Monday, April 26, 2010

Pax Christi Annual Peace Mass

Feast of St. Fedelis of Sigmaringen, OFM Cap., Martyr

April 24, 2010
Saint Joseph’s Church, New Paltz, N.Y.

Deacon Tom Cornell

Thank you, Father Bernard, for hosting our Pax Christi Peace Mass once again. It is more than fitting that we meet among sons of Saint Francis. It’s such a beautiful space, this church, so much color and light. I just had a flash-back to my time in prison, in 1968. It wasn’t very much, just six months – of sensual deprivation! It was gray, everything was gray, the walls were gray and the ceiling was gray and the floor was gray and the clothes were gray, and the food was gray! Oy veh! It is good to be here in this warm and beautiful place.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, a Capuchin friar. Saint Fidelis was martyred for defending the Catholic faith against Calvinists who denied the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar. To most of Saint Felix’s 17th Century contemporaries the day when Catholics and Calvinists did not kill each other seemed unimaginable. We don’t kill each other any more, Catholics and Calvinists. Today we study Scripture together, we work and pray together; we pray that one day his Church will be as Jesus prayed the Father it would be, that all be one, one flock, one shepherd, Catholic, orthodox, evangelical and reformed.

To most of Saint Francis’ contemporaries, the day when Perugia and Assisi would never even think of attacking each other was unimaginable. But today the cities of Italy are interwoven in a fabric of mutual dependency; they do not attack each other. We older people remember war in Europe, when “the hand that held the dagger struck it into the back of its neighbor.” Italy will never attack France again because Italy and France and Germany, all the countries of Europe are interwoven in a fabric, a web of mutual dependency. How about the world? Can we extend a web of solidarity across the globe? We have to!

Is it foolish to imagine a world without war? No, I don’t think so. There’s an old saying that, “Wars will cease when men (and women) refuse to fight! It’s sounds good but it’s not true. Men (and women) will always be fooled, threatened, lied into their masters’ wars with manufactured fear and hatred. There will always be enough cannon fodder, sorry to say. War will cease when nations are so woven into a fabric of interdependency that war becomes impossible. But that fabric will not be woven without a tremendous sustained moral energy accelerating the progress of history. And that moral energy will only be generated by men and women who refuse to fight, who refuse to work in war industry or to give any sanction to war, men and women determined to say NO!, men and women ready to face the consequences and pay the price in the spirit of Saint Francis and of Jesus himself.

A generation ago, President John F. Kennedy told us that, for the first time in human history, it is possible to eliminate hunger and grinding poverty from the face of the earth. At the same time, he said, it is, for the first time, possible for mankind to commit suicide with the weapons we developed in World War II. Just a few days ago, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner, said that with a fraction of the wealth we pour into weapons of mass destruction, we could eliminate world hunger. It’s our choice.

On August 6, 1945, “Everything changed,” said Albert Einstein, “everything but our way of thinking.” I remember that day. When the news came over the radio we threw a block party. I could almost cry to remember it. We rejoiced because we knew the war would be over very soon. We could not pause to think of the dead and dying Japanese. We had long since been taught to think of them as less than human, not like us. “They don’t value human life as we do,” we were told.

I can not help but think of Saints Francis and Anthony and Fidelis today in this place. It’s easy to white-wash popular saints. I love the statue of Saint Anthony with the Christ child and the lily; I love to see it in people’s homes. But that statue doesn’t give the whole picture, not at all. Saint Anthony didn’t go around holding the Baby Jesus in his arms all the time, and a flowering lily. Saint Anthony could inveigh with power and righteous wrath against the money-lenders of his day who despoiled the poor. Even as a young man, he hollered and screamed and made such a racket that, for the first time, a Council of the Church condemned usury.

Where are the young today? I see lots of white hair and bald heads. Maybe we’ve become too accustomed to Grandmother’s religion in our churches. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against grandmothers, quite the contrary. I’m married to one! And I loved my own grandma and I miss her. And she died in 1942! I still have the prayer book she brought with her from Italy over a hundred years ago. But what the young need now isn’t grandma’s religion. What the young need and crave is struggle, battle, for something bigger than themselves. We, members of the oldest, the largest, the most widely dispersed organization in the world, the Catholic Church, the “sacrament of the unity of the human race,” have all we need right at hand. We can bring about that change in thinking that Einstein called for to catch up with the reality of a changed world. We have a body of social teaching on justice and peace based on the Scriptures, unmatched, and we have the sacraments, we have our saints as models, including the uncanonized ones like Dorothy Day. The young need to know that each one has a part to play in building peace and justice for a fractured and bleeding world. They are called to arms, the army that sheds no blood, to the army of Jesus Christ, the army that binds up the wounds. This is a faith to die for! To live for. The young dream dreams and it is good that they do, for without a vision, the people will surely perish.

Saints Francis and Fidelis were peacemakers. Saint Fidelis practiced the works of mercy to an heroic degree, comforting the afflicted, widows and orphans and prisoners and the sick during a plague at the risk of his own life. And he did in fact offer his life to tell the truth in defense of the Catholic faith, to instruct the ignorant! The works of mercy, corporal and spiritual, are the exact opposite of the works of war and they are, as Mahatma Gandhi taught, the obverse side of the coin of nonviolence. Come, take your part!

On Sunday, May 2nd, you are invited to join a rally at United Nations Plaza, from 4 to 6 p.m. The purpose of the rally is to call upon our government to pledge itself to a series of unilateral initiatives toward complete nuclear disarmament. It’s what our bishops and the Holy Father have called for. The peace tradition of the sons and daughters of Saint Francis is now the standard for the whole Catholic Church, at long last.

Thank you. Peace be with you!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Got Off the Bus!

3 Easter C #48

Acts 5, 27-32. 40-41
Ps 30
Rv 5, 11-14
Jn 21, 1-19

April 18, 2010
Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.

Deacon Tom Cornell

“We must obey God rather than men!” Peter spoke on behalf of all the apostles and for the whole Church. Peter’s successor, Pope Benedict, preached on this text last week, “We must obey God rather then men.” Benedict was talking about the totalitarian regimes of a past that young people do not remember, but that he does only too well, and we older people, Communist and Nazi-fascist dictatorships. The Pope spoke especially to the young about today’s tyranny, dictatorship, a dictatorship of conformity, “…conformity, in which everyone has to think the way everyone else thinks, to act the way everyone else acts.” Get out of the box, young people, get off the bus! It’s going nowhere, if not to Hell!

Pope Benedict spoke also of eternal life. Sometimes we hesitate to speak of eternal life in a culture so saturated with materialism. We need to speak the truth of the Resurrection to eternal life, the truth of spirit. You can bet your life on it. If death is the end, then life has no meaning at all, it is absurd: love, loyalty, sacrifice and honor are empty words, and if God exists, he is evil; all our joys and all our sufferings are for naught; life is a cruel joke, a mockery. Today’s Gospel reading teaches us exactly the opposite. Jesus Christ is risen! It is true!

John tells a touching, very human story of Jesus’ appearance by the seashore. He cooks them breakfast, bread and grilled fish. This is Jesus’ third appearance after his Resurrection. They took heart. Just a few days before they were frightened out of their wits. Now they are strong in faith, strong enough to speak the truth of Jesus to the power of the Sanhedrin. “We must obey God rather than men.”

In the early Christian era the Church had to teach barbarians to obey civil authority for the sake of peace. Today the Church must teach Christians the duty of civil disobedience, how to disobey responsibly, for the sake of peace, to obey God rather than men.

Christians are obliged to obey duly constituted authority justly exercised (Rom 13, 1-2). There’s no argument about that. But then we must ask: what constitutes legitimate authority, and how justly is it being exercised? The Church teaches in the Compendium of the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church: When Christians are called to cooperate in morally evil acts they must refuse…. It is a grave duty of conscience not to cooperate in practices which are contrary to the Law of God. Such cooperation can never be justified, not by invoking respect for the freedom of others nor by appealing to the fact that it is required by civil law” (#399).

Catholics understand this when it comes to abortion. A nursing student or a medical doctor in training must refuse to assist at an abortion, no matter what the pressure, no matter what the consequences. Once the principle is established, it can be applied to other crimes against life, like war and torture and capital punishment and unjust social and political structures as well. We must say “NO! We’re getting off the bus!”

Does that mean that individual Christians may make up their own minds about which laws we will obey and when? Should we not give our elected leaders the presumption of justice for the sake of peace and good order? Ordinarily, yes, but, this is where conscience comes in. In the depths of our hearts God speaks to us. Go there! Listen! Don’t be afraid!

When the time draws near that nonviolent civil disobedience becomes a threat to the common good, then we will reconsider the matter. But that is not the case today. Far from it! The problem today is quite the opposite. The problem today is blind obedience. The Nazi Army was overwhelmingly Christian, Roman Catholic and Lutheran, over 90 percent, the same with the death camp personnel. If there wasn’t a pastoral failure involved in that, then there is no such thing and we pastors and preachers and catechists and teachers are irrelevant. It’s all “pie in the sky.” If the Kingdom of God is not here and now it will never be then and there. This is not Nazi Germany, thank God. But the defense, “I was just obeying orders,” didn’t work at the Nuremburg war crimes trial and it won’t work today, either in the hospital surgery or the battlefield.

It’s not “pie in the sky,” it’s real. That’s what today’s Gospel reading teaches us. The Lord has risen, he has truly risen! In baptism we died with Christ, in baptism we rose with Christ. Death is not the end. This is the most important truth our faith teaches us, the central truth.

They were slow to believe: he had risen! Jesus’ teaching on the hills of Galilee was mostly about the Kingdom of God, so we can presume he was still at it as they did the dishes after breakfast by the seashore. It would all become clear with the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We are slow to believe too.

In baptism you and I were baptized into his death and into his resurrection. We were baptized into his messianic ministry also. We share Jesus’ priesthood, his role as prophet, his kingship, every one of us. The Messiah-Christ awaited by Israel is here, and we are incorporated into him. If we are in Christ, then it is ours to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. Can we do it, create the new heaven and the new earth that he has promised? As a matter of fact, no, we can’t! That's a delusion, a very dangerous delusion. But with faith, with his grace, we can accomplish more than we think. Christ when he comes again will establish the Kingdom. But we have our part to play. We can prepare the way.

The life we will live in eternity starts here and now, how we build the Kingdom, or not. We prepare the way when we learn to obey God rather than men, to say NO! to a culture steeped in brutality, stupidity and ugliness, hatred and fear – if you want to know what I mean just turn on the radio and listen to the music, or open the newspaper and read the review of the latest movie blockbuster, or listen to the incessant justification for crimes against humanity in the name of a “war on terror” – and speak Truth to Power, no matter what the price, no matter what the consequences, even as Peter and the Apostles did. And if we have to pay a price, rejoice and be glad like the apostles to have the chance to do penance for our own sins and for the sins of our country as we pray, “Thy kingdom come!” #