For today’s homily, please play the video below:
“The Vatican said recently he doesn’t exist,” our guide informed us as we visited Cologne Cathedral in Germany a week or so ago and looked up at the imposing statue of St. Christopher near one of its entrances. Then, we passed quickly on.
Afterwards, I told him the Vatican didn’t say Christopher never existed, but as of now there is no historical evidence for the popular saint who carries the little child on his shoulders. For one reason or another, no historical evidence exists for a good number of our early saints.
But does that mean there is no Christopher? Actually, If you look at what he’s doing, there have been–and still are– many Christophers. (Bearers of the Christ Child) His type of holiness is mostly unrecognized, but very real. He’s there in the men (and women) who day after day carry children on their shoulders, getting them where they must go and keeping them from the dangers little children face.
Not much glamor in that job, but children need carrying, especially today.
I was going out for supper with a couple the other evening, and they told me to take my own car because the back seat of their car was taken by safety seats for their two grandchildren. Modern Christophers.
On the flight back from Europe a number of Dutch teenagers were watching a video of big bare-chested Vikings flailing each other with their swords in non-stop violence. Was the Christopher in the Cologne Cathedral a sign to generations past that masculine strength is more than swinging a sword? You’re strong when you serve the weak.
We need you today, St. Christopher.
The tragedy at Newtown, CT, is a tragedy of biblical proportions. Near Christmas, one thinks of the slaughter of the innocents by Herod after Jesus was born, a story in Matthew’s gospel. Then there’s the family dimension: in the first book of the bible, Genesis, Cain kills his brother Abel.
I’d like to offer a few reflections on the violence of that tragedy and also some suggestions about what to do, besides praying for the recent victims and their families.
A development has gone on in our church over the centuries about violence in every form, from physical violence like murder, the death penalty, torture, rape, abortion, child abuse, war, to verbal violence like lying, bullying, verbal abuse.
The Old Testament is filled with violence. Some early Christians like Marcion (c AD144 ) actually wanted to suppress the Old Testament because God seemed be an angry God who condoned violence and acted violently. The ancient world was indeed a violent world. Yet we believe that God, who always works with what’s there– sought to bring that world gradually to peace and non-violence.
In the New Testament Jesus, the Word of God, revealed that purpose in a unique way. Jesus refused to use violence or force to achieve his kingdom. He rejected the concept of a warrior Messiah. He taught us to love our enemies. “Peace, I leave you, my peace I give you.” In his passion and death on a cross he took on the violence of the world and responded to it with a non-violent love.
Our society, it seems safe to say, is becoming a coarser, more violent place. Violence has become acceptable. Let’s begin with life as the media sees it.
I know you can blame the media too much, but let me give you an example of what I mean. The website of the American Catholic Bishops offers an evaluation of current movies. I was looking at it the other day and if my recollections are right, 8 out of 10 current movies evaluated were considered overly violent.
On television there are programs that critics characterize as “Dark Television.” They’re called that because the characters in these programs are not really “good” people in the real sense of the word. They don’t have much of a sense of morality, or loyalty or justice. They’ve adjusted to the dark world they inhabit every day. They’re not interested in striving for something better. They’re coolly cynical.
I don’t know too much about video games, but from what I hear I wonder if some of them encourage violence as the quickest and acceptable way to win and to get things done.
I don’t think it’s being intrusive, if you’re parents, or grandparents or anyone watching over kids, to know what they watch and tell them if it’s wrong and not healthy.
Our gospel for this 3rd Sunday of Advent is an interesting account of the teaching of John the Baptist. He gives simple directions to soldiers and tax-collectors. To soldiers, “Don’t bully people.” To tax-collectors, “Don’t cheat people.” According to John we grow by giving. “If you have two cloaks give one to someone who has none. If you have food, do the same.”
The other day on National Public Radio there was a piece on kids and empathy. The speakers seemed to say that we’re wired from the womb with the ability to give of ourselves and to empathize with others. Some people have it; some will never have it. I didn’t hear anything said about religion or a moral code or teaching young people how to live. Those things didn’t seem to figure at all.
I don’t buy that. I don’t believe that young man who went into that school was wired from birth to be like that. He may have been severely damaged socially, but did a violent culture also suggest the path he took? Something was missing in his life; someone was missing. We can’t let that happen. The consequences are too horrible.
I’m not sure what they’ll do with the Cross at St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street, salvaged from the ruins of the World Trade site after September 11, 2001, but it would be sad to lose the wisdom that mystery offers. We need it.
After Jesus Christ crossed over to the Garden of Gethsemane that Thursday evening centuries ago, he began his hard journey to death by praying in the garden. Jesus faced “the primordial experience of fear, quaking in the face of the power of death, in terror before the abyss of nothingness that makes him tremble to the point that, in Luke’s account, ‘his sweat falls to the ground like drops of blood.’ (Luke 22,44)”
He faced an unnatural death that caused a “ particular horror felt by him who is Life itself before the abyss of the full power of destruction, evil, and enmity with God that is now unleashed upon him, that he now takes directly upon himself, or rather into himself, to the point that he is ‘made to be sin’ ( 2 Cor 5.21)… Because he is the Son, he sees with total clarity the whole foul flood of evil, all the power of lies and pride, all the wiles and cruelty of the evil that masks itself as life yet constantly serves to destroy, debase, and crush life.” (Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2, Benedict XVI)
The World Trade Center Tragedy wasn’t caused by an earthquake, a hurricane, some natural cause. Human beings caused it, just as human beings were responsible for the passion and death of Jesus.
Jesus disciples took up their swords when his enemies came to arrest him in the garden, but he told them, “Put your sword into its place. Those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.” After ten years of wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, it might be time to put up our swords too.
You can’t fight evil by violence.
We live in a time that has largely forgotten the Passion of Jesus, but it’s still the wisdom and power of God. We shouldn’t put the Cross aside.