Monday, June 29, 2015

Renaming and De-flagging Are Not Going To Change A Thing

On June 17th of this year, a horrific act of violence, a mass murder took place at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston SC.  In a place where everyone should feel safe and secure, nine souls, including the senior pastor Clementa Pinckney went to their final judgements that day at the hands of 21 year old Dylann Roof.

 Subsequent social media photos of Roof posing with the Confederate battle flag have not only re-ignited controversy concerning that flag, but some have used it as a catalyst to begin to eradicate all symbols, leaders, and traces of the Confederacy and the antebellum South.
eBay,, Apple and other retailers and e-tailers have declared that they will no longer sell any merchandise emblazoned with the confederate battle flag.  I find this extremely curious, as on all of these sites one can still purchase shirts, flags, games and other merchandise emblazoned with all sorts of symbols of oppression, murder and cruelty including the Stalinist era Soviet hammer and sickle and Nazi garb of all sort. 

 By comparison, the plantation owners of the American south were dilettantes, mere amateurs as it relates to the areas of hate, slavery, cruelty, death, and destruction.  During the Soviet era, Stalin enslaved at least 20 million people in his gulags over 24 years.  And while conventional wisdom says that the Soviets murdered 20 million more, according to R. J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawaii, the correct number is closer to 62 million souls murdered under the Soviet Communist regime.   The horrors of Nazi Germany are well known, in part because the Nazis were very good at keeping records.  According to a 2013 series in the London Telegraph, Nazis killed at least 20 million people.  So it appears that certain symbols of oppression are okay while others are not. 

State and City leaders, including New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu want, at great expense, to tear down, eliminate, and rename longstanding monuments that have any relationship to the pre-civil war south.  This includes Lee Circle, named after confederate general Robert E. Lee. This plan is being heavily promoted by the extremely left leaning NOLA Media Group/New Orleans Times Picayune.  I wonder if the NOLA Media Group would be willing to pay the estimated $2 million price tag to do this?  I also wonder if that $2 million could be better spent improving race relations and other aspects of the quality of life in a city riddled with crime, poverty, illiteracy, and crumbling streets.  I am sure that $2 million sent to the place where I minister as a Catholic Deacon, Cafe Reconcile, would have more of an impact than tearing down and renaming an intersection.  But that certainly would not have the same public splash value.

 Now, I can understand not wanting the Confederate Battle flag flying over a state capital building.  It seems to me that the only flags appropriate for flying over a state capital are the official state flag and the flag of the United States of America.

But wait a minute!  Should not we really ban the American flag also?  For while the confederate battle flag (which is reality was The Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia) only flew over slave owning areas for less than four years, Old Glory flew over slave owning states for almost 90 years.  It has to go.

And while we are at it, to the best of my limited research ability, I have found that the following founding fathers all owned slaves: Charles Carroll, Samuel Chase, Benjamin Franklin, Button Gwinnett, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, James Madison, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Benjamin Rush, Edward Rutledge and George Washington.

In fact, history shows that although George Washington was not completely comfortable with the concept of slavery, at the time of Washington’s death, there were 318 enslaved black people at his Mount Vernon estate.   So, should we not erase any monuments, buildings, streets or other public structures named after or dedicated to these men? To be consistent, we need to change any currency or postage stamps with the faces of any of these men, as well as streets, universities, and anything else named after these racist slave-owners.? The Washington monument – that has to go. Our nation’s capital, Washington, DC should be renamed. 

The leader of the Union Army that fought to free the slaves and end racism and subsequent president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant owned slaves until 1865 (yes, 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation) while confederate General Robert E. Lee freed the few slaves the he owned voluntarily by the year 1863.  Grant was not the only union general to own slaves. A brief search of history books shows that the following were among the slave-owning leaders of the Union army; General George Thomas, General William Tecumseh Sherman. General Andrew Johnson. I am sure that there were others.  Let’s search the country and eliminate anything related to these men.

The Trail of Tears Depicted In Art
Shortly after the Civil War, as part of Andrew Jackson's Indian removal policy, the Cherokee nation was forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. The Cherokee people called this journey the "Trail of Tears," because of its devastating effects. The migrants faced hunger, disease, and exhaustion on the forced march. Surely this was a racist action and anything to do with Andrew Jackson should be changed and renamed.  Goodbye Jackson Square. The French Quarter will never be the same.

During the WWII administration of President Roosevelt, Italian and Japanese Americans were classified as "enemy aliens" and some were detained by the Department of Justice under the Alien and Sedition Act.  I remember seeing my Sicilian grandmother’s card registering her as an “Enemy Alien.” My mother tells me that she put on her best dress and hat when she went to register, to show them that she was “a good person.”   

At least my grandmother was not sent to a detention camp. Some Italians were, but it was horrific for the Japanese Americans. In one of the most flagrantly unconstitutional acts ever to occur in the United States, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were ordered from their homes and detained in concentration camps (euphemistically called "relocation centers") solely on the basis of race. Approximately two-thirds of them were American citizens by birth, while the remaining one-third were immigrants barred from naturalization. Seems to me, to be fair, anything relating to the racist Franklin Roosevelt and his administration should also come under scrutiny.

So what is the point of all of this? Frankly, I do not have a clue.  The history of the world is unfortunately overflowing with stories of brutality, hate, mass murder, oppression of all kinds for all reasons – skin color, religion, beliefs, you name it. Banning the symbols, leaders, and names of these things is not going to make it go away.  It started with Cain and Abel and I fear that it will never end. One thing that I am sure of is that renaming monuments, buildings, currency or anything else will not change a thing.

What needs to change are people’s hearts.  And that is only done one heart at a time.   No government edict, law, policy or anything else is going to make that happen. Insufficient laws are not the problem. Hardened hearts are the problem.  Hearts that are lacking to some extent in their ability to love.  What do we do about this?

 To quote Pope Francis “Who teaches us to love? Who frees us from this hardness?" he asked. "Only the Holy Spirit. You can take a million catechetical courses, a million courses in spirituality, a million courses in yoga, Zen and all these things. But all of this will never be able to give you the freedom" of being a child of God. The Holy Spirit ‘moves’ hearts and compels people to cry out, ‘Father,’ and become docile to "the freedom of his love."

Yet, at least in this country, God is increasingly being pushed into a smaller and smaller corner. God is the solution, but is slowly and ever so surely being banned from public discourse.

Elephants In the Room.

The text below is an approximation of the homily delivered for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B at St Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell LA.  The scripture readings on which this homily is based can be found by clicking here.

There is an elephant in the room!  It was one of the most popular expressions of the last decade. There is an elephant in the room is an idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or not addressed for fear of giving offense or because discussion of it is uncomfortable. Here are two examples:

You have family members living with someone of the opposite sex without being married. During family gatherings, everyone pretends that everything is OK, while knowing that it is not OK. The tension can become so thick you can cut it with a knife.  No one mentions it so as to not offend. It is the elephant in the room.   

On the job – your department or company has a leader who gives out obviously ridiculous assignments and is leading the organization down the toilet.  It’s obvious to everyone, but no one will say anything for fear of punishment or losing his or her job.  That is an elephant in the room.
Today’s Gospel brings to mind a topic, which I believe, is an elephant in the room for Christians - death.  As people of Faith, death is not something to be feared, but to be understood and embraced as part of our destiny.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus raises the little girl back to life. The raising of Jairus' daughter is meant to bring up the themes of life and death and life and after death - themes that lie at the heart of the Christian message of salvation. In the last two weeks of Gospel readings, Jesus shows that he has power over nature (the wind and the sea), over sickness, and over death.  So what do we have to fear? Why is this topic so difficult for Christians? 

Most of us do not deal well with death. We avoid going to funerals.  We don’t know what to say. So some of us put it all on God.  “It’s God’s will,” some might say when a person dies.  God allows it but it most certainly is not in His original plan. Why do I say this?

In this week’s first reading from Wisdom we hear  

 For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.   

 God formed us to be imperishable. In other words, man was not originally created to get sick and die, he was created to be immortal, in God’s image. Sickness and death are the result of sin. This is not necessarily caused by the sins of the person who gets sick or dies, but it is due to the consequences of original sin and actual sin in the world in general. 

 For example, many diseases are the result of industrial pollution and environmental degradation that Pope Francis condemns in his recent encyclical Laudato Si. The collective sins of a nation also lead to sickness and death. Without any doubt, laws contrary to the word and will of God that upheld slavery, legalized contraception, and institutionalized abortion have caused suffering, sickness and death.  Even so, as a nation, we continue to pass laws contrary to the will of God that will cause more suffering, sickness, and death.

Even so, death is not the end. As Christians we should see our lives on earth as a journey towards the place where we really belong, in complete communion with God for eternity. It is a journey where death is a major milestone.  But what exactly do we believe as Catholics about deathWell let's attack that elephant head-on.

At the moment of death, the soul separates from the body and the body begins to corrupt and left to its own will decompose. The soul, however, is immortal. Immediately upon death, the soul of each person is judged by the Lord, either to eternal life or the damnation of hell. For those damned to hell, they experience hell immediately and forever.   For a soul judged to heaven, if they are truly holy then it may immediately experience heaven. We call such souls “saints.”  The bible is clear that nothing unclean or imperfect can enter heaven.  If that is the case, are not most of us are doomed, as we are far from perfect?  By the mercy of God, we don’t have to be perfect to be destined for heaven, only free from mortal sin.  We just have to be perfect to get into heaven.
 Those who are judged to eternal life yet are not perfect because of some attachment to sin experience a state that we call purgatory. Purgatory is not a second chance for sinners, not a consolation prize for the “almost good”, rather it is an opportunity for those who are already destined for heaven to become cleaned up and made perfect for the heavenly banquet. 

Eventually, when the end of the world comes about, there will be a resurrection of the bodies of all the dead and a final judgment. Our bodies will be resurrected and reunited with our souls.  Yes, we will have bodies, they will be recognizable, but they will not be exactly like the ones we have now. They will be glorified bodies, like Jesus had when he walked on the earth between the resurrection and the Ascension.  

There is a common misconceptions that I frequently that I would like to address concerning who is or is not in heaven.  A person who may have seemed like the wickedest of wicked may have repented at the last moment and be in heaven, while someone who may seem holy on the outside may be in the most wretched state of mortal sin.  We cannot say whether Judas Iscariot, Hitler, Stalin, Sadaam Hussein or anyone else is in hell, nor can we say that the dear departed Fr. Smith or Sister Jones is in heaven. We do not know. All we can do is rely on the mercy of the one who is Mercy himself. 

What is our homework?

Even though Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, she died again, all the apostles died, you and I will die.  It is a certainty. This week would be a good time to reflect on this Gospel and on our attitudes about our own deaths and those of our family and loved ones with these questions:
 Based on the way I live my life, am I worried about going to heaven? Am I uncertain about the state of my soul?  If so, it is never too late to go to Confession and start living your life according to God’s plan for happiness.

And finally are there one or more persons in my family who are living their lives in a manner so far outside of the law of God that the destination if their souls are in serious doubt?  If so, why do I continue to ignore this elephant in the room? To not make waves? Can I say or do something in love to help save their souls?

God created us for life, to become beautiful, to become more and more like him, until eventually we leave this world and are united to him for always.  That is our destiny, but whether or not we chose to accept it is up to us.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Love Can Change the Word

 This is an approximation of the homily I delivered at St Luke the Evangelist Mother's Day Weekend.  The readings are for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time and can be found here:

I have two very brief stories to tell you that at first may seem unrelated. A young men and a young woman meet and are attracted to each other. They begin to develop a relationship.  He thinks she is beautiful, she thinks he is handsome.  She makes his heart go pitter pat.  They date. He makes her happy.  In fact, she makes him feel so good, that after dating for a few weeks,  he tells her that he loves her.  She says that she loves him too.

Here is the 2nd story. It’s about me.   I really love going to the beach. I don’t necessarily love the sand and the sun however. I can me happy sitting on the balcony overlooking the ocean, reading a good book, having a frozen drink or a glass of wine, being with my family, children, and grandchildren.  In fact, if I were ever to come into  money, I would love to buy a place of my own right on the ocean to go to when I retire.

These stories have one thing in common –  the concept of Love – that is  completely backwards.  In each example, the word love is directed at one’s own pleasure rather than at the good of someone else.  In the first story, the young man and young woman may have affection, passion, fondness, excitement, happiness.  Not love, at least not yet.  In the second story, I find pleasure, happiness, maybe peace and serenity on the beach.  Not love.   None of the uses of the word love in these stories is appropriate.  Using the word Love in this way completely distorts the true meaning.

As a people of faith, we need to both understand and practice the meaning of love as it is proclaimed in the scripture

Looking at the 2nd reading and the Gospel, a form of the word love is used 18 times. In these 18 times, today’s readings tell us essentially 3 things: God is love; God loves us; and we are to love one another. That's it.  It is simple. Unless you do not know what love really means.

Image result for love sacrificeIf you look up the word love in the dictionary, there are 29 different meanings.  And exactly  none of the 29 meanings reflects the Christian understanding of love. None of them. The dictionary is just as confused as the 2 stories that I told .   Jesus says in the Gospel – “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Thus, the true meaning of real love ---- is interwoven with sacrifice.  Sacrifice in the sense of denying oneself for the sake of someone else.  Sadly, the word “sacrifice” has become almost a profanity in our society.

And it is not just sacrifice like giving up candy for lent. The love we to which we are called as Christians is total self-giving, where all is offered and nothing is expected in return. On this Mother’s Day weekend, I cannot think of a better example of this than the love that a mother has for her child. She sacrifices her very body to give her baby life knowing that she will receive nothing in return.

Most would agree that society in general is in decline and needs another transformation, but most cannot agree on the cause OR have a clue at the solution.

I propose that we first look at ourselves for the cause. This spirit of love for God or neighbor is not evident today in our society.  We live in make me happy, give me pleasure, what is in it for me culture.  Christians have not able to give of ourselves unconditionally or to separate ourselves from the overall society. We have fallen into all of the things that St Paul says love is NOT in 1 Cor 13 – jealousy, pompousness, rudeness, self-seeking,  quick-tempered, brooding  to name a few. By our actions, we same to have forgotten that love is patient, kind, that it bears, hopes, and endures all things The concept of self-giving love has no more meaning.

Love plays a central role in living with "neighbor," not only with individuals, but nations as well; not only with people of the same faith or color, but among all the peoples on earth – even those that hate us and our way of life.  If true Christian love became the norm in the world, we could start to eliminate most wars, hatred, greed, jealousy and fear.  

So, who in here would like to dramatically change the world and make it a much better place in which to live?  Here is the homework that will help you do just that.

First, pledge that you and your family to stop now and forever using the word love in place of concepts such as gives me pleasure, tastes good, looks attractive, makes me happy and sexual attraction.  Stop using the word love as if it a common preposition or conjunction, and use it for what it really means. We cannot love if there is confusion as to what it means.

2nd, We must accept that we are loved by God unconditionally, love him back. The scripture today tells us how we are to do that – keep His commandments.

3rd Go home this week give that love to our families – our parents, brothers, sister, spouses and all those in our extended family.

If we all start  with these 3 things, Christian love will spread through the world like a virus and you will indeed change the world.