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.

If I Have Not Love…Then I am Nothing

St Paul’s 13th chapter in his letter to the Corinthians has gone the way of the romantic in recent years. We hear this reading most often at weddings but it seems to be viewed as saccharine words for the new lovey-dovey couple.

In fact the words of Paul were addressed to those at Corinth and it was based on the fact that the Corinthians were developing factions amongst the community after Paul had left them. Some would listen to him, another to a guy named Apollos and a third faction to Jesus alone. Paul tries to appeal to them that we’re all in this together, but also that love is what will continue to help us overcome these differences.

My wife and I didn’t use this reading at our wedding, simply because we had heard it so often already but we refer to it again in our daily prayer time together often. It is good to remind ourselves that our love for one another requires patience, kindness and not to put on airs. I think I need those reminders much more than my wife does. She always seems to be pleasant and not prone to arrogance as I think I have a tendency to do. One of the reasons I married, Marion was because she keeps me honest. When I get too big for my britches she lets me know that I’m being a jerk, a lovable jerk, but a jerk nonetheless. I try to do the same for her when she gets out of sorts in her own way.

I think many people simply don’t understand what love really means, and what St. Paul is driving at today. Love means commitment. It means sticking it out in the hard times. Love means participating in the act of love when one doesn’t feel like being loving–when one is grumpy, or tired, or even when you think the other person is being pig-headed.

Love is hard. But it indeed overcomes everything. Loving those who are hard to love– an arrogant parent, an angry spouse, a sister who doesn’t listen or a boss who doesn’t appreciate you–is what we’re called to do. It doesn’t mean that we become doormats either though. Abuse shouldn’t be tolerated and jerkiness is simply not a nice demeanor for anyone.

But I think many of us simply want things to be as we picture them. We place our own ideals, often unrealistic, onto our spouses. We forget that we fell in love with someone who has their own desires and tastes that may indeed come into conflict with one of our own. Marriages, I fear, fail not because there is a lack of love, but because most people simply give up when conflicts take hold. I love that Marion never, ever lets our disagreements fester. I’m ready to run away sometimes when I’ve simply had it and I always find her ready for me when I emerge from “the cave.” I spend a lot less time in the cave now because I know that Marion is waiting for me, fully committed to our relationship and that makes it a whole lot easier for me to love her in return and stay committed during tough times when it would simply be easier for both of us to chuck it all.

This is a message however, not merely for my marriage, or any marriage but for all of our relationships.

Who is deemed “too hard to love?” The homeless? The child molester? Dictators? People with stupid prejudices? The unborn and the pregnant teen? The boss who drives you crazy or the one that fires you?

We need patience, kindness and a non-inflated sense of ourselves in order to progress into deeper love.

Are we willing to do that? I hope so, because if we all did that, maybe the Kingdom of God will have arrived.