spiritual life. We must change from sin to life. We must allow God to change us. Even a quick look around our world today can show us there are many evil actions by men and women. There is violence. There is greed. There is selfishness. And yet, when we encounter God, we are changed.
Moses was changed by encountering God. We are changed too. The change in Moses was obvious. His face became radiant. He was not the same. While we may not experiening the physical changes that Moses did, when we pray, we too are changed. The presence of God, which is all around us, changes us when we acknowledge God’s precense. Open your hearts to the power of God to change us back to what we were meant to be.
I am preaching the Novena of Saint Jude, days 4-9. This is an audio recording of my day four preaching, which examines the question of our being made in God’s image and the implication for prayer. For more information about the Dominican Shrine of Saint Jude Thaddeus in Chicago, visit their website here.
Just who do you think you are? Usually when we are asked such a question it is not a good thing, at least in my experience. I find that too often I am being “put in my place” (usually rightly so). In these instances, when I hear such a question it is because I am thinking too much of myself, or I am not being kind, or I am not loving. Such a question is not usually seen as a compliment.
But it is a good question to think about. Just who do I think I am? How is it I view myself? What is my concept of my identity and purpose? In the process of the RCIA, the Easter season is seen as a time where we do all we can to embrace the love and new life that becomes possible when we “drink in” the resurrection. For those who came into the Church at the Easter Vigil, the newness of the faith is reinforced by the constant resurrected life of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit, most evident when we celebrate Pentecost.
But, for the rest of us, Easter can be seen as simply the period that ends Lent, thank God. I did not think I could survive another day without a piece of chocolate. But if we are to enter into the Good News that is embracing the resurrection of Jesus, then this time has to be precisely the time when we recognize that our baptism profoundly changes who we are. When we are baptized, we make bold claims when answering the question, “Just who do you think you are?” We are profoundly different because of our baptism. Our identity is changed completely. We are children of God. We are those with sins forgiven who are committed to following Jesus.
Think about this for a moment. We are a new creation in Christ. We are transformed. We are now imbued with grace, to realize the fullness of humanity in a way that is profoundly beautiful. Just imagine what could happen if we fully understood the implications of this new identity. Such is the purpose of the liturgical year. To profoundly meditate on the life of Christ so that we may find ourselves ever more transformed into His image and likeness by living like Him and eliminating the blight of sin that keeps the image of God from fully shining forth.
And if I can figure out just who I think I am, in relationship to Jesus, who is the Truth, imagine what could happen when each one of us, the body of Christ, realizes that all of us who are baptized are capable of far more than we could imagine when we do not think of the answer to the question, “Just who do you think you are?” in relationship to the Lord Jesus.
If we became aware of just what could happen when we, as a community, live and move out of this understanding, we might just scare ourselves. For we would then love the poor, welcome the stranger, visit those in hospital or in prison. We would find ourselves generously giving what we had, even from the depth of our need, to the poor and those in need. We would find ourselves longing to be with Jesus in prayer, longing to embrace the Word of God by reading the Bible, seeking out those times where we experience the presence of Christ.
“The Lord takes delight in His people.” I do not know about you, but I have heard this refrain many times. This was today’s response to the psalm. But for whatever reason, today I really thought about what we were saying in the response. It got me to thinking: how often do we really think about the fact that God takes delight in us, His people. God takes delight in us. Really.
When we think of God, we know we can emphasize many aspects of God, since God is so far beyond what we can truly conceive in our minds. We really cannot imagine what it means to be infinite or eternal. We also know that human beings are really capable of a lot of evil things. Obviously a loving God does not delight in that.
But God does delight in us, because His love moved Him to create us. We are made in God’s image and likeness. We are loved by God more than we can possibly imagine. And because of our baptism, we are destined for great things. And that is quite important for us to reflect on from time to time. God does not desire just a little bit of happiness for us. God does not want us to “just sneak in” to heaven. No, God wants for us to live forever. God wants a relationship with us that is eternal, loving, and magnificent.
National Migration Week 2015 will take place January 4 – 10 with the theme, “We are One Family Under God,” which brings to mind the importance of family in our daily lives. This reminder is particularly important when dealing with the migration phenomenon, as family members are too often separated from one another. Please find below an assortment of resources that can help with your celebration of National Migration Week 2015: