As your hearts have been disposed to stray from God, turn now ten times the more to seek him;
The Lord listens to the poor.
Today's readings bring great joy to the heart of anyone who loves to see good win out over evil, who loves to see the end of an incredible story that's full of battles and intrigue and underhanded stuff - lots of good people and bad people - and in the end, the heroes triumph!
We just love stories like that because we live in a world that is so often filled with such battles. At times it seems like evil is winning out. I remember as a kid hearing my father tell us that "crime never pays," and wondering if he was correct. Even growing up I somehow sensed that the people who played by the rules and lived a hard life, like most of the people in the neighborhood I grew up in, just didn't get very far ahead. The people that lived in other parts of town seemed to be born into a much easier life. Some lived, as my parents said, "high off the hog" (referring to those who could afford choicer cuts of meat.) Of course, I learned that there were bad people in my neighborhood and really good people in those wealthier neighborhoods, but I grew up realizing that the mystery of good and evil was complex.
I remember the first time I was really scandalized as a young boy. My dad took me with him when he went to the Italian barber who always cut his hair. The front window of the shop was boarded up. When I asked my father how the window got broken, he told me that some of the other barbers in town threw bricks through this barber's window because he was charging a lower rate to poorer people. I'll never forget the shock of that day. My whole inner being was stunned that people could do that to each other. And, that poorer people just had to pay more because some business people didn't want them to pay less. Oh, how that hurt. Of course, throughout the rest of my life, I learned, like the rest of us learn, that greed and lust for power are terrible. It took a while to see what has become displayed on our news all the time now. Those that "have" don't want to surrender what they have very easily; no matter how many people there are that "have not," no matter how unjust the system is that distributes the goods and services of the earth so unfairly.
I remember being emotionally stunned the first time I heard that Archbishop Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, of Brazil said, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist." Today we might ask, "Should it be easy to be totally in the defense of the dignity of every human life - from conception to natural death - and, at the same time, with the same passion speak credibly and forcefully against unjust social structures and on behalf of those who are systemically poor?" It should be easy because it is consistent with our faith tradition, as disciples of Jesus, but it is not easy because it is not the way of the world around us. Next month we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the El Salvador Martyrs, who were killed for speaking out against injustice. And today, I taste deep sadness when I see that those who try to speak on behalf of justice and the heart of the counter-cultural Gospel are branded with unfair and sometimes horrible slurs. "Preaching politics!" is too often the cry.
But, when I read these readings, I have hope. The seventy-two disciples return after experiencing the power of evil fleeing before them. I love to see Jesus so full of joy at these victories over the forces of darkness and division. He lifts up his face to heaven and screams out, "I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike."
Let us remember to keep our eyes on Jesus - to see the gifted sight of him who not only shows us the way, but is the way to the Father, to the promises of everlasting life. And, consoled by the victory he promises, let us pray "Thy Kingdom Come! Thy Will Be Done! On Earth As It Is In Heaven!" Let us keep asking "why are there poor people today?" and stand as he did for the dignity of every human life, especially for those who are poor and voiceless. It will be counter cultural. The dominant forces of the status quo will push back against us with everything imaginable. And, some of us might be martyred, as witnesses to the Gospel were in El Salvador. We can rejoice, as Jesus said, not because the evil spirits retreat before our solidarity against injustice, but because our names "are written in heaven".
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