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Bishop's Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 18, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B
[Sacred Hearts Church, Lanai City]

Last Wednesday students all over the country walked out of class for 17 minutes to honor the memory of the 17 high school students who were killed by a young man in Florida a couple of weeks ago.  The walkout was a way of saying “Never again!”  We all pray that never again will we witness such a mass murder anywhere in the world.  And while the national walkout was a way of engaging the students to be instruments of change, real change will take more than walkouts.  Many speak of stricter gun control, and that could be a part of the solution.  But we must not be misled to think that is the only or the primary way this problem of violence will be solved.  Instead we need to ask whether we have allowed violence to be a law written into our hearts.  The violence of video games is something we may consider as innocent and victimless, but does playing those games in fact carve the law of violence more deeply into our hearts.  When I go to a movie and watch just the previews of many of the movies we watch these days, it is easy to lose count of all the people who are killed or maimed by violence, and there seems to be no accounting for the pain and suffering it causes in the lives of family and friends.  More than 17 people may be shot in one scene, and they are simply left behind as we go to the next scene, without a thought for the grief and economic hardships those who are left behind will suffer.  If we are really to address violence and make “Never again!” a reality, there is something that we will need to give up ourselves.  We will need to bury our violent video games, refuse to go to violent movies so that they will ultimately be unprofitable for those who produce them, and bury bullying, whether in person or in the anonymity of the internet.  Only if we bury this seed of violence will we be able to yield a harvest of peace and security for all.  What a glorious day that would be!  Yet imagine the self-sacrifice, the criticism, and perhaps even the persecution we would suffer as we refuse to let violence be written into our hearts but instead nurture the law of God, which is already written into them.  As Jesus points out, he is to die, like a seed dying in the ground, but only if he does will he enter into his glory.

There are, of course, other destructive realities we allow to be written into our hearts, to obscure the life-giving law of God that is already written there.  We all have been hurt by people as we go through life, whether they be family members, friends, enemies, or even ministers of the Church.  We can hold onto grudges very easily, allow our families and friendships to disintegrate, ignore the Church where we could find great peace in Jesus, or try to annihilate our enemies.  Or we can bury those grudges and let them die, so that they can produce much fruit in restored relationships and greater holiness among us all.  But to bury these sinful attitudes we not only allow to take over our hearts, but sometimes nurture, is no easy task.  It will involve much suffering, perhaps some rejection and criticism.  Yet only if we accept the suffering and self-discipline it takes to bury that seed in the ground will there be any hope that it can be transformed to bear fruit in the love that we all crave, a craving that God has written into our hearts.

And there are even good things we can cling to in such a way that unless we let them go, they will ultimately bring destruction and death.  I think of most of our parishes, which we believe are communities of great love.  Here we can come to be nourished by the Word of God and to enter into intimate communion with the risen Lord, who is physically present to us here in the Eucharist.  We try to warmly welcome visitors when they come to us.  These are all good things.  But very often we ignore the 80% of Catholic brothers and sisters who do not come or the many more who know nothing of Jesus and his saving love beyond knowing that he is an important person in history.  If we continue to focus only on those who come to us, we ultimately will just fade away into oblivion.  But if we accept the cross of mission, going out to those who do not come here to us to take the good news of Jesus to them in various ways, surely we will suffer some very uncomfortable moments.  We may be criticized or put down.  We may be called hypocrites and have our very real sins pointed out to us.  Yet unless we allow the seed of our comfort to be buried in the ground, it will yield no fruit.  We ourselves will just shrivel away and die, all the while thinking that we have the most wonderful thing going on here.

What Jesus challenges us to do is no easy task.  Leaving sin behind so that we become less hypocritical is extremely demanding.  Turning the tide of our culture of violence will take much more than walking out of class for 17 minutes.  Going out of our comfort zones to fulfill the mission Jesus has entrusted to us can be downright dangerous.  Yet Jesus does not ask us to do anything that he was not willing to do himself.  His hour of glory was inextricably tied to his submission to the will of his Father that he first die on the cross so that he could destroy death itself.  It is the blood of Jesus that can wash away all the junk that we have allowed to be written onto our own hearts to reveal the life giving law of God that is written there and that will ultimately bring us peace.