Sunday, August 13, 2017

No Favorites

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and be no longer stiff-necked. For the LORD, your God is the God of gods, the LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes; who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him. Deuteronomy 10:16-18

As Jesus and his disciples were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day." And they were overwhelmed with grief. Matthew 17:22-23

St. Heather Heyer, presente!  Pray for us!

Catholics celebrate the feast day of St. Maximilian Kolbe today.  His story of active Nazi resistance is indeed a story for our time that is especially relevant in light of the activities in Charlottesville last weekend.   

Fr. Kolbe was a Franciscan who was arrested twice by the Germans.  The first time it was because Kolbe refused to sign a document that would recognize him as a German citizen with his German ancestry and continued to work in his monastery, providing shelter for refugees - including hiding 2,000 Jews from German persecution. After receiving permission to continue his religious publishing, Kolbe's monastery acted as a publishing house again and issued many anti-Nazi German publications.[i]

The Nazis arrested Kolbe a second time for the crime of publishing anti-Nazi propaganda.  They sent him to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.   According to a story written by Matthew Hennessey in the Wall Street Journal last week:

After a small group of prisoners escaped in July 1941, the camp’s notorious disciplinarian, Lagerf├╝hrer Karl Fritzsch, decided to set an example by starving 10 others to death. Franciszek Gajowniczek, a Polish army sergeant, was among those selected to die. Gajowniczek begged that his life be spared on account of his wife and children. Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

“I want to go instead of the man who was selected,” Kolbe said. “He has a wife and family. I am alone. I am a Catholic priest.” For whatever reason, Fritzch agreed.[ii]

Kolbe was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

Who among us could have done what St. Maximilian Kolbe did – voluntarily
accepting martyrdom?  In the spirit of Kolbe, 
the USCCB spoke out over the weekend in very forceful terms about the events in Charlottesville.  Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called on people of goodwill to join in prayer and unity in response to the violent protest and deadly attack in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The protests lead to an attack that killed Heather Heyer and injured at least 19.  Two other deaths were of Virginia State Police when their helicopter crashed while deployed to the site.

 "As we learn more about the horrible events of yesterday, our prayer turns today, on the Lord's Day, to the people of Charlottesville who offered a counter example to the hate marching in the streets. Let us unite ourselves in the spirit of hope offered by the clergy, people of faith, and all people of good will who peacefully defended their city and country. 
We stand against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism. We stand with our sisters and brothers united in the sacrifice of Jesus, by which love's victory over every form of evil is assured.  At Mass, let us offer a special prayer of gratitude for the brave souls who sought to protect us from the violent ideology displayed yesterday. Let us especially remember those who lost their lives.  Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression."

The first USCCB statement (issued Saturday) invoked the spirit of St. Peter Claver, S.J., the patron of African missions and of interracial justice. However, more immediately relevant on the Roman Liturgical calendar is Monday's Memorial of St. Maximilian.  Fellow (contemporary) Jesuit Fr. James Martin echoed the condemnation with a theological statement in the spirit of the living and loving God.

In the Gospels, Jesus asks us to love one another, to place others’ needs before our own, even to die for one another. The idea of “supremacy" is absurd to Jesus.  Indeed, Jesus tells us explicitly that we are never to “lord” power over others, and that we are to be one another’s “servants” (Mk. 10: 42-43)

The idea that anyone is “less than” because of his or her race is likewise antithetical to Jesus’s message. For example, in his day the Samaritans were avoided, despised and even shunned by the majority of the Jewish people.

Yet Jesus not only speaks to a Samaritan woman, and reveals his divinity to her, but he also makes the hero of one of his most well-known parables the “Good Samaritan.” (John 4; Lk 10)

He even encounters a Roman centurion, someone completely outside of his religion, speaks with him, heals his servant, and praises his faith (Matthew 8:5-13).

So, for Jesus, there is no “us” and them.” No one should be made by the community into an “other,” as white supremacists do to non-whites. There is only us.

More basically, racism goes against everything that Jesus taught. It promotes hatred, not love; anger, not compassion; vengeance not mercy. It is a sin.  So “Christian white supremacist” is an oxymoron. Every time you shout “White Power!” you might as well be shouting “Crucify him!”

And any time you lift your hand in a Nazi salute, you might as well be lifting your hand to nail Jesus to the Cross.

And lest you miss the point, your Savior is Jewish.

If you cannot visit Charlottesville to take part in the counter protests, in the spirit of St. Maximillian Kolbe and St. Peter Claver, share the USCCB statement or Fr. Martin’s statement with your social networks.

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