Well, with the number of references that I make to community organizing and homilies and regular conversation, you would be correct to believe that as part of my background, it would be wrong, however, to think I was very good at it.
I have many of the skills required to do it well, but lack one important virtue.
Anger. Anger is really considered a virtue, and it’s usually not.
But there are times it is an important and necessary virtue to convince you of this.
I will need the help of today’s reading the two greatest theologians in the history of the Western Church and one Pope.
We will begin with the pope. In his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis examines today’s parable of the Good Shepherd rather than explaining it.
He reimagines. It invites us to see the robbed man as the poor, who we meet in our daily lives, and the robbers as people who make decisions about health care, a living wage, and other benefits that exclude them.
A Good Samaritan is any one individual or group that sees the humanity of the poor and assists them.
The great danger for Pope Francis is to be like the religious leaders who walk past the robbed man and see not a person, but an inconvenience.
Francis’s re-imagined parable has been found powerful because many of us find ourselves with the religious leaders who did nothing.
We see the victims all around us, and many question our own motives and reactions, but still don’t do anything.
What was our reaction to the killings in Uvalde, Texas?
Horror, disbelief and perhaps thoughts, but perhaps thoughts and prayers.
No, I am not. I no way wish to denigrate or reduce the power of or importance of remembering the suffering and praying for them.
It should be our immediate reaction as Christians.
Prayer is not shadowboxing. We should expect effects.
True prayer opens our minds, hearts and eyes to what is around us.
We see not only the victims, but their circumstances as well.
The reporting on the shootings revealed the level of poverty in which working people live.
This may not have been the reason why the gunmen slaughter them, but once seen, it cannot be unseen.
What is our reaction to this? The media reported on many prayer services that were I’m sure are very moving, but they did not move anyone to do any.
Let’s turn to Saint Number one, Thomas Aquinas.
He wrote, He who is not angry when there is a just cause for anger is immoral.
Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice.
And if you can live amid justice without and amid injustice, without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.
I love that quote and actually had T-shirts made of it.
We are physical beings and we must react to things physically with anger.
Our entire being tells us that something is wrong and that something must be done.
This must be good. First, with the people who live with the horror that has occurred.
A prayer has brought them together. Anger can propel them to organize.
To build their community. Assistance from outside can be helpful, but it must begin with the people who are most affected.
When it does. It is a wonderful sight to behold when it does not.
It is a tragedy. A very common tragedy.
After the murders of George Floyd, there was a great and justified outburst of anger.
There were demonstrations throughout the world. People seemed to be unwilling to live with injustice.
Pope Francis indeed said that Black Lives Matter, the movement, not any individual organization, was an example of a corporate Good Samaritan.
But. What has lasted. I am very suspicious of demonstrations.
They are often a version of thoughts and prayers, a good performance with poor results.
They have a definite purpose, as does prayer.
A good demonstration is an incubator for righteous anger that can be directed to the common good.
It usually is not. Demonstrations in Brooklyn after George Floyd’s death were in my old neighborhood, where I still have many friends.
I know that even if they can hang on, their children cannot afford to live there or almost any other place in Brooklyn.
Could not the anger be channeled into practical means for people to maintain their neighborhoods?
It was done during the New Deal and most spectacularly after the Second World War.
But the programs explicitly excluded black people.
Justice here is long overdue and not impossible.
However, nothing practical was done. So let us turn to Saint Augustine.
Hope has two lovely daughters. Anger and courage.
We utilize anger so that what must not be will not be.
We act with courage, so that what should be, will be. Anger can stop bad things in their tracks, but it takes courage to build.
In the parable today, the Good Samaritan tells the innkeeper that he will be back and will pay him if the Arab man’s caste care costs more than he gave originally.
He had the courage to make a commitment. This is often the key problem.
We see the humanity of somebody on the periphery are stirred for a moment and perhaps write a check, post something on Facebook, or even walk in a demonstration.
Now, these things are not nothing, but they are not courageous and rarely effective.
Courage is assisting those in need to obtain justice, decent housing, medical care, food, etc. This requires a commitment of time and effort, and most importantly, that poor people are usually,
as in the recognition that poor people are usually as intelligent as us and have a better idea of what is needed than any non resident, however credentialed and well motivated. Only then are we a good Samaritan.
Only then have we not passed by. Only then have we treated the victim on the road as a person and not an inconvenience.
Therefore, anger is a necessary virtue, a necessary means for justice that changes the world.
I hope that some of you have that anger, which is just and moral and truly righteous because it is joined with courage, stays and builds.