Sunday, September 1, 2013
Hammer of God or Lamb of God? 9/1/13 homily
The readings today are about humility. The first reading from Sirach says "My child, conduct your affairs with humility." The gospel shows us that it is the last who will be first. The humble are those who, in today's second reading who are part of "the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven." How blessed we are to have a Pope who is truly humble. In the days to come as our nation debates war, know that you can trust the voice of our Pope. His voice is truly the voice of Christ. He lived as a young pastor in the slums of Argentina so he knows the "cry of the poor." He is also very humble. He has chosen not to live in the Vatican Palace but rather the guest house and just days ago broke all Papal protocol by bowing to the Queen of Jordan, acknowledging her presence. If you saw pictures recently from the Vatican there was a stunning picture of a dove landing on his finger. Francis, as his namesake suggests, is a man of peace. So how are we to interpret the readings today in the light of events of the past week? In a world full of violence and war is it possible to be a person of peace? As you know, I love the saints. They are role models for us all. There is a saint whose life I have been reading about recently who captivates me. His name if Don Carlo Gnocchi (Fr Carlo Gnocchi). Don Carlo was a gifted teacher and charismatic preacher in Italy in the early 1900's. His gifts were noted by his superiors who assigned him to teach at the Gonzaga Institute in Milan, Italy. Fr Carlo's dream was to be a military chaplain. He conveyed this dream to his students. He felt that serving one's country was a great way to develop virtue, defend the weak, and learn how to sacrifice oneself for others. His dream was soon realized and he was sent to the Alps as part of a prestigious military unit as their chaplain. In the story of his life, Father of Mercy, there is an amazing scene where he is elevating the chalice and the chalice deflects the bullet of a sniper. He tells his soldiers "you haven't seen anything yet." He later admits there was a lot of pride in those words. As his service continued he did, indeed, see heroic behavior by the soldiers, but he soon became dismayed at the unjust behavior of their superiors. When he returned to Milan he realized he had been successful in recruiting his students for the war effort, too successful. 608 boys signed up for military service. They were sent to the front line in Russia. Of the 68,000 troops who were deployed only 7,000 returned. Some were lost to the fighting but most were lost to the extreme cold. Don Carlo also succumbed to the cold. His almost frozen body was picked up by the grandson of the Prada family and was placed on a train back to Italy. When Don Carlo returned, he realized the real war was beginning. He personally visited the families of those men who gave their lives and delivered trinkets or personal items of the men to the family. It was then that he realized the horror of war. There was a generation of children that would never have a father-worse, Mussolini had placed land mines throughout the Italian countryside and there were thousands upon thousands of children with amputated legs and arms due to the landmines. They were known as the "mutilati." With no money and only trust in God, Don Carol knew he must do something. Initially he welcomed the children into his rectory. Soon the undertaking grew and benefactors stepped up. Centers opened to care for the children with amputated limbs. He also opened a center for those afflicted by polio. What was unique about Don Carol is that he taught these innocent victims to unite their sufferings to the passion of cross. He taught them the meaning of Redemptive suffering-taught them that their suffering, although seemingly useless, did have meaning when united to Jesus. He died at the age of 53 in 1956. In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed him Blessed. Through his suffering the once proud soldier "You haven't seen anything yet" became the servant of those most affected by the horrors of war. Another well known person who came to wisdom through humility is the famous Russian author Solzhenitzen. Imprisoned because he called Stalin "whisker face", Solzhenitzen went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Here are his own words regarding his imprisonment: " It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: How a human being becomes evil and How a human being becomes good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only while I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties-but right through every human heart and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person. And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me, bless you prison!" Solzhenitzen became a Christian in prison through the influence of a Jewish man. It was humility....the acknowledgement of his own capacity to commit evil, that led him to the forgiveness of Jesus. In this knowledge of the forgiveness of Jesus he learned an important lesson about redemptive suffering-he, like Fr. Gnocchi taught the children, learned to find meaning in his suffering. He learned that it was only through humility that he could forgive those who inflicted so much pain. We now come to a book in the bible called Maccabees. It is not well known by Catholics but is an important book. There was a Jewish Priest called Mattathias whose third son was believed by many to be the Messiah. His name was Judah Maccabeus. Judah led a successful gorilla warfare against the Greeks. His rule soon turned out to be a disappointment because he made a pact with the Romans and their rule turned out to be as oppressive as the Greeks. What is interesting from our perspective, however, is that the name Maccabeus means hammer. Listen to the following passage from the book Radical Forgiveness by Brian Zahnd: " Jesus' revolutionary manifesto was not the stirring war speech of Mattathias but the deeply counterintuitive Sermon on the Mount.. But many, quite frankly, were disappointed in this 'weak' version of Messiah. Even among Jesus' own disciples the disappointment was evident. Perhaps this is why Peter denied knowing Jesus after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsamane. He was ready to fight to the death, and he drew his sword and cut the ear of the soldier arresting Jesus. He must have been bitterly disappointed and disillusioned when Jesus told him to put away the sword and allowed himself to be taken without a fight. It was only after the Resurrection that the disciples changed their opinion and recognized that God had vindicated this weak Messiah and made him King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Judah Maccabeus was the Hammer of God. Jesus of Nazareth was the Lamb of God. They are competing visions of the Messiah. One is an avenging messiah bring the hammer down on Israel's enemies. The other is a suffering servant laying his life down as a lamb to be slaughtered. One perpetuates the cycle of revenge with his hammer. The other ends the cycle of revenge with his cross. We must choose which version of the Messiah we will embrace. Heaven issues its verdict when it declares, 'Worthy is the Lamb.' If Jesus had satisfied the lust for vengeance present in Israel's nationalistic agenda by becoming a militant Messiah like Judah Maccabeus, nothing really would have changed. No doubt Jesus could have led Israel to a military victory over its Roman oppressors, but that would have only perpetuated the bloody cycle of vengeance. Instead of Babylon, Persia, Greece or Rome being the monstrous oppressor, Israel would have had its turn at ruling the rule with the sword. But what would have changed? Nothing really-just the name of the latest ruling party.....Jesus didn't come to conquer the world with a sword; he came to save the world with a cross. Jesus didn't come to perpetuate the cycle of revenge; he came to end the bloody and vicious cycle of paybacks by absorbing the blows and forgiving his enemies. He came to reconcile Jews and Gentiles into one new humanity, a new humanity formed at the cross." Do you want peace in the world? First, begin with yourself and your own heart. As Solzhenitzen said, it is not states, classes, or political parties that are good and evil; it is the human heart. Are Jesus' words just friendly suggestions or are they meant to be lived- Blessed are the Peacemakers-is that just a nice saying to put on a pillow or did he meant it? The call to follow Jesus is radical. It begins with humility. The life of Blessed Carlo Gnocchi shows us the folly of youth and the wisdom of old age. He realized the horrors of war, he realized that it is always the innocent who suffer. Humility is strength. It shows much greater character to "turn the other cheek" than to resort to violence. So what shall it be....Is Jesus the Hammer of God, or is he the Lamb of God? Go and be peacemakers in your sphere of influence and trust that your prayers can stop wars, hurricanes, and move mountains!