Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 25, 2017
On Wednesday, June 14, 2017, we woke to the shocking news that over 20 U.S. Congressmen, staff members, and lobbyists were attacked by a gunman during their early morning practice on a neighborhood ball diamond in Alexandria, Virginia. Even as the story was unfolding, there was more breaking news. A shooter in San Francisco claimed five victims. It was hard not to be overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness and fear.
The “UPS” story got pushed to the background as our nation’s leaders rushed to the microphone to express their horror over the assault on our government. Each expressed deep regret that we have somehow become so steeped in “vitriolic rhetoric” (a number of speakers used the word “vitriolic,” meaning “filled with bitter criticism or malice”) that unstable people are moved to acts of extreme violence.
Our nation’s leaders faced the cameras, issued press releases, or “tweeted” assurances to the American people that this tragedy could become an opportunity to recapture the spirit of unity that has held our nation together, and a glimmer of hope returned. Under the circumstances, the words of these politicians seemed genuine and sincere. Most people listening certainly wanted these commitments to dialogue, cooperation, compromise, unity, and peace to be true.
Our hope was strengthened as we learned that the opposition team, practicing on a ball diamond in a neighborhood on the other side of our nation’s capital, having been alerted to the shooting, gathered in prayer for the victims. Then came news that it was agreed by both parties that the charity ballgame would still be played the following evening. Our spirits began to rally. As the day came to a close, the suggestion began to circulate that rather continuing the century-long tradition of the Red Team playing the Blue Team, the teams be mingled as a sign that all of the speeches and statements and “tweets” of the day were genuine. How great would that have been!
But it didn’t happen.
The Red Team played the Blue Team. More speeches were made during the game. The trophy was awarded to the Congressman still in critical condition. And the next day, returning to their offices on Capitol Hill, the words of Jeremiah the Prophet once again began to echo throughout the Chambers. Denounce! Watch for any misstep! Perhaps he will be trapped, then we can prevail! In other words: Business as usual!
The immediate return to “vitriolic rhetoric” should come as no surprise. St. Paul explains in our Second Reading (Romans 5:12-15) that bitterness and malice…sin and death…entered the world through the first parents and have infected all humankind from that day forward. Talk about hopelessness!
But, Paul goes on to offer us much more than a ray of light or glimmer of hope. Through God’s gracious gift of Jesus Christ, the possibility of perfect dialogue, cooperation, compromise, unity, true and lasting peace, and unconditional love becomes reality. We know that the fullness of the Good News awaits Christ’s return in glory and the establishment of the eternal Reign of God. But, in the meantime, we are called to push back against darkness, hopelessness, and fear by giving witness to the Gospel.
Today, we resume Ordinary Time. Hopefully, having spent the past months pondering the depth and meaning of Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection, we return to this liturgical season truly changed. If not, we might not be up to the task of this Sunday’s Gospel.
In Matthew’s 10:26-33, The Lord challenges us to acknowledge our faith. But, the acknowledgement we are called to demands more than a TV interview, a press release, or a “tweet.” Acknowledging that a tragedy has occurred because of our failure to live as God created us and suggesting that things should change is simply not enough.
The acknowledgement Jesus speaks of comes from the heart, which inspires the mind. Only then can the lips speak with sincerity. It is easy to frame words that are pleasing to the ear. But they have no real meaning or lasting value unless they are sincere and genuine. Words that do not originate in the heart are little more than noise.
Later in Romans, St. Paul tells us: For one believes with one’s heart and so is justified, and one confesses with one’s lips and so is saved. But to have the power to save…to change…to bring about dialogue, cooperation, compromise, unity, and peace in our nation, our world, our families, our Church…our acknowledgement must originate in our hearts where The Holy Spirit dwells.
As we make our way through the coming months of Ordinary Time, may the Lord be always on your mind, and on your lips…and in your heart – always in your heart!