Twenty-seventh Sunday: Violence and Love
All of us feel an intense obligation to protect and care for all our children and Teen, particularly our little girls and young ladies. I know that you, as well as I, are sickened by the very existence of sexual slavery, violence in our schools, and abuse of minors. It is a difficult challenge to be a Christian, to be forgiving, when someone assaults and even kills our defenseless ones. I am ashamed to say that there are times that I feel relieved to hear that perpetrators of violence often spare society the problem of punishing them severely. As the father and grandfather of my parish, when I think of this happening to our children, my inclination is to respond to violence by justifying violence. And then I am reminded of the Amish people who suffered so much when their school was attacked and their children killed three years ago. They forgave the killer. Their forgiveness and determination to live their faith embarrasses me and perhaps you, and reminds us that violence begets violence, but love begets love.
Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. A few years ago, an elderly Franciscan father stationed in our Diocese, was brutally attacked in downtown St. Petersburg. This priest had been active caring for the poor and homeless. He was a very holy man. Many of the priests of the Diocese went to him for spiritual direction. He went for a walk near the Franciscan friary, the religious house where he lived when he was brutally attacked by three men. Perhaps they were on drugs. Perhaps they just decided to beat up an elderly priest, but they broke bones, caused massive internal injury, and infected him with several diseases including AIDS. He was able to identify one of the men, as did a witness to the atrocity. The police arrested the man. Shortly afterwards he was freed on bail.
The priest had a temporary recovery and returned to the friary. A local man came to visit him and told him how bad he and others felt that this all happened. He asked him if he knew who the man was and if he could give him the man’s address. A bunch of the fellows who knew how good the priest was to them wanted to take care of the situation themselves. Father knew where the man lived. He told our bishop, Bishop Lynch, that he really wanted to give out the address, but he also knew he wouldn’t be true to Christ if he did.
This priest is a Franciscan. We cheapen the memory of St. Francis of Assisi by reducing him to the saint of animals. St. Francis’ is the saint of peace. His prayer is: “Make me an instrument of your peace.” The hurt Frans can lived true to that prayer.
Violence begets violence, but love begets love. The readings for this Sunday speak about love, the love of a man and woman united for life in the sacrament of marriage. No matter what the situation, violence of any form, including emotional assault, cannot have a part in any relationship, particularly marriage. Women who suffer abuse are not in a marriage, but are in a prison, an economic and emotional prison. If violence is part of physical relations, then this is sex not love. People, including our Teens, are confronted with violence when they are given the option of having sex or losing the guy or girl. They are being forced to give that which is sacred to someone who wants a relationship that is the antithesis, the opposite, of holy.
Marriage is holy, sacred. It is the one gift given by God before the fall which was not taken away by man’s sin. It is the a sign of the presence of God’s love in the world when it is lived with a sacrificial love. The husbands and wives who will be in Church this weekend pray together and are united to Jesus, the bond of their marriage. I once heard a man say that he has to leave very early for work every day while his wife is still sleeping. He said that before he leaves, he says a prayer over her, asking Jesus to care for his love. I remember telling the Teens who heard this talk with me that if you ever find a guy or girl who would want to do this, that is the person you marry.
Marriage demands sacrificial love. Young women and men hoping to marry may have ideals of a wonderful home, a loving spouse, and butterflies in the stomach every time they see their husband and wife. But those of you who are married would tell them that sometimes the butterflies are fluttering nicely. Many times, though, the butterflies seem to be replaced by another insect known as the state bird of Florida. Those are the times when husband and wife accept their spouse’s humanity, recognize their own humanity, and still continue to love. People often make statements without thinking them out. Wives, there was that time he said to you, “It probably would be a good idea for us both to go on a diet since you haven’t lost weight from the last baby,” or, husbands, there was that time she said to you, “Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be married to a real hunk.” When a person doesn’t turn statements like these into occasions for war, that person is imaging the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. This prepares them to handle the real crises: serious sickness, the death of a loved one, giving in to the temptations of the world. All these can destroy a marriage unless a person can image Jesus’ love and sacrifice his or her own pride for the sake of their spouse.
One of the reasons why many marriages fail is that one or both refuse to fight off violence within their own lives. If a man or a woman routinely confronts opposition with violence, even violence against oneself, then that person is not going to be able to enter into a lasting marriage. People need to take care of their anger and the stress that may have occasioned it, or their anger will finish them off as well as their marriages.
All this can be applied to a priest, too. If a priest hasn’t come to terms with the negative events of his life, but is still angry, even violently so, that priest cannot exercise the Sacrament of Holy Orders in a way that images Christ. Yes, the Masses he says will be valid, but his reflection of the Lord’s love will be dulled and his ministry will be ineffective.
Love conquers all. The couple whose marriage is going through a difficult period, the Teen who wants to remain wholesome and moral, the many who are crying out in pain and in fear for their lives, all can beat off the violence of the world with the Love of the Lord. Listen to what the second reading says, “He who consecrates and the ones who are consecrated all have the same origin. Therefore, He is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” We are made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus is the Divine Image of the Father. We are Jesus’ brothers and sisters. We have the same Father.
We can be better than the violent world around us. We can be better than the worst inclinations within us. We can be better. Jesus makes us better.
I do not know if I can be courageous to such a heroic degree that I can be a man of peace when I am confronted with violence, particularly violence against those I love, you folks. The Power to do this is within me, though. Jesus is there. And I
know that you have it in you to be people of peace in the face of violence. Jesus is there. If I want my priesthood to be what it can be, if you want your marriages to be all they can be, if you would someday like to enter into a marriage that is full of love, if we want our Christianity to be real, true, sincere, then we must allow the One who is within us to make us instruments of His peace.
St. Francis lived nine hundred to a thousand years ago. Jesus walked the earth nine hundred to a thousand years before him. The message of the Lord was relevant to Francis of Assisi. It is still relevant to us. We can be better than the world around us. We do not have to give in to violence and the many ways it is expressed. We can be people of deep, and lasting peace. We can be Christians.