Sunday, July 7, 2013

Homily for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 7, 2013
Is 66: 10-14
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

“Thus says the Lord:  Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her.  Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river” (Is 66: 10, 12f).

The last part of the book of the prophet Isaiah is linked with the return of the Jewish people from a long exile in Babylon, and the rebuilding of their holy city after the Babylonians had destroyed it more than 70 years earlier.  God has redeemed the exiles and brought them home.  He promises to restore Jerusalem to something of its former splendor, which will be a source of great joy to all who love her—probably meaning much more to the Jews of the 6th c. B.C. than rebuilding at the site of the WTC means to us, even tho this parish has a particular tie to the grief of 9/11.*

The Jews’ exile and Jerusalem’s destruction had been the results of their infidelity and their sins.  Their redemption, the blessings coming to them now, the joy promised to them, are now a sign of God’s favor:  “the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants,” Isaiah says (66:14).  If they are “his servants,” evidently they have returned to him; now they are faithful to his ways.

We’ve just celebrated—with great joy, with stirring music, with spectacular fireworks—the 237th anniversary of our independence.  Coincidentally, at Gettysburg, Pa., the nation has also just observed the 150th anniversary of the terrible battle fought there during what Lincoln called the “great civil war testing whether any nation” could live up to the ideal we’d so boldly declared “four score and seven years” before that battle, “the proposition that all men are created equal.”  In a later speech (his 2d Inaugural), Lincoln linked “the scourge” of that civil war to the wrath of God wreaked upon a nation that had horribly offended  against the equality of all men by enslaving one-eighth of its population; the nation had to expiate in blood—¾ of a million dead—and spent treasure all its sins against African-Americans.

Sacred Scripture links the prosperity of a city or a nation to its fidelity to the Lord, and a city or nation’s woes to its sins, as did Lincoln, our most biblically-grounded President.

Each year, particularly on the Fourth of July, we recall the blessings that have come to us from Almighty God.  If we are attentive, we may even note that the Declaration of Independence refers 4 times to God, including that stirring phrase, “all men are created equal, … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”; including an appeal to “the Supreme Judge of the world” to regard the right intentions of our Founding Fathers; and ending with “a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence” to effect what the Declaration had set down on paper.

It is right, then, my brothers and sisters, that we observe the state of our nation and its adherence to its fundamental principles and its faithfulness to our Creator, our Supreme Judge.  If we see a nation, a society, a world that is peaceful and prosperous under the protection of Divine Providence, let us give thanks and renew our commitment to his way, so that “our hearts may rejoice and our bodies flourish like the grass,” as Isaiah says (cf. Is 66:14).  If we see a nation, a society, a world that is in trouble and turmoil, let us ask why that is so.

In many respects, our society is in trouble.  You know it very well if you watch the evening news or read the newspapers.  We might consider stories about violence in our lives:  street crime and domestic abuse; about addictions to drugs and alcohol; about athletes cheating with steroids; about political corruption; about the huge percentage of children born out of wedlock; about financial scandals; about corporate bigs collecting humongous bonuses while workers’ wages are frozen.  And of course when we look at foreign news, its full of war, genocide, terrorism, the violation of women, people living in refugee camps generation after generation, people taking to rickety boats to cross dangerous seas or hiking in 110º desert heat in hope of finding a better place to live and work, shoddily constructed buildings collapsing on top of hundreds of poor people trying to make a wretched living.

What all of these ills have in common—besides degrading the world we live in—is that each is sinful in some form; each reflects a violation of the good order of the world that God created; each offends in some fashion the natural dignity of the people God created; each is rooted in a selfishness that places one individual’s or one group’s advantage—that individual or group’s perception of what is good, for himself or themselves—above the good of everyone else, above what the Catholic moral tradition calls “the common good.”

A couple of weeks ago, as most of you know, James Gandolfini died, much mourned as an actor and a human being.  His greatest claim to fame, as most of you also know, was playing Tony Soprano—a fictional embodiment of putting oneself and one’s clan ahead of everyone else, and using any means necessary to advance his own interests.  If you’re paying attention to the trial of Whitey Bulger up in Boston, you’re witnessing the same story, except that one’s not fiction.

Tony Soprano and Whitey Bulger are just different forms of the kind of egoism that shapes all those other ills I mentioned, all those other sins, all those other offenses against God.

(Another form of that self-centeredness was endorsed on June 26 by the Supreme Court when it ruled, twice, in favor of “same-sex marriage”—rulings which effectively hold that the relationship between any 2 adults trumps the natural order of human sexuality, of procreation, and of the good of children, on which the good of the whole of society finally depends.  By the Court’s legal logic, the same “marriage” right must be extended to the entire country and to polygamous families.)
Rwandan genocide (Wikipedia Commons)

A society founded on self-centeredness, on individualism or the advantage of one clan or one tribe, will disintegrate.  You saw that in the genocide of 700,000 people in Rwanda 20 years ago and of tens of thousands of people in Bosnia, also 20 years ago; you see it today in most of the killing going on in the Middle East, from Egypt thru Israel and Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  You see it in the drug killings in Mexico.  You see it in gang activity in the streets of American cities.  You see it in our abortion clinics and in our divorce courts.  You see it in our suicide rates.

The solution for us in the 21st century is the same as the solution for the Jews in the 6th century B.C.:  to return to the Lord with all our hearts, to put our trust in “the Protection of Divine Providence” and not in money or fame or power or even family ties, and to walk in God’s ways.  When we heed his voice and keep his ways; when we look to the welfare of our brothers and sisters, “with brotherhood from sea to shining sea”—then God will spread prosperity over us like a river and we shall enjoy peace—peace of heart, peace among ourselves, and peace between nations.  We shall have good cause to rejoice and be glad, and to be thankful to our gracious God.

*Parishioner Michael A. Boccardi, Scoutmaster of Troop 40, was killed at work in the WTC.

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