Witness to Your faith

In the Gospel for the 32nd Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus once again confronts the religious leaders of his day. This time the debate seems to be over the resurrection of the body. But it is really about much more. Remember that Luke’s gospel was written after the early Christian communities had formed. What we have here is a community’s reflection on a new way of life—eternal life given by Jesus through the power of the Spirit.
The religious leaders obviously thought they would trap Jesus. They did not. Jesus took the opportunity to tell them that eternal life—God’s life with us at this very moment—is about more than the Law and their religious concepts. There is a radical discontinuity between the religious expectations of the religious leaders and the Good News proclaimed by Jesus. That was true when Jesus walked the earth. It was true when the early Christian communities formed and it is true today. The Way—Jesus’ Way—is not the way of the world and its religious and political leaders. It is about the power of the reign of God now.
The reading from Maccabees gives us some direction. The seven sons of a mother were tortured to death because they stood fast to the narrow path. They stood fast to their religious values. I think Martin Luther King—who was first of all a preacher—tells us the religious values we must speak up for today. He identified the related evils—war, poverty and racism. War, poverty, and racism.
As Christians today we must stand our ground and profess our values. Paul reminds us:
None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
We are the Lord’s. Will God recognize us as Christians? We are called to do Jesus’ work. Racism violates the inherent dignity God has given to every human being no exceptions. Poverty degrades the human spirit. God wants every person, again no exceptions—to have life in abundance now. War is the crucial issue of our time and it is related to poverty and racism. Our choice is rather limited if we want a sustainable future for ourselves, our children and grandchildren. We must choose nonviolence or nonexistence.
In 1965 Pope Paul VI addressed the United Nations, “No more war. Never again war.” Pope John Paul II repeated this. He added, “War is a failure for mankind.” Benedict says, “No more war. Return good for evil. Begin the Christian revolution.”
As Christians we have to stand up and say, “No more war!’ “Never again war.” Why then no more war? Since World War II, war has become all out war or total war. In that war we saw both sides bomb civilian population centers. We saw the fire bombing and buzz bombs and finally nuclear weapons destroy countless human lives and end many human hopes.
War had become so devastating that it is no longer conscionable. Almost 4,000 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq. Another 28,000 have been maimed and wounded. Over 1 million Iraqis have died in the embargo and wars. At least 227,000 children under the age of 5 have died in the embargo and the first war. Soldiers no longer have to look the person in the eye before they use their sword. War has become almost like a violent video game.
We have countless examples of people in recent history who have stood up and proclaimed Gospel values. Many have witnessed for peace and justice in a nonviolent manner:
• Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest in a Nazi concentration camp, volunteered to replace a family man who was sentenced to death because some prisoners had escaped. When starvation did not kill Maximilian, they injected him with a deadly drug.
• Franz Jaggerstetter said not to Hitler’s war. He was beheaded.
• Archbishop Romero in El Salvador, was enjoying life as an archbishop until a priest friend was killed by coyotes who had been victimizing campesinos. He became an ardent spokesman for the rights of the poor. He was gunned down while he was celebrating the Eucharist in the cathedral.
• Cesar Chavez, a farm worker, became the leader of farm workers who were overworked, underpaid and often victimized. He led a movement which gained better working and living conditions for farm workers.
• Dorothy Day said no to war and cared for the poor. She founded a Catholic Worker movement. There are many Catholic Worker centers which aid the poor in many cities around the country.
• Mother Teresa left an established religious order where she taught in nice prep schools. She roamed the streets of Calcutta and the world picking up the dying and giving them some solace in their final hours.
• Six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter were brutally assassinated in El Salvador. They taught at the University of Central America and worked to alleviate the suffering of the poor in that country. Thus they were seen as a threat to the government.
• An American lay missionary—Jean Donovan—and her three nun companions—Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clark and Ita Ford—were followed from the airport in El Salvador. They were captured, tortured and raped in a remote area before being killed. They had been working with poor campesinos.
• Dorothy Stang worked to ease the suffering of indigenous people in the Brazilian Rainforest. She was speaking out for these people when conglomerates were taking over their lands and resources. She was shot by an assassin.
• Father Ray Bourgeois, was awarded a purple heart for naval service in Vietnam. Later he became a Maryknoll missionary. The president deported him from Bolivia when Father Roy spoke out against the abuse of the poor and oppressed in that country. He founded School of the Americas Watch to bring about the closing of that school at Fort Benning, Georgia. Graduates of that school which trains Latin American soldiers and police have been implicated in the assassinations of the Jesuit martyrs, the lay missionary and her nun companions, and Archbishop Romero to name a few instances.
• Fathers Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Elizabeth McAlister, and Father John Dear have spent their lives witnessing against war, racism and poverty. They have proclaimed the Gospel of the nonviolent Jesus.
• March in a rally to end the Iraq war now and call for an end to all war.
• Write your elected representatives.
You are probably saying, “OK. What do the heroic acts of these people have to do with me?” Everything! We too are called to alleviate human suffering, to work to bring an end to war, racism and poverty. Writing in the NCR this week, the editor talked about Thomas More who refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the king and compared his action with that of Franz Jaggerstetter. It can be a question of when to compromise:
To be a Christian is to place the demands of the Gospel above all else. The question is whether to add the phrase ‘without compromise’ to that determination. This is a personal question that each person must grapple with. And though the answers may vary, to avoid the challenge altogether is to risk losing ourselves as disciples. What do you believe in, with all your heart, without compromise?
There are many things we can do:
• Support groups which minister to people in recovery.
• Volunteer at a hospital or hospice.
• Take mattresses and boots to migrant workers.
• Ask Burger King to join McDonalds and Taco Bell in paying tomato pickers an additional penny per pound.
• Volunteer in soup kitchens.
• Refuse to buy goods produced in sweatshop conditions.
• Speak out when people are using racist language or telling racist jokes. I did that just recently and it is not easy. After the person finished telling the joke, I simply said, “I don’t do racist jokes.”
• Buy at least one share of stock in a tobacco company so you can give your proxy to farm workers who are being poisoned by harvesting the tobacco.
• Invest in socially responsible companies that do not invest in corporations that exploit other people and/or the environment.
• Stop watching violent movies and TV programs—I just swore of Law and Order and I miss it! I am still thinking about football!
• Ask the men in the lounge at the car repair place to turn off Jerry Springer.
• March in rallies to end the Iraq war and call for an end to all war.
• Write your elected representatives.
We can all do something to alleviate human suffering. Paul tells us that we are to prophecy—witness to Jesus’ truth—according to the faith we have been given. The Spirit will show us the way. He will teach us what to do and what to say.
Again, the question is, “Are we living for the Lord or for ourselves?” “Will God recognize us as followers of Jesus?”

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