3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time “B” – Fr. Rick Sherman ‘Bonus Homily’
Jon 3:1-5, 10; Ps 25:4-9; Mk 1:14-20
The first reading today from the prophet Jonah reminds us that God calls large cities and even nations to conversion. Humans are an innately relational species, and our virtues and sins are never completely single or individual. We rise and fall to some degree as a group, large and small. Israel is always called and pursued by God as an entire people. In the reading from Jonah today, the people of Nineveh had sinned greatly and had turned from God. As a result, God was going to destroy the whole city lest their grave evil spread near and afar.
This weekend comes right after the inauguration of President Joe Biden and is immediately addressed by a letter from Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez who is also the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Archbishop Gomez expressed his great hope in communicating with a man of faith, but also expressed his grave concerns citing the Biden/Harris Administration’s positions on abortion, marriage, family and freedom of religion. This despite President Biden being a self-described ‘devout Catholic’.
This past Friday we also observed the National Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of the Unborn. This came on the anniversary of the legalization of abortion through the Roe vs. Wade legislation in 1973. Since January of 1973 over 62 million babies have been aborted in the United States. St. Pope John Paul II called the Western World a ‘Culture of Death’ with abortion being perhaps the most obvious and heinous example. Two thousand years earlier Jesus used the term ‘kingdom of Satan’ to describe this fallen world which He came to save, but also, in today’s gospel declared that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus was on the verge of unleashing the power of the Holy Spirit which would enable the humans to actually participate in the very Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding and Strength of God.
After 62 million dead babies and an increasingly polarized population, perhaps it’s time to humble ourselves a bit, regardless of our ideology, and ask some deeper questions…for the sake of the unborn and those already born. First of all, the culture of death in the United States did not start in January of 1973. We should consider what was going on in our country in the 50’s and 60’s which led to Roe vs. Wade and set us up for the legal killing of babies. The culture of death actually started with Adam and Eve and Caine and Abel and keeps resurfacing in an infinite variety of ways ever since then. In this homily I will consider just that time after which I was born, from 1954 on.
In trying to reverse the culture of death it will be helpful to consider how the sanctity of life has been continuously compromised and violated for the past decades. Since the 50’s and 60’s the United States has been involved in a massive weapons buildup in competition with our major enemies the Soviet Union and China. We crescendoed with nuclear weapons which collectively could destroy the planet several times over. These weapons are on 5- and 10-minute alert in planes, tanks, and ships throughout the world and sunken in deep silos. Destroying all the people in the world would definitely be a violation of the sanctity of life. Even spending untold trillions of dollars to prepare for such a thing would fall far short of holiness.
Also, since the 50’s and 60’s we have chosen to be a debt ridden recreationally oriented consumer culture. Consumerism requires people to become units of consumption and production. Mass marketing was invented to dupe us into buying things we don’t need and easy credit was provided to keep us in debt while buying what we don’t need. We’ve become ‘thing people’ rather that ‘people people’. Since the pandemic we can now plainly see that most people do not work in ‘essential’ jobs. How does that affect human dignity and sanctity when we spend most of our waking hours producing things or providing services that are not really needed? Not essential? Especially with so much poverty in the world.
Since the 50’ and 60’s we have seen the gradual and then accelerated demise of family farms in favor of the industrialization of agriculture and mammoth corporate farms. Most people are now further removed from the production of food as well as the natural rhythms of nature and the seasons. We are literally ungrounded and buy too many things in packages which eventually fill up landfills that can’t be filled forever. Food production and processing is now inordinately accomplished by undocumented workers who are hardly able to stick up for themselves and usually have standards of living much lower than the national average. Perhaps some people are just born with less sanctity and dignity? Great river systems such as the Colorado River in the southwest have been dammed and rerouted in order to grow cities in the desert that could easily become uninhabitable as the water flow lessens and becomes depleted.
Oil and automobile corporations have convinced us that long commutes, air pollution and hours-long traffic jams are a legitimate and unavoidable fact of life. Who knew? City planners designed the suburbs and mega freeways to accommodate the oil and auto industries without foreseeing or foretelling of the misery to come.
The sexual revolution of the 50’s and 60’s helped make sexuality a form of recreation and stress management, devoid of sacred meaning. Artificial contraception helped accelerate this notion. Mass media was absolutely surgical in creating the base and pornographic sexual imagery and attitudes that quickly formed two or three generations of young people. The elders seemed helpless to resist or intervene…despite having received the Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding and Strength of God. Too many babies became accidents rather than people, victims of the larger throwaway consumer culture, and all before Roe vs. Wade in 1973. (It would be interesting and perhaps daunting if someone did a careful survey of the ways Utah parishes are helping parents help their children learn about chastity. Where do we expect children to learn how to integrate sexuality and spirituality if not from parents and the Church? I would be very (happily) surprised if someone actually did such a survey).
I graduated from high school in 1973 and that summer enlisted in the U.S. Air Force for 4 years. I spent most of my time in Europe during the ‘cold war’, often involved in guarding our nuclear strike force. I remember after getting discharged in 1977 and talking to my mother who was quite distressed about the recently passed Roe vs. Wade. I vaguely recall saying something like, “Mom, what’s the difference if you kill the babies in the womb or if you nuke them?” She responded by saying, “What a terrible way to think.” I was already part of a jaded generation who had seen too much violence on TV including live footage of the Viet Nam War for 10 years. Consumerism and easy credit, along with the industrialized sexual revolution, had already been deeply rooted by the end of the sixties. It was the new norm, despite the vast majority of Americans claiming to be Christian… and who had allegedly received the Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding and Strength of God given to us 2000 years earlier at Pentecost.
In Archbishop Gomez’ letter cited earlier he said that he looked forward to working with the Biden Administration. Working together requires good faith dialogue that often starts with what people have in common. If we have grown up or lived for a few decades in the United States since the 50’s we all have much in common. We either bought into or at least acquiesced to the different trends (and more) that I have mentioned above. All these trends, which having gone unchecked too long by most of us, reek of the culture of death.
Satan loves it when we square off and argue relentlessly about little pieces of a massive cultural slide while declaring each other the villain. When someone else is the problem, there is little incentive to examine one’s own conscience which is the prescription for disaster. It will take a tremendous amount of courage to face ourselves and the culture we have allowed to flourish in the United States over the past 60 or 70 years. The incentive to make courageous changes should be the children and grandchildren we have already brought onto the planet and those yet to come.
Ps 25 (from today’s readings)
Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.