Those of us growing up Catholic remember devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. There were pictures of the “Breck Hair” Jesus with a human heart stuck on the front of his robe and while the intentions of this pre-Vatican II devotion were good—to demonstrate in clear terms Jesus’ love for us; we sometimes lost that idea in the theatrics of the bad art. There were like pictures of the Sacred Heart of Mary—Jesus’ mother, with like meaning, but for my purposes here today, I will simply reference the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I have shared with you in the past the monthly publication from Sister Joan Chittister, The Monastic Way, wherein each month she uplifts a different theme and shares daily reflections on it. Sometimes she has a running theme for the entire year which is the case for 2020 wherein she will reflect on “Mary of Nazareth”—showing us through the many aspects of her life, “the sanctifying power of a human being who has become fully human.”
Sister Joan, in this year’s Monastic Way will show us the many great human qualities of Jesus’ mother, a strong, confident, peace-filled woman who gave our world not only the Sacred Heart of her Son, but the whole, divine-human package. Through Mary’s inner peace, compassionate relationships with others, her strength, as Sister Joan says in describing her; we will come to know the great love of her Son for all of humanity. “To become like the Sacred Heart means to open ourselves to the rest of the world. That is our calling,” Sister Joan prophetically says. And the “Sacred Heart” of Jesus art by Brother Mickey McGrath is so much better than that of past times!
And all of this talk and reminiscence on the “Sacred Heart of Jesus” is very fitting as we reflect on the words of the psalmist in 112 today. The image of “heart” is uplifted twice in speaking of what God honors and that is further “fleshed out” in the word, “tenderhearted” in explaining how we are to be in our world. Also, the character traits of generosity, mercy and virtuous living are mentioned by the psalmist as presumably ways of showing that our hearts are “engaged” in daily living.
Acting with “a heart engaged” is also the theme for the prophet, Isaiah, as he says that we must, “care for the poor, the homeless”—those without the basics and if we do, then, “our light will shine.”
We never have really gotten away from the theme of, “shining our light” since the beginning of the Christmas Season and should not throughout the Church Year, even if the actual words aren’t there—Jesus, our brother, “the Light of the World,” will always expect that of us!
In these troubling times, when all that our wonderful country used to stand for is over-shadowed by leadership apparently stuck on itself and promoting the same; we all need to go on doing good, no matter what—we certainly can’t look to Washington for any moral guidance in this regard—at least from those holding the power for change. And please know, I speak from a clearly moral and faith-based stance in making these comments. Except for Mitt Romney, who broke with his party’s deplorable lack of leadership; there was little, “light-shining” to be seen in the recent impeachment process.
The Republican Party, guided by fear of not being re-elected sold their souls this past week, abused the oaths they took at the beginning of this trial to give an impartial judgement, when the facts were clear in the case.
On a segment of the PBS News Hour this past week, anchor, Judy Woodruff was asking selected guests how they saw our country moving ahead from the partisan divide and negative culture that it now finds itself in. One female guest spoke to the need for herself of staying away from all the negative tweets and emails that tend to turn one side against another and do nothing to uplift a sense of good or a way forward. She said that when she concentrates on all the good being done in our world, she is really quite hopeful that the good will conquer at a certain point. Seems some good advice!
The words of the prophet, Isaiah, give hope as well: “God hears our cries and will answer, if we do good and not evil.” And Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, gives additional hope in letting his hearers know that his ability to do good comes from the Spirit who is his strength,” and ours, I would add. And again, from the psalmist we hear, “For the upright, our God shines like a lamp in the dark.” And the Scriptures for today conclude with the wonderful images of light and salt—that we are to put our “lights” out there for all to see. Also, the image of “salt” that meant much more in Jesus’ time when people lived without refrigeration; but an image that we can make use of, even in our times—that notion that food is tasteless, insipid even—without salt, can transfer nicely into character traits that lack, “character.”
As I have mentioned in the past; I have been reading Sojourner Magazine’s editor, Jim Wallis’ book, Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus,
finishing it this past week. In a chapter on being, “Salt and Light” for our world, Jim had this to say:
“We have only so much control over what happens in the world…we don’t choose the times we live in, but it’s often the case that the times choose us. What this means about how we live out our calling to be salt and light will be different for each of us—different gifts and callings, but all for the common good. Speaking the truth and acting on behalf of what is right will take all of us to the deepest levels. Preachers should preach ever more prophetically, teachers should teach formation and not just information, writers should write ever more honestly, lawyers should fight courageously for those who need their help, [and] reporters should report the facts ever more diligently and speak truth to power regardless of what the powers think about that.”
And he goes on through the arts—that artists would inspire, that those who know about climate change, would work for that, those concerned about a living wage, work for that—that human rights, voting rights, refugee and immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, and women’s rights would all be advocated for and advanced. Talk about “shining your light!” But friends, we are called to all of this!
And we can’t underestimate the importance of each of us doing our good, at times, in ways that are visible to others—not with the purpose of tooting our own horn, but instead, to give encouragement to others to do the same. Many times in my life, I have had people say to me that they were grateful for what I said or did—that it encouraged them to act in like fashion.
So my friends, much to reflect on this week as we, “hold the Scriptures in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” as Jim Wallis asks of us, and with that in mind, I want to lift up just two more empowering ideas for our reflection:
1) February, as you know is black history month. In a piece in the National Catholic Reporter (NPR) this past week, the writer said this: [The fact] “That the country needs to explicitly set aside a time of recognition for black history unveils the uncomfortable truth that white people avoid facing that people of color reckon with daily. Structural racism is real, white supremacy is normative and the stories we tell about ourselves as a nation and a church are skewed in such a way as to subjugate and erase black oppression and white privilege.”
“While it is good to uplift black history, the commemoration also ought to remind white women and men—such as [us] that ours is not the only history, our experiences are not universal experiences and our perspectives and cultures should not be viewed as normative.” And friends, in our country, due to the racist rhetoric coming out of the White House, all this is exacerbated, and we as followers of Jesus must shine our lights into that darkness.”
2) A bit of hope from the leadership of the Catholic church comes from a recent speech by San Diego bishop, Robert McElroy, entitled, “Voting with Faith and Conscience.” In his talk, he lists 10 areas of social justice concerns repeating the Church’s teaching on abortion reminding his hearers of this single issue that Catholics have concentrated their voting choices on for decades, as demanded of them by their bishops, to the detriment of all others and is now calling us to become more conscientious in our voting choices.
He uplifts the need today, more than ever before, to choose a candidate for public office, not a stance or specific teaching of the Church—faithful voting, he continued, involves careful consideration of the specific ability of a particular candidate to actually advance the common good. “Voters, he said, must assess the intelligence, human relation skills, mastery of policy and intuitive insights that each candidate brings to bear, for voting discipleship seeks results, not merely, aspirations.” He also added that the ability to “build bridges and heal our nation,” are most important.
I want to simply uplift McElroy’s phrase, “voting discipleship.” I think conscientious followers of Jesus need to remember this—picking the right leader of our country is discipleship because the power that this person has affects so many people—God’s people.
My friends, Robert told me recently that I should write a homily that is totally upbeat, leaves out all the negativity and I think this one has more that is positive than negative, but holding the Scriptures in one hand and the newspaper in the other really doesn’t allow us to leave the negative news out completely.
The positive piece though is that we are capable of so much good and hopefully, I have lifted that up for us today. I conclude with the words of Pope Francis in his 2015 address to our Congress. “A nation is great when it defends liberty as Abraham Lincoln did, when it seeks equality as Martin Luther King Jr. did and when it strives for justice for the oppressed as Dorothy Day did.” Bishop McElroy concludes, “Let us pray that our nation moves toward such greatness, in this election year and that faith-filled, prudent disciples are leading the way.” Amen? Amen!