Life on the Chrism Trail

Do we express the mystery of our common humanity, or do we do violence to it?

Bishop Michael Olson delivers his homily during the Mass for Peace Among People of All Races at Nolan Catholic High School Sept. 9, 2020. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Feast of Saint Peter Claver
Mass for Peace Among People of All Races and in Time of War and Civil Disturbance

Isaiah 58:6-11
Psalm 1:1-4, 6
Matthew 25:14-23

The Gospel of today speaks of three different servants who were given an unequal number of similar coins that were known as talents. The two servants who were given more, responded in generosity and gave all they had to the Master, who represents God. The third servant looks at the little he has been given and buries it out of fear and selfishness. He loses the little that he has been given because in hiding it he has abandoned generosity — a sure sign of ingratitude.

The point of the Gospel is that it demands that everything be risked for the sake of the Kingdom. One must not hold anything back of what God has given one in following Christ and in giving of oneself in service to Him and to one’s neighbor. My neighbor is not limited only to another person who shares my race, my skin color, my language, my ethnicity, my nationality, my religion, my gender, my hobbies and interests, my talents and or any other incidental quality about me. My neighbor frequently appears to be different from me in more ways than my neighbor is the same as me. So is your neighbor. Our differences though are woven together in our common humanity. Our common humanity affords each of us the opportunity and obligation to live the Golden Rule, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to treat each other with both justice and mercy, as found in the natural law that God has written in our hearts. Civil laws are unjust, whenever they are contrary to the natural law. Authentic justice is brought about first by conversion of heart and then, later, when necessary, through a change in the laws of the state.

Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah and written after a period of 50 years in which the people of Israel had been enslaved and oppressed illustrates this beautifully. Isaiah, faithful to his vocation as a prophet, reminds Israel that the Lord hopes to receive from them generosity showered upon the poor and just treatment of people different than them in place of revenge, because in liberating Israel from oppression, God has revealed that He doesn’t only belong to them — He is everybody’s God.

Saint Peter Claver was born in Spain and began life with a very shy disposition. Peter Claver had a spiritual experience of being called by God and at the encouragement of St. Alfonso Rodriguez, he joined the Jesuits and received his mission to serve in Colombia in South America, where he was ordained a priest in 1615. The spiritual encounter with God that Peter intimately experienced affected his soul and enabled him to recognize God’s unconditional love for all people and the human dignity of all people created in God’s image and likeness. This love experienced by Peter Claver brought forth an awareness and sensitivity to the attack on human dignity experienced by Africans who were victimized by other tribes of Africans and sold to the Spaniards and Portuguese who enslaved them, violently separating them from their homeland, their spouses, parents, and children. Peter Claver saw their dignity and made himself their servant.

Nolan Catholic High School students participate in Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael Olson and Father Maurice Moon Sept. 9, 2020. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Almighty God always looks for the Good News in us. He looks for the talents He has given us. He is saddened when we hide them. He looks for where He can build more of His sovereignty in our lives to save us from the oppression of sin — injustice done to us and injustice done by us. Saint Paul reminds us that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. Through the gift of our Baptism, we are the instruments and ministers of that grace. Because of this, we hear His call and we enter with confidence into our surroundings of fear of people different than us; we enter with light into our surroundings of darkness, of distrust, and enmity of others different than us. Where there is hatred and misunderstanding, we are not to respond in kind. Our responsibility is to find the Good News in our neighbor just as God looks for the Good News in us. When we build upon the Good News, we envision a hopeful future by working on God’s project for His world in our present moment, without succumbing to the temptation to erase or deny our shared human history and to reject or deny our common humanity. Differences in race are one part of our shared human nature, our human nature is not built upon differences or sameness of race.

The person who buries the talent is the one who rejects God’s hope for him. This person denies that God can do anything beautiful with him or with others. This person is guilty of both despair and presumption. This person refuses to do his part, but demands that the Master, who is God, do everything on his behalf. Given that the Master is God, the plan of the Master must be rooted in love and in truth. In our contemporary society, we who have been given many diverse talents and graces must take note of the voices of those who are despairing and presumptuous today. We must not follow them or become enraged by their anger and shouts for anarchy by refusing to see the Good News in ourselves or others.

We cannot settle for the position that racial discord is simply a matter of systemic sin, because if it were a matter of systemic sin, there would be no hope for justice or redemption. Any system built or reformed by humans must always be flawed because we are fallen. Our hope is not in ourselves but in God Almighty Who loves us enough to offer to save us from ourselves and loves us so much that He invites us to join Him in His saving work. The difficulty is not in some alien system, but rather in ourselves. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who suffered imprisonment in the unjust Soviet system, wrote in his book entitled the Gulag Archipelago, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart…even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.” That small bridgehead is our free will and our hope.

The change that is required is not a change in society brought about by theories or violent acts of anarchy; the change required is not a perfect enforcement of our laws; the change required is my own conversion of heart and your own conversion of heart to see in each and every human person a mysterious dignity measured only by the image and likeness of God.

Our shared mission entrusted to us by God requires on each of our parts a renewed gratitude and celebration of our common humanity; a humanity that is able to be expressed by us but not mastered by us, a humanity that is not exploited by us, nor exhausted of its meaning by us. Does the language we hear in our streets and in our social media express the mystery of our common humanity? Or, does it do violence to it? What about our own language? How do we express the mystery of our common humanity as the place where God chooses to redeem us? Our responsibility is to point to the solution which only God has revealed fully in the humanity of His Son Jesus Christ — a humanity by which He saves us and a humanity that we share in common with Christ and with each other. That should be the subject of our prayer these days.

Saint Peter Claver was a champion of the God-given dignity of all human beings. He did not bury his talents, nor should we. He did not give up hope in the Good News, nor should we.  St. Peter Claver shows us that to bring the Gospel and compassion to all persons in our common humanity is not only not impossible but absolutely required in our Christian lives. Dare we do any less?

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