As We Pray for Peace…We Need to Change

How often have we used the terms “smackdown” or “fired up” or “he came in with guns blazing?” We debunk others opinions with terms like “shot em down” or “knocked em dead” or even “blew her away.”

This has got to change. Our culture used violent language at every turn and while I’m sure most mean no harm in using these terms as hyperbole, they aren’t serving us well. Some are even taking these words literally.

I fear that the many random acts of violence, most of which have been perpetrated by young adults, mostly young men in their 20s (Virginia Tech, Oklahoma City and Columbine come to mind) are continuing because of our acceptance of a violent culture–where it’s OK to hit back when someone else strikes even a verbal chord that we don’t like or agree with.

It seems to me that when someone wants to stop another from doing something that they don’t particularly like–all bets are off and vigilante justice seems to take root. Rep. Giffords was shot yesterday not long after her office was vandalized and she had the right words on NBC not long after that first instance:

From Commonweal

Asked if leaders of the Republican Party should speak out more forcefully against violence, she replied that this task fell as well to Democrats and “community leaders.”

“Look, we can’t stand for this.” There were problems with certain ways of “firing people up,” she said, and then offered an example close to home.

“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list,” she said, “but the thing is that the way she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that action.”

Many people have taken Sarah Palin to task (amongst other republicans) for putting “shotgun sites” over congressional districts that they needed to “take back.” I’m sure that they never envisioned something like this and like the good folks at Commonweal, I don’t want to suggest that the GOP is responsible for a raging madman’s actions–especially when his ramblings seem disjointed at best.

But what I do want to suggest is that we all need to change our own war like mantras that we put out there when we want to accomplish a goal.

This week we concentrate on our baptism, our initial moment of starting fresh as Christians and our constant reminders of those promises from that day forward. How can we renew these promises with a sense of urgency with regards to peace? How does God wish us to greet one another and deal with our differences? How can we be the refreshing waters of Baptism for others and a healing balm for the world?

This week let’s think about that and pray for those who were in harm’s way this week.

And most of all, let us pray for those who died and for peace.

On a personal note, Dallas Green was the Mets manager when I covered the team for a bit in the 90s. It was his granddaughter who died at the too young age of 9 this weekend in Arizona. For the Green family, let us pray. Amen.

Can God Turn the Hearts of Terrorists?

Our second reading from today’s Gospel reminds us that one of our great saints, St Paul, may well have been deemed a terrorist in his day. He persecuted and killed Christians before his conversion and he notes that in today’s selection:

I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.
Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant,
along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Of these I am the foremost.

I wonder if there may be some great saints in the making who are out there persecuting the religion of others. Saints, in general, don’t get it. Fr. John Cusick, the great founder of Theology on Tap, once reminded me that the disciples are some of the greatest screw ups of all time.

“If you want to be a disciple, read everything the twelve do…and then do the opposite!”

I wonder too if writing off those who perform horrible atrocities isn’t a smack in the face of God. Don’t we believe that God can do anything? Don’t we believe that God can turn hatred into love? And can’t we believe, that maybe, we can be the conduits of bringing that love into the world?

That’s what our gospel stories remind all of us about today.

We have three parables today, all with the same root: the lost. We have a lost sheep, a lost coin and most importantly, a lost son. Who knows what evil the son engaged in while he was away? But the Father welcomed him home with open arms after a long time of praying that his son would return. How long did he wait? Who knows, but it certainly didn’t happen overnight. Who long did the shepherd look for that lost sheep? Who knows, but when he returned he still rejoiced and he then probably had 20 more to gather back to the flock. A woman finding a lost coin could have a number of implications. After all, women were property, they had nothing of their own and relied a men for their sustenance. What little funds they had probably had to stretch a long way. So a lost coin may indeed have been the only coin they had. Imagine the rejoicing!

The truth is that there are a lot of lost people out there. Many of you might have that wayward son or daughter who you pray for night and day. You might know someone with mental illness who refuses to get treatment or who is addicted to drugs or alcohol? And there are others who simply want nothing to do with Catholicism or religion of any kind.

Maybe we’re the ones who are lost ourselves? I know I put other things ahead of those I love. I know I can be selfish and want things to happen instantly, well before they are supposed to. I’m not a very patient person by nature and that impatience gets me into a lot of trouble.

And that’s true of most of us when it comes to thinking about the climate of today’s world. We want to live in peace, but how many of us are really willing to wait for that peace and to do the work that comes with striving for reconciliation? How long can we wait for even one terrorist to admit that violence is simply evil.

Our first reading tells us that God was at the point of eliminating the people of Israel. But Moses pleaded and worked to bring the people back to God. And that even took him a long time. In fact he broke the first tablets of commandments in anger when he saw the Golden Calf that they built and worshipped. There was even some violence in the ensuing days. Moses wasn’t exactly patient.

What keeps us from working for peace? What keeps us from making peace with people in our own families, never mind, the rest of the world that seems to be far too lost for reconciliation to ever occur?

Today, let us work for reconciliation in whatever way God may call us. This weekend we remember that horrible day when evil seemed to win. But then our own resolve as a country to continue to strive for peace, united us as a country. May that same spirit, bring us to peaceful resolutions within our own hearts that often need healing, within our divided communities and even with those who hate us. May we be confident that one day, God will bring us all into the peace that only God can offer.

Replacing McChrystal: Not the Problem

Roliing Stone’s Michael Hastings has an insightful point in his follow up to the who General McChrystal mess. It is the epitome of the senselessness of war.

Here is the narrative we’re about to be sold: Things will be tough in Afghanistan. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. But eventually, with good old American perseverance, violence will drop (fingers crossed). When that happens, U.S. soldiers will stop dying in large numbers — and Americans will stop paying attention in large numbers.

It’s a comforting narrative, but it’s likely to prove to be a false one. Even if counterinsurgency works here in Afghanistan as it did in Iraq, the best we can hope for is to turn defeat into a face-saving draw. We will have spent hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives to pursue a strategy that, in the end, probably won’t make us any safer from terrorists.

Read the whole column as I just did. After reading a lot about this mess I think if I were President I’d just fold up the tent and tell all the troops to come home. The way to win this war is not on the ground but through intelligence. You guys figure this thing out, we’re bringing them home and hope to win the fight a different way because this plan has no chance of success.

Today let us pray for peace and for justice. That God indeed will protect us from all evil, foreign and domestic, and that we might be able to protect not merely our country, but the world from terrorism.

Peace Be With You

Today’s gospel places the disciples in the upper room after hearing about the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaus.

Jesus appears before them and utters those words of comfort: “Peace be with you.”

We say those words rather casually when we offer the sign of peace at mass but in this context can you imagine what they truly meant. The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost! Moreover, they were stuck immobile in the upper room unable to move, even with the Good News given to them by the women and by the two on the road to Emmaus. Indeed fear can keep us paralyzed.

So those words of peace are what calms their troubles. When I do imaginative prayer with this gospel I place myself as one of the disciples, I want to believe that Jesus is really there but then I doubt it.

But when he eats that piece of baked fish–I can almost hear myself saying “That’s the Jesus I know! He’s the one who was always eating and drinking with us! Those people threw him on the cross and killed him but he’s back and he’s still hungry! Somehow that figures!”

I could almost hear myself teasing Jesus, “Oh sure, save some for us will ya?” And Jesus would smile back at me and maybe even break a piece of fish off and hand it to me and perhaps even offer it and then chomp it down instead of giving it to me. “You want a piece, Mike? I’ll bet you do! Gulp! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

I also noticed in the reading of this gospel that Jesus merely says to look at his hands and feet–but there are no mention of any wounds here. Could he NOT have wounds? Could this Jesus be completely healed of those wounds and could that be what he is pointing to–so that the disciples believe that ultimately death cannot kill God and that resurrection makes one whole again?

When we are in our darkest moments do we believe that Jesus can enter into our dark fortresses that we build to try to isolate ourselves and keep others at bay? Do we believe that there is no door that Jesus can’t open and when he does, even when we aren’t expecting it, are we ready to accept the peace that he offers with that entrance and offer some small token of hospitality?

Or do we try to slam the door? We can try to keep God out but somehow the strong driving winds of Pentecost find us eventually. It seems to me that the peace that we all crave can be found if we just open ourselves up to not hiding from God–especially when we feel shameful or alone. We need God then more than ever and instead we decide to go into that upper room and stay there.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus utters. And we hear that.

What do we do when that invitation comes to experience the peace that comes along with realizing that God can defeat death and calm all our fears?

Do we start celebrating by eating and drinking with Jesus or do we just stay put in our own misery and faithlessness. Thinking that God couldn’t possibly do anything for us?