Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord

January 10, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 55:1-11
Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6
1 John 5:1-9
Mark 1:7-11

“Peace is order, in relation to God and in relation to human beings; it is wisdom, it is justice, it is civilization. Whoever loves peace loves humanity, without distinction of race or of color.” These words were preached by Pope Saint Paul VI in a Mass offered on October 4, 1965, the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, in Yankee Stadium during the first visit of a pope to the United States of America.

As the United States of America, we are a nation of laws and of reason, of evidence and of argument, of sin and of redemption, of justice and of love. Every person requires justice which is served by the whole truth. Emotionally reactive power robs authority of its legitimacy as it works against the truth. A free and just society need not fear the truth. Christians need not fear the truth, in fact we must embrace the truth.

Any questions concerning ballot integrity in an electoral process must be resolved in a lawful and peaceful manner with due process, and transparency must not be ignored. Rioting is not the way to resolve these concerns. This is true today after the outrageous violence at the Capitol on January 6 and it was true last summer during the violent and destructive riots throughout many cities in our country. It is a perennial truth that justice is harmed and never well-served by lawlessness.

When I speak of a system of justice, I am not simply referring to a system of laws and procedures that are the edicts of the powerful and the elite, but rather a system of justice that is established in a recognition and respect for human nature that provides for a morality that is both compassionate and binding for men and women of every race and for society as a whole.

It is required of us to live by rightful authority for the sake of justice and love. We also have the obligation to hold those entrusted with this rightful authority to be accountable in accord with justice and love. The law is required for the just and loving treatment of my neighbor, especially my neighbor who is the weakest and most vulnerable.

That same Pope Saint Paul VI famously spoke on January 1, 1972, “if you want peace, work for justice.” Today we hear the inverse angrily shouted in our streets and scrawled on social media, “no justice, no peace.” Justice and peace are everybody’s responsibility. Justice is not something that other people have to give me in exchange for the ransom of my letting them live without harassment. Justice and peace are interdependent, and each require law and accountable authority and the contribution of everyone — of every person and of every community. Without everybody’s contribution towards accountability in the truth, we would end up with law but not justice. There can be law without justice but there cannot be justice without law. There can be neither justice nor law without our humble and honest recognition of the first place that rightly belongs to God, who has created and redeemed us, and only before Him we should kneel. As Isaiah prophesies, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

If we do not worship God as supreme and higher than ourselves, then we cannot recognize Him in our neighbor. As we heard in our second reading from the First Epistle of John, “In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his Commandments.” Without this recognition of God’s sovereignty, we can too easily replace Him in our lives with false gods and idols who mislead us and dominate us with raw power, instead of freeing us through the legitimate authority — that we know through faith and reason — belongs to God alone. These idols play on our passions and emotions, on our fear and anger, and we soon find ourselves becoming frenzied and forced to our knees before such false and violent gods as rage, racism, hatred, fraud, greed, and indifference.

We are not children of these false gods. It is the evil one who makes that claim; he is a liar. As the children of the one true God, the God of all people, the God who is fully revealed in Jesus Christ, His Son in Whom He is well pleased, it is our obligation to begin by praying to Him for protection, for a love for the truth, for conversion from every evil and hatred, and to desire peace and work for justice in our Republic, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

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