Nov. 22, 2009
Dan 7: 13-14
Catholic Scout Retreat, JFK HS Somers
I was asked to be available in case the chaplain of the Archdiocese Catholic Committee on Scouting, Msgr. Anthony Marchitelli, was unable to make it to the retreat. So I prepared the following homily but didn't have to use it because Msgr. Marchitelli did make it. Monsignor gave a fine homily based not only on his faith in Jesus Christ but also on his expertise in the world of Harry Potter.
“Almighty and merciful God, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe” (Collect).
Liturgically speaking, it’s already Sunday, Nov. 22. Our Christian calendar has its roots in the Jewish calendar, where the day begins with sundown, as you know, and not at midnite like our Western calendar. That’s just one of many traces of Judaism within our faith, which grew out of Judaism. We sing alleluia and hosannah, Hebrew words, in our liturgy. We call Abraham our father in faith. What we call the Old Testament, the Jews call the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Eucharistic celebration grew out of the Passover seder. And of course, as the bumper sticker says, our boss is a Jewish carpenter.
Ask people of my generation—Mr. Collins or Mr. Gervat, for example—what Nov. 22 means, and they’ll tell you it’s the day Pres. John F. Kennedy, for whom this school is named, was shot 46 years ago. (Heavens, it’s hard to believe it was that long ago!) And they’ll tell you what class they were in when the principal announced the news, the reactions teachers and students had, how everyone was glued to their TVs for the next 4 days, how people cried—and maybe what they had for lunch that day.
Ask an older generation—like Mr. Kelly’s—what happened on Dec. 7, 1941, and you’ll hear how their Sunday rest was disrupted by the news interrupting whatever they were listening to on the radio, news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor—a place few Americans had even heard of—news that the U.S. was now part of what turned out to be the worst war in history.
Many of you guys are old enuf to remember 9/11. If you don’t remember it vividly because you were too young 8 years ago, you’ve certainly heard about it from your parents, teachers, Scoutmasters, the news.
These kinds of days that stick in our national and individual memories—Dec. 7, Nov. 22, 9/11—are exactly what Pres. Roosevelt called Dec. 7, 1941—“date[s] that will live in infamy.” Infamy, as you know, is fame for all the wrong reasons. The dictionary defines it as “evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal, shocking, or brutal.” Hitler and Stalin aren’t famous; they’re infamous. Likewise Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray and Osama bin Laden. Days like Dec. 7, Nov. 22, and 9/11 are symbols of evil because horrible events took place on them, events that were planned and executed by deliberate, evil human choices.
Not every evil choice has such world-shattering impact, of course. We’re all aware of awful things people do on a somewhat smaller scale: drug dealing, child abuse, piracy, human trafficking, abortion, genocide, broken families, irresponsible sex, racism, sexism, environmental pollution—we could go on and on, couldn’t we?
We’re also aware of evils we’ve done ourselves. How many people, including ourselves and our families, have we hurt by deliberate, evil choices we’ve made? by using abusive words or actions, by lying, by stealing, by cheating, by laziness, by breaking a promise, by disobedience, by disrespect, and so on?
Yes, without doubt, there’s a powerful lot of evil in the world around us and within our own hearts. I’m reminded of a cute—and clean—limerick:
Yes, to a very great extent, the world appears to be in the hands of the wicked, or we might say, in the power of the Evil One. Who’s the Evil One? Obviously, I don’t mean Voldemort or Darth Vader!
God’s plan made a hopeful beginning.
But man spoiled his
chances by sinning.
We trust that the story
Will end in God’s glory.
But at the present the other side’s winning.
Do you remember the 3 temptations of Christ? One of them is Satan's offer to him of “all the kingdoms of the world” with all their power and glory, claiming that these were his to give to whomever he wished. All Jesus had to do to possess them was to worship Satan (Luke 4:5-7). Satan has staked a claim on the world, and all the evils we see, all the evils we experience—some of which we’re guilty of ourselves—give some validity to Satan’s claim.
But today we’re celebrating the claim of Someone else. In our opening prayer we praised God for “breaking the power of evil and making all things new in Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” The 1st reading promises the coming of “a Son of Man on the clouds of heaven” who will receive “dominion, glory, and kingship” and the service of all mankind, receive them not from Satan but from Almighty God (Dan 7:13-14). The 2d reading tells us that Jesus Christ is “the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth” who “is coming amid the clouds” (Rev 1:5,7).
When Jesus Christ rose from the grave on Easter Sunday, the 1st human being ever to conquer death, he became “the firstborn of the dead,” and he broke the power of evil. Death is evil, the consequence of our sins. If death can be broken, evil can be broken. Now all things are made new; the world is recreated by God, destined to be brought back to life on the Last Day when Jesus returns in his glory. Altho we’re sinners, our sins don’t have to be our masters, death doesn’t have to be our master, Satan doesn’t have to own us any longer because Jesus Christ “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” and called us into God’s kingdom (Rev 1:5-6).
Those who’ve found new life in Jesus are already making the world new and breaking the power of evil. Those who’ve given their lives to Jesus—allowing him to be their king, the ruler of their lives—are making the world better by practicing justice, peace, kindness, purity; by healing, teaching, spreading joy, serving others instead of stealing, lying, making war, taking advantage of the weak. Do you want to see what the world can be when Christ rules? Look at the saints, at the world they created around them: St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine, St. Thomas More, Don Bosco, St. Dominic Savio, Mother Cabrini, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day.
If we’d imitate the saints, God would be breaking the power of evil thru us, making all things new thru us, by the power of Christ at work in us. Jesus answered Pontius Pilate concerning his kingdom, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). If we listen to Christ’s voice, if we act on his teaching, we’ll be acting on the truth: the truth that God created us and the whole world, and we all belong to him; the truth that God created us in love and has destined us for happiness; the truth that every human being is a child of God with immortal value and dignity; the truth that the power of Christ for goodness can work in us to make a better world.