Homily for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C 2019
The past few days have been very difficult for me. I received two phone calls within an interval of three hours. The first call came from a priest friend of mine who called to support me after hearing the guilty verdict of Cardinal George Pell. He was shocked by it. On the other hand, he found the innuendoes of the news reporter very disturbing. She was somehow suggesting that all Catholic priests and Catholics are either paedophiles or are good at covering up abuses.
While these innuendoes in themselves are overrated, false and alarming, they also have the capacity for retraumatising victims whose mental state may be fragile. In addition, he shared with me how he felt about the whole news. He was sad. But he was also honest in telling me the sadness and the anger of his parishioners. I could feel his pain. And I could also feel his helplessness, which for me communicates the powerlessness of many of us these past few days.
We are broken. We are a people bleeding inside and wailing. Asking questions that we may never get an answer. Trust is broken. Faith is tested. Hope is dashed. And love is called to speak. Tell us, we ask, what shall we do? Should we give in to anger, pull down the edifice of our faith, and nail again to the cross the Christ in whose name we bear this pain? God, if you can hear us, you can as well answer us! We are confused. We need your help. Don’t be silent.
The second phone call was also challenging. It came from another friend of mine. She called to tell me about the election results in Nigeria. Her cry could be likened to the cry of a pregnant woman, whose labour pains are prolonged. Her time of giving birth has come, but she can’t deliver her baby because the conditions aren’t favourable for her life nor for her baby’s. She is helpless. And so am I. All I could say is where is God? Can’t He hear the cry of His people?
Why is He silent when He should show up and defend His children? Does He take pleasure in seeing His children suffer persecution? What sort of God is He? These questions while they might have come on the spur of the moment, tell us something of the Gospel reading from Luke 6:45, “For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart”. No doubt, the God questions flow from the recesses of our heart. It is a heart that longs for God like a deer for running streams.
At the same time, we are struggling to reconcile God’s goodness and the reality of evil, in our context, child abuse, corruption, and greed. Or better put, we are struggling to accept the silence of God in a time when we expect Him to speak loudly, clearly. Let Him speak. Let Him just tell us the truth about Cardinal Pell? We are confused. Too many versions of the same story on the media. We don’t know which of them is true. We just want answers and so do victims.
But the Gospel reading also offers us another insight. It is Christ Jesus asking us a question. “Can one blind man guide another?” In our context, can we who are disappointed, confused, frustrated, angry, bitter, resentful, guide another? Surely both will fall into a pit? Yes! We will fall into the pit of evil. That is, we may either enable the evil we are angry about or become perpetrators of that evil. For when we focus too much on evil, it takes flesh and manifest itself.
Christ knows the power of evil. He knows it can blind us and make it difficult for us to see any good. It can leave us in despair. Many have fallen victims, not only of the evil done them, but also of the consequences of being preoccupied with it. We can’t afford to be “double victims”. So, He offers us another insight, “The disciple is not superior to his teacher; the fully trained disciples will always be like his teacher”. That is, we must imitate Christ in the face of evil.
Christ’s attitude toward evil wasn’t that of hate. For hatred begets hatred. It wasn’t also that of anger, because anger is one letter short of danger. It wasn’t equally that of rallying a mob, throwing stones at the perpetrators and returning evil for evil. Rather, it was that of acting, removing the plank from our own eyes. In our context, we may ask, what plank does Christ want us to remove? Could it be that He wants us to remove anger, bitterness, resentment etc?
Perhaps, the words of Martin Luther King Jnr may be of help. “I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear.” And no one, no one should bear this burden. Not even my brothers and sisters in Nigeria who feel betrayed by the political system. Not even families whose sons and daughters were killed during the election. Hating the perpetrator will not end the cycle of evil. It will perpetuate evil.
So, what shall we do? The Second reading from 1 Corinthians 15:54-48 gives us an answer, “Never give in then, my dear brothers, never admit defeat; keep on working at the Lord’s work always, knowing that, in the Lord, you cannot labour in vain”. Friends, this is our consolation. While the Lord may seem to be silent, He is not incapable of healing our pain and giving us beauty for ashes: scandal, betrayal, abuse. He hears our cry. Let’s not give up. He will speak.
Finally, let’s sum up the courage, to see through what is happening. Let’s see where the Lord is leading us in all this. Let’s block our ears from hearing the voice of the bad spirit, that tells us, we are doomed. Let’s rather listen to the Word, that speaks in Genesis 2:7, Then the Lord God gathered "the dust of the earth”; our mess, and breathed His Spirit into it, and formed a new man, a new woman who can boldly say, “never will the evil of child abuse happen again”.
Fr. Francis Afu