If you told me in January that the entire world would essentially shut down because of a pandemic I would have assumed that it was the return of the black plague which could kill over half the population of a city in weeks. If you clarified that although many would be afflicted by the virus it would kill a relatively small percentage of those infected, I would have assumed that it must target children. Yet at the very beginning it was thought that children would be relatively protected from it and that its main targets would be the old, the poor and people with preexisting conditions. This is extraordinary. Indeed, it is an act of almost unimaginable “pro-life” generosity. And as someone who woke up one day and found himself in the elderly category, I want to thank you for your consideration. But something is missing. The generosity may be worldwide, but the vision somewhat myopic.
Governor Cuomo has been eloquent in stating the importance of every human life in his daily briefing, yet he has championed abortion laws for the State which go far beyond the stipulations of Roe v Wade.
We have seen that the virus is particularly deadly for people who have not had good medical care throughout their lives yet amid this pandemic Lawmakers have again sought to repeal non employer-based health care without a replacement plan. Please note what I am saying here. Catholic social teaching holds that health care is a human right but does not demand a particular way to accomplish this. The concern is repealing without replacing. More examples could be shown that the world view that created the shutdown has been very thin and somewhat confused.
We as Catholic Christians have much to offer and there is no better place to start than today’s Gospel. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Commandments for John before all else strengthen our relationship with God. Thus: I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. (Jn 13:34).
The relationship does not come from our own initiative but at God’s invitation. Immediately after Jesus tells the disciples that that this love can only be made real by loving each other He promises to send “another Advocate”. Advocate is a legal term. It is a person who stands with a defendant to attest to his innocence and to support him at a trial: not life coach or therapist or facilitator but advocate. Jesus is the first advocate. He stood with his disciples when he was in the flesh. Now he is going to the Father but will send another. He is needed. Christian life will be difficult. There will always be resistance and my experience has been that it begins with me.
John is using the language of covenant. Because of their covenant with God the Jews knew that they had a unique relationship with him, they were a “chosen race a royal priesthood”. Yet Jesus goes immensely further here: I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. God is literally sharing his life with us. This is far more than God giving us good stuff or even the promise of Paradise. It seems too good to be true. One reason why this section of John’s Gospel can seem a bit tedious is that he says this over and over so that we cannot fail to understand it. The 17th chapter of John in particular makes God’s gift of himself to us unmistakable especially: And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, (John 17:22) How can it be? It is all too much for me.
Acceptance for me came in two stages. In the other Gospels the Advocate is the Holy Spirit who inspires and molds us with his gifts one of which is Understanding. Once I understood that God revealed himself as the Trinity to show us that ultimate reality is relationships and that all is kept together by love then God’s invitation to share his life made sense: infinite love laughs at boundaries. Another gift is fortitude, understanding cannot remain in our heads but must reach out of ourselves especially those who we find well outside our comfort zone. whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” (Jn 14:21) The more I attempted to love those I did not find immediately lovable the more Jesus revealed himself to me and the more sense this made.
If it is difficult for Christians to accept the overwhelming love of God than how can we expect non-Christians to do so? This is what John means by the world. John is in no way saying that physical reality is bad. The world was created by God and is good. But those who have not accepted the God revealed by and in Jesus will never understand what Christians see and why we do what we do.
This week marks the 5th anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the Environment “Laudato Si”. It written for the world not just Catholics and more than one wit has said that that was wonderful because few Catholics read it and fewer still tried to put it into practice. Its key insight is that “everything is connected” A non-Catholic neighbor of mine was telling me how inspired she was reading it, how true its message of connectedness and how admirable the Pope’s fearlessness about facing the financial consequences of this. So, I asked her what she thought about his comments on abortion. Somewhat flustered she said “Well, he had to say that but the real point was the connectedness of the world”. An amazing thought: aren’t baby humans connected?
The blinders of the world are such that even the possibly of including the unborn under the canopy of life went unseen. Catholic Social teaching is an extension of our belief in the Trinity and makes it flesh. It is not bound to an ideology as Pope Francis makes crystal clear the Spirit destroys all ideologies.
That is why we need the Advocate. John ‘s insight that the Holy Spirit stands with us and supports us is critical. We will never fit into the world because our basic experience is so different. We may find that that different parts of the world will accept different parts of our message, but we cannot expect complete acceptance and should be very suspicious if we seem to get it.
That is why we need prayer. We need to connect with God. Just as the church’s social teaching gives us objectives and principles but does not tell us how to obtain them or put them into practice so too the church gives us many traditions and techniques of prayer. It has become so obvious in this time of sheltering in place that we as Catholics have not availed ourselves of these options. It is my major objective during this time to work with members of the parish to explore with you some of these traditions.
When we can have face to face relations again and the world seeks a new normal, we as Catholics will have much to offer. It will not be universally or uniformly welcomed. So be it. The Advocate will be with us and with the gift of wisdom will give us a commitment to a just society that is as wide as God can see and as deep as he can love.
A note on Prayer:
The Catholic Church has fostered many forms of prayer, yet Catholics are mostly unaware of them. This has been painfully revealed during the pandemic. Yet we have another opportunity. If we are to do our part in the rebuilding of our Church and Society, we will need an intimate relationship with the triune God and real participation in the Body of Christ. We can do this best if we have discovered the form of prayer which provides the strongest relationship with God.
Part 4 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church outlines the history and practice of Prayer in the Church. It is moving, despite the format, and as this physical shutdown continues is perfect reading to prevent spiritual shutdown.
The Catechism may be found on line as well as in book form and I suggest that everyone read the first section: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P8Z.HTM) and if it speaks to you read the rest but pay particular attention to “Expressions of Prayer” http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_P9K.HTM and then ask yourself do any of these forms spark and interest in you and how do you think we can develop this in St Charles?
Watch this space.