Friends, I was away this Sunday and Pastor Dick Dahl shared this homily with those gathered for Mass. He has given us a fine reflection!
I recently read the book, “The Spiral Staircase,” by Karen Armstrong. In it she describes working with a Jewish Librarian at a college in North London who said to her: “We (Jews) have orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy.” We focus on right practice. You Christians emphasize right belief.”
Beliefs can lead us human beings to be extremely cruel. When Karen Armstrong studied the Crusades, she came across an eye witness account of the conquest of Jerusalem in July, 1099. The Crusaders massacred 40,000 Jews and Muslims in two days. The observer declared it “a glorious day,” the most important historical event since the crucifixion of Jesus.
Karen Armstrong’s study of the Crusades confirmed her conviction that stridently-held parochial certainty could be lethal. It changed her and made her determined always to try to listen to the other side, at least to try to understand where the “enemy” is coming from.
The librarian in North London also told Karen about a revered Jewish rabbi, a Pharisee who lived slightly before the time of Jesus. His name was Hillel. A man allegedly once challenged Rabbi Hillel to explain all of Jewish religion while standing on one leg. Hillel’s many students spent their entire lifetimes studying Judaism. Nevertheless, he responded to the challenge. Standing on one leg, he said, “Don’t do anything to others you don’t want them to do to you. All the rest is commentary.”
Orthopraxy, right practice, trumps orthodoxy, right beliefs. In St. Paul’s famous first letter to the Corinthians he also made that clear when he said, “If I have the faith necessary to move mountains but I am without love, I am nothing.” In today’s second reading Paul warned the Galatians, “You cannot do whatever you feel like doing. If you go snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you will destroy the whole community. Take care. Serve one another in works of love since the whole of the Law is summarized in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The trouble with this is that we’ve heard it so often that we don’t really hear it. Another way of saying this that may break through to us is the way Joseph Cambell expressed it in his book The Power of Myth: “Christian love doesn’t matter who the person is.” In other words, it’s not just the neighbor we know or the neighbor we like.
The tendency runs deep to hurt and punish those who think differently from ourselves. We even see it in today’s Gospel. Jesus was traveling with his disciples toward Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead to prepare for their passing through Samaria. When his followers were told that they would not be welcomed there, James and John said to Jesus, “Lord, would you not have us call down fire from heaven to destroy them?”
But Jesus rebuked them. They simply went on to another village. No need to destroy the Samaritans for their beliefs or their lack of hospitality. Most Catholics were taught to believe that homosexuality is disordered, wrong. This belief was easily distorted in the minds of many to mean homosexuals are bad people. When over 100 people were shot in the gay nightclub in Orlando two weeks ago, Archbishop Cupich of Chicago was the only bishop in the country who condemned the violence for targeting gay, lesbian and transgender victims due to their sexual orientation.
Father James Martin, the editor of the Jesuit magazine America, called out the remaining bishops for failing to address this glaring aspect of the massacre. Father Martin said, “For the Christian there is no ‘other,’ there is only ‘us” because for Jesus there was no “other.”
Archbishop Cupich saw in the gunman, Omar Mateen, “a very lethal combination of an unstable personality,” psychic conflict and homophobia, the incitement to violence offered by ISIS internet propaganda and “finally, the idealization of guns as the best means to take out one’s rage on others.” But, he said, “It was easy access to guns that made possible the horrific attack. It’s the spark that allows that explosion to happen.”
Archbishop Cupich quickly followed up his initial statement with a letter read in Chicago on June 12 before a Sunday night Mass for the lay Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach organization, A.G.L.O. “Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,” Archbishop Cupich wrote. “For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: the Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you.”
He went on, “Let our shared grief and our common faith in Jesus, who called the persecuted blessed, unite us so that hatred and intolerance are not allowed to flourish, so that those who suffer mental illness know the support of a compassionate society, so that we find the courage to face forthrightly the falsehood that weapons of combat belong anywhere in the civilian population.”
The archbishop explained that he has made a point of meeting with members of A.G.L.O. to directly hear the concerns and experiences of L.G.B.T. Catholics in the archdiocese and “just to get to know who they are as persons.” He said, “I don’t think people in positions of leadership in the church sometimes really engage gay and lesbian people and talk to them and get to know about their lives.” He explained his personal outreach is an attempt to emulate the example set by Pope Francis.
“The pope constantly talks about those three words: encounter, accompany and integrate. That’s the template for us in our approach to people who feel excluded, whether [the gay and lesbian community] or other populations out there. That’s the demand that is before us in this moment.…” Archbishop Cupich said that leaders of the church in America have yet to successfully reach out to many gay and lesbian Catholics who feel isolated from the larger church community or alienated by it. He said: “Getting to know people as they are is very, very important.” That can prevent categorizing and dehumanizing people.
He went on, “We’re all different; we all have our ways of understanding ourselves and the way we live our lives and struggle with our humanity. It can be a great joy once you get to know people.” He pointed out that during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus “looked at a bunch of people who were struggling, who were oppressed, who were hungering for different things in life. But what did he do? He looked at the crowd and said, ‘Blessed are you.’ “He looked at where the blessings and the graces were happening in their lives.” Archbishop Cupich concluded, “I think that the church has to do that as well…helping (people) cultivate the goodness of God’s graces that are in their lives.”
In conclusion, Karen Armstrong wrote that all the great religious traditions were and are in unanimous agreement—the one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, or devotional practice is that it must lead directly to practical compassion. Compassion is a habit of mind that is transforming. The struggle to achieve harmonious relations with our fellows brings human beings into God’s presence.
How we treat others is more important than what we say we believe.