Charlottesville, VA, Saint Peter, You and Me – A Homily

Homily for Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

1 Kings 19:13-19

Gospel of Matthew 14: 22-33

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081317.cfm

 

Some people shout but never say anything. Some people scream, but never learn to speak. Some people hate without ever thinking why, and how they came to hate another person or group. Others live by a rule that say, “Fire, Ready, Aim!” Our nation and our world is becoming more impulsive and compulsive—people acting from gut feelings, fears and prejudice without reflection, certainly without prayer–thinking in very limited terms, self-serving terms. More and more people are losing a sense of the bigger picture—a larger, wider, more embracing approach to life and its diversity of peoples.

This weekend’s tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia is an excellent example of the evil that cultural, ethnic and economic isolation and impetuosity create. What motivated people with a white supremacist perspective to travel from Ohio and other places throughout the country to come to this Virginia town to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E Lee?  Since the ethnic and prejudicial killings over the past several years in our country, were there sufficient Town Meetings, Conferences, Dialogues from coast to coast to dissect the complexity of these and related issues to prevent more violence?  In fairness, the Charlottesville Mayor and Council did conduct town meetings to let people air their perspectives and their feelings before taking down its Confederate Flag and deciding on moving Robert E. Lee and other Confederate Statues into museums which could better contextualize these historical figures’ characters and life choices than displays in public parks allow.  But perhaps there was insufficient outreach and dialogue with and about the Supremacist Organization before their rally was allowed in the name of “Free Speech.”  Was there sufficient and significant preparation conducted by the protestors and police prior to the event—and, equally important, because our nation has been crying out for more Town Meetings, have there been (and will there be) significant number of meetings in churches, synagogues, mosques and council halls to address the seeds of hatred, prejudice coast-to-coast?  Why or why not?  Everybody knows “Violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum.”

We all fail to initiate and perpetuate the kind of dialogue about morals, logic, faith, culture, diversity that this Age requires. We fail, in part, because we rely upon ourselves alone without the patience to prayerfully allow God to work through all our thoughts and feelings before we act. For example, thankfully, there were many protestors responding to the KKK/Supremacist March, but I wonder if instead of posters of condemnation there were also (and there may have been) placards stating things like and “God loves us all,” “All Nations Shall Come Together,” “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

 Not that by that time, on that day, it could have made much difference with the Hate march.  But if there were such ideas floating around in the protest, there would at least be some clarification of the kind of thoughtful, preventative action Christianity call us to embrace.

How much, for example, did anyone at that march really know about Robert E. Lee?  I had to do some research myself.  I was surprised to read he was against slavery and against violence.  Against his better judgment he joined the Confederate Army to, in his mind, protect his native Virginians.  He could have been known for pleading for more dialogue among Virginia’s Legislature and with President Lincoln and his Cabinet, more caution on behalf of the Southern States before cessation.  Instead, he compromised his conscience and his deeper values, he didn’t choose to act with a bigger picture in mind.  Lee’s story and conflicts could be better known, better discussed and could lead to more self-scrutiny for our world today, but alas, as in the times of Jesus, only some, not all, are willing to join in the conversation.  Many won’t ever, many don’t, but who do we say we are?  What do we think the proper response of faith is?

Now what does this have to do with today’s Bible Readings?  Everything!  In 1 Kings, we find Elijah hiding in mountain cave.  More dialogue with the previous passages of Scripture is needed to understand the context.  He’s hiding because he acted impulsively, filled with his own zeal for the Lord, he slaughtered all the prophets of Baal, the pagan cult of Jezebel, the wife of Israel’s King Ahab. The king and queen now seek the prophet’s life.  Of course, Elijah expects the Lord to come in Elijah’s own image –with the wrath of whirlwind, an earthquake, in fire.  Instead, God arrives in “a tiny whispering sound” through which Elijah listens and defers more fully to God’s counsel, becoming more rooted in God’s love for him rather than his own zeal to love the Lord more. This conversation results in Elijah being prepared for heaven.  His ministry is over. God wants him to ordain a new prophet in his stead, Elisha.  Then Elijah is taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire.  Something about prudence, patience, and repentance seems to be the thought for the day.

Now let’s look at the Matthew’s Gospel: What made Peter so impetuous as to try and walk on water to Jesus? Was he ready?  Had he fully acknowledged Jesus as both human and Divine?  Jesus walking on Water was manifesting His Divinity, His Union with God to be in command of Nature as well as the source of life for human souls.  Obviously, Peter wasn’t ready; he didn’t understand this nor the degree to which he had to focus on Jesus rather than the raging wind.   Thankfully, Jesus knew that.  He knows we aren’t often ready to let faith’s wisdom sustain us, so he extends his hand.  However, what if Peter were less anxious to act and more open to simply let Jesus come to him?   What if he chose to surrender to the bigger truth that “God loves us First” and that God will act “First” — through our conscience, through our prayer.  Patiently allowing our conscience and our consciousness to be centered in God makes us more fittingly responsive to the evils of the world, more preventative, less reactionary.  Jesus was coming to Peter and all the disciples in the boat. Could / should Peter have waited?  What might have occurred had Peter allowed Jesus to make his point as God and Man first, allowing the Spirit to seep more fully in his mind and body and find more communion with the disciples before boldly reacting and presenting Jesus with his own “state of emergency?”

All this is “food for thought,” regarding our degrees of dependence upon Christ as we address the problems of our times.  One thing for sure, we must speak out against evil, hatred and violence, but how we do it, and more importantly, the extent to which we let the Spirit move us to daily efforts of prevention–THIS is the question we must address today, tomorrow and the next day.  Jesus came, He continues to come and thankfully, we arrived today to let his Word penetrate us again and this Eucharist to nourish our conscience, bodies and spirits.  Allowing Jesus to come to us first, to allow him to do what He Will Do for Us first before we act, react, respond –knowing that we must put our faith into action—can and will make all the difference in our responses to the evils that abound in our nation and in the world.

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