There is the story of a sage who asked his disciples how to tell when the night had ended and morning had dawned. One disciple said, “When you can look out into the field and tell the difference between an oak and a maple tree.” “Wrong,” came the response. The next disciple said, “When you can look out into the field and tell the difference between a sheep and a goat.” “Wrong again,” said the sage. “You can see that the dawn has arrive when you look into the face of any woman and see in her your sister, or into the eyes of any man and see in him your brother. Until you can see this it is still very much night.”
One of the men I most admire is Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. He was seen as a conservative churchman who the powerful thought wouldn’t make waves. Yet only three weeks after he was appointed Archbishop, his dear friend, Fr. Rutilio Grande, a priest who spend his whole life serving the poor in slums, was assassinated by a right-wing death squad.
As the violence grew he picked a Sunday when he canceled all the Masses in the country except the one he himself celebrated in San Salvador, which was broadcast on national radio. He preached, “No soldier is obliged to obey an order counter to the law of God. No one has to comply with an immoral law. It is the time now that you recover your conscience and obey its dictates rather than the command of sin. . . . Therefore, in the name of God, and in the name of this long-suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven every day more tumultuous, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you! In the name of God: ‘Cease the repression!” He effectively signed his death warrant and was shot dead on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass for some nuns in the chapel of a Catholic hospital. He was canonized a saint on May 23, 2015.
Oscar Romero was a prophet who never saw enemies but unconscious people. I would advise you, however, that if God asks you to be a prophet, tell him to pick someone else. Look at the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading, thrown into a cistern and sinking in the mud. Who wants to get treated like that?
Then we have Jesus, the Prince of Peace, telling us that he came to bring division and not peace. This is the guy who shows up in his home town as someone who is now famous. Instead of the royal treatment, after a tense exchange in the synagogue, they drag him out of the town and up a cliff intending to throw him off of it. Jesus saw John the Baptist, a prophet, get beheaded, and now he knows that something similar will happen to him.
We live in a world divided, a country divided, a city divided. It used to be America against Russia and now it’s America against China. I see our own country as deeply divided and people are increasingly intolerant. We even had a church divided, and while many love Pope Francis, many do not.
There are divisions in families, too, and it is truly painful when a husband and wife divorce or when family members are divided and don’t speak to each other. That is the one place we hope to find union and oneness. Divorce has happened in my own family, too, and it’s hard.
With my own father, I prefer not to talk politics! We can talk about sports, history, the weather, and Notre Dame football and the Cubs. But I love him too much to fight over politics, something over which I have little control.
Even looking at downtown Portland yesterday, there were right-wing and left-wing demonstrators at a huge protest. When they stand facing each other, they don’t see the face of a brother or a sister but someone they see through the lens of ideas in their minds. When they are unconscious and blind towards God in the other, then they can throw things, hurl insults, or even physically attack one another.
As disciples of the Lord, as believers, there is no “Us” versus “Them,” or “Us” versus the “Other.” There is only “Us,” only God’s children. The best definition of the Catholic Church is: “Here comes everybody.” The word “Catholic” means universal and our family extends across the whole globe. Just look at this church right here and see the beautiful diversity of people from different countries and cultures who speak so many different languages.
Look at Holy Redeemer School and see the great diversity of children there, probably the most diverse student body of any school in the Archdiocese of Portland. It is not a school where children are bullied or made fun of for their color of their skin. It is a place of harmony, friendship, love and respect. And how blessed are we in Deirdre McPheeters, our new principal, who is a compassionate, loving, and wise leader, whom we bless today.
If my eyes are open, I see Christ in the face of every human being. Every set of eyes looking at me are his eyes. Every voice I hear is his voice. Yes, we can disagree but we do so with love and respect. I can disagree with you but still love you. You may even hate me for what I believe, but I must choose to stand by what is right, speak the truth in love, and love you anyway—because God is in you. The only remedy for division is having eyes that see the oneness underneath all things, which is love.
Oscar Romero had this same vision before he died saying Mass. From this altar we now receive one bread and one cup, which is Christ himself. Our eyes are open and we realize that we are the body of Christ. Deep within we are all one. It doesn’t matter what we think but what we are. When our eyes see him in all people and things, the night has passed and morning has finally dawned upon our world.
Fr. Pat Neary, C.S.C.