My name is Deacon Mike Leman. I am here representing Bishop Steven Biegler and the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne. Bishop Steven could not be here today, but he sends his heartfelt regards and assurances that he joins our prayers for healing, peace and unity.
The reading I have selected comes from the Second Vatican Council, regarding The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
Men and women must not be content simply to support the efforts of others in the work for peace; they must also scrutinize their own attitudes. Statesmen…in their efforts to secure peace are of no avail as long as men and women are divided or set against each other by feelings of hostility, contempt and distrust, by racial hatred or by inflexible ideologies (Gaudium et spes, nn. 82-83).
I chose this reading for reflection because I think it is honest. In principle, we are all against hatred. We must continually examine the need for systematic changes which can aid the promotion of peace. But really, that’s the easy part. Because if systematic changes fail to happen, I can always blame somebody else. But if I fail to scrutinize my own attitudes, if I fail to change, there is no one else to blame.
We are here in principle to speak in defiance of fear and hatred. But the reading calls us to look beyond mere principle and ask, “How are we doing in practice?”
I recently heard an interview with a law professor from Notre Dame who was talking about the need for judges to be objective. She tells her students a story to illustrate what this looks like. I am going to borrow her analogy and put a twist on it. Because we are not considering the role of judges but our role as people of faith in our community.
The story she uses is that of Odysseus and the sirens. Odysseus is warned that the sirens’ song is so beautiful and seductive that it drives men mad, and in their desire to get near the sirens they willingly steer the ship into the rocks. Odysseus takes the warning very seriously. He orders his men to stop their ears with wax and to tie him to the mast of the ship. He tells them, no matter what he says, they are not to untie him until the ship has passed the island into safety. In this way, Odysseus is able to hear the song, but is not able to do himself or his men any harm.
Faith leaders are people too. We also, are susceptible to the power of the sirens’ song, the call of ideology. We underestimate this truth at our own risk. The songs often begin by highlighting an injustice against a particular group. We are beckoned to enter into solidarity with that group. That much, we must continue to do. Like Odysseus, our own ears cannot be stopped. We must hear the cry of the poor.
But when the ideological song goes beyond the call to solidarity and the refrain settles on a person or group to blame, a scapegoat, upon which we can channel all of our anger, and frustration, it becomes very seductive and can even feel righteous, to the point of madness.
As a diversity of faith groups our ship enjoys a plurality of ideas about who God is and what it means to be a creature of God. But if there is a mast to which we must be bound, it is the mast of human dignity. That by simply being human, regardless of age or stage in life, regardless of race, religion or any other factor, each person has a dignity that guarantees an inviolable right, to be. If that is our foundation, then we can safely enter into heated debate about every other subject under the sun. But, if we get that wrong, if there is a crack in mast, beware, for Odysseus is breaking free, and we are headed for the rocks.
We affirm our opposition to fear and hatred, how are we doing in practice? Does our language reflect the true dignity of every person? Have we adopted an ideological language that veils certain groups of people? Do we use language that diminishes the legalized violence being perpetrated? As faith leaders, everything we say and do matters.
As Christians, the image of God crucified is an image worthy of reflection. So, I would invite you to do that with me for just a moment. Because the message that God gives in that reflection is this; whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever language you speak, whatever the color of your skin, know this: you are worth that kind of pain. You are worth that much suffering. In fact, you were even worth dying for, because you are precious in God’s eyes. Remember that.
May the Lord grant healing and consolation to all victims of hatred. May he grant us the grace to seek systematic changes where changes are necessary. May he grant us the courage to continually scrutinize our own attitudes. And may he grant us the wisdom to understand that we cannot fight the fires of fear and hatred, by adopting the very ideologies that feed them. In his most holy and sacred name we pray. Amen.