[Context: I delivered three different homilies to three different communities. So I have posted here the (identical) introduction in English and in Spanish, and then the three different versions for the three different communities. Only the Spanish Mass section is translated into Spanish.]
Jesus came to convert the world, not just this building with its four walls. Jesus came to lay claim to our entire lives, not just one hour on [Saturday / Sunday]. So, from time to time, it behooves us to talk about things that are happening outside these four walls and this one hour. If we did not, if we just ignored the world around us, the Church would become an irrelevant mumble, not a prophetic witness.
So today we are going to talk about the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia that happened last week, and the many marches and counter-marches that have been following in its wake. And we are going to do so, not simply because it is on many of our minds and hearts, but because all three of our readings today directly address the question of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles.
Allow me to provide some background: in the time of Jesus, and for many hundreds of years before, there was a sharp distinction between people who were Jews and people who were not. The non-Jews were referred to as “Gentiles” which loosely translates to “people”. In a sense, this division came from God himself. In the Old Testament, God made a really big deal out of purity, and his desire that Jews keep themselves clean from pagan practices and pagan influences. But for God this had nothing to do with race. God choose the Jewish people, raised them up, and guided them, not to be an exclusive ethnic identity, but to be an example of holiness to all peoples. God wanted a godly people, who could show all nations what it looked like to courageously and exclusively follow the One God. And, most importantly of all, the purpose of this purity was not to exclude other people, but to convert them by example.
But about five hundred years before Christ, following the Babylonian captivity, the Jewish people began thinking of themselves as an exclusive, ethnicity-based community, and not as a community whose example of holiness was oriented toward the conversion of others. So by the time Jesus is born, Jews refused to eat with or sometimes even touch Gentile people.
My friends, one of the true triumphs of Christianity is that within fifty years of Jesus’ death and Resurrection, the distinction between Jew and Gentile had almost disappeared within the new faith community. Yes, the Apostles and the early followers did fight about whether Jewish dietary laws had to be observed, and whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised, but within fifty years these debates had been almost entirely resolved. In other words, building bridges between races and ethnicities has been part of our faith since the very beginning. Christianity made thousands and thousands of converts in the blink of an eye because we were the only ones, the only ones, in the ancient world saying that every person was an equal child of God, be they slave or free, woman or man, Jew or Gentile.
Listen again to Isaiah, who speaks of the original intention of Jewish purity that the early Christians took to heart: “The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming his servants— all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
Alright fine, point made: Christianity has sought to break down race barriers from its very origins. So where does that leave us? It leaves us with three different homilies, because racism and white supremacy affect the different communities that I have to preach to in different ways. You can read the other versions on my website when I finally post them.
Jesús vino para convertir el mundo, no sólo este edificio con sus cuatro paredes. Jesús vino para reclamar toda nuestra vida, no sólo una hora en [sábado/domingo]. Así que, algunas veces, nos incumbe hablar de cosas que están sucediendo fuera de estas cuatro paredes y esta una hora. Si no lo hiciéramos, si simplemente ignoramos el mundo que nos rodea, la iglesia se convertiría en un murmullo irrelevante, no como un testigo profético.
Así que hoy vamos a hablar de la marcha de la supremacía blanca en Charlottesville, Virginia, que sucedió la semana pasada, y las muchas marchas y contramarchas que han estado siguiendo a su paso. Y lo vamos a hacer, no simplemente porque esté en muchas de nuestras mentes y corazones, sino porque las tres lecturas de hoy abordan directamente la cuestión de la relación entre judíos y gentiles.
Permítanme proporcionar algunos antecedentes: en el tiempo de Jesús, y durante muchos cientos de años antes, había una marcada distinción entre personas que eran judíos y personas que no lo eran. A los no judíos se les conoce como “gentiles.” En cierto sentido, esta división vino de Dios mismo. En el Antiguo Testamento, Dios hizo un gran trato con la pureza, y su deseo de que los judíos se mantengan limpios de las prácticas paganas y de las influencias paganas. Pero para Dios esto no tuvo nada que ver con la raza. Dios escogió al pueblo judío, los crió, y los guió, no para ser una identidad étnica exclusiva, sino para ser un ejemplo de santidad para todos los pueblos. Dios quería un pueblo piadoso, que pudiera mostrar a todas las Naciones lo que parecía ser valiente y exclusivamente seguir al único Dios. Y, lo más importante de todo, el propósito de esta pureza no era excluir a otras personas, sino convertirlas por ejemplo.
Pero cerca de quinientos años antes de Cristo, después del cautiverio babilónico, el pueblo judío comenzó a pensar en sí mismos como una comunidad exclusiva basada en la etnicidad, y no como una comunidad cuyo ejemplo de santidad estaba orientado hacia la conversión de otros. Así que para cuando Jesús nació, los judíos se rehusaron a comer o a veces incluso tocar a gente gentil.
Mis amigos, uno de los verdaderos triunfos del cristianismo es que dentro de los cincuenta años de la muerte y resurrección de Jesús, la distinción entre judíos y gentiles casi había desaparecido dentro de la comunidad de la nueva fe. Sí, los apóstoles y los primeros seguidores pelearon sobre si las leyes dietéticas judías tenían que ser observadas, y si los cristianos gentiles tenían que ser circuncidados, pero dentro de cincuenta años estos debates habían sido casi totalmente resueltos. En otras palabras, construir puentes entre razas y etnias ha sido parte de nuestra fe desde el principio. El cristianismo hizo miles y miles de conversos en el centelleo de un ojo porque éramos los únicos, los únicos, en el mundo antiguo diciendo que cada persona era un hijo igual de Dios, ser esclavo o libre, mujer o hombre, judío o gentil.
Escucha de nuevo a Isaías, que habla de la intención original de la pureza judía que los primeros cristianos tomaron al corazón: “A los extranjeros que se han adherido al Señor para servirlo, amarlo y darle culto, a los que guardan el sábado sin profanarlo y se mantienen fieles a mi alianza, los conduciré a mi monte santo y los llenaré de alegría en mi casa de oración. Sus holocaustos y sacrificios serán gratos en mi altar, porque mi templo será la casa de oración para todos los pueblos.”
Muy bien, punto hecho: el cristianismo ha tratado de derribar las barreras raciales desde sus orígenes. Entonces, ¿dónde nos deja eso? Nos deja con tres homilías diferentes, porque el racismo y la supremacía blanca afectan a las diferentes comunidades a las que tengo que predicar de diferentes maneras. Usted puede leer las otras versiones en mi sitio web cuando finalmente los publico.
Here in La Conner, our community is fairly homogenous and self-contained, so it is easy for us to insulate ourselves from the troubles of the society if we are not careful. Yes, the Swinomish are right on the other side of the channel, and the Valley has a strong and vibrant Hispanic community, but the temptation is to think of those as “other” places, rather than “our” places. Even the generosity of our parish to the Tri-Parish food bank and migrant ministries can turn sour if we fall into the temptation of thinking of ethnic communities as impoverished or always in need.
Instead, we have to adopt an attitude of active ownership, of seeing these problems and these communities as our problems and our communities. The white supremacists have dominated the airwaves this week, which means that they have dominated the hearts and minds of our marginalized brothers and sisters. People are literally living in fear, wondering if society is going to turn against them. The question we have to ask ourselves is how can we be a more powerful force? How can we drown out those airwaves for our brothers and sisters and instead have them see and focus on the love of Jesus Christ? How can we make these people, these fellow human beings and fellow Catholic Christians, feel like their neighbors are more likely to love and to support them than to ostracize and persecute them?
Honestly, I do not have a lot of answers, beyond the fact that personal interaction really, really helps. It helps us to know the stories and fears and concerns of these other communities, and it helps them realize that there are good, godly people who care for them and will stand up for them. Many of you have this personal interaction because you supervise Hispanic laborers in your line of work, and I hear that the members of our community are just and fair employers, which is an excellent reflection of our Christian values. Thank you. But, this week especially, would it be possible to provide an extra dose of emotional support or reassurance, in word or action? To help these people know that they are valued? For the rest of us, would you consider volunteering with Jose Ortiz down at the food bank? Not just because he can always use the extra hands, especially as YMP comes to a close, but really for your own sake, so that you can have continual, direct interaction with someone at the margins of society.
My friends, it is hard to know how to react to a breakdown of society that is literally causing rioting in the streets. But the answer is certainly not more anger. I think the answer, instead, is to overwhelm the lives of individual people with the self-sacrificial love of Jesus, to such an extent that white supremacist marches seem silly and even comical. Remember, Jesus did not destroy death by getting rid of it. Jesus destroyed death by removing its power over us. Let’s destroy racism and white supremacy by loving our neighbors so thoroughly that racism seems unrealistic and unreflective of America at large. Let us become so united to with those who are being attacked that it is no longer our neighbors, but in fact our very selves, who feel threatened by white supremacy. In Christ, there is no division. What is an affront to one of us is an affront to all of us.
Burlington (English Masses)
Here in the English speaking community of Burlington, we are very much aware of the two worlds that exist in the Valley. So many of our neighbors, our coworkers, our coreligionists, and our friends come from another culture or another race, most obviously and prominently from the Hispanic community. What has amazed me about St. Charles and the Valley in general is how well these groups seem to get along, at least in our parishes if not in the wider society. Yes, there is a language barrier, and that makes things difficult sometimes, but my impression after seven weeks here is that the Anglo and Hispanic communities in our churches seem to have lived and worked together for so long that they have come to love, support, and understand each other, to an extent that I have not seen at any other parish in the Archdiocese, and that we never see in the wider society.
This is good, and contributes to a healthier and more loving world. But when we have white supremacists marching on the news, we cannot rest on our laurels and become complacent. We have to step up our efforts for the sake of our neighbors and friends. We have to do everything we can to show with our own examples what true Americans and true Christians look like.
And a true Christian is focus far more on the person standing in front of him than with politics or party lines. Look at what Jesus did in the Gospel. It seems weird at first, as though he was supporting the racial segregation of his time. But we have to believe that Jesus knew what he was doing, and that he had intended to speak with this woman all along. He was giving his Apostles an example of both behaviors. The fact that he started by ignoring her, and ended by declaring how deep this Canaanite woman’s faith was makes the juxtaposition all the stronger. Jesus show what it means to break down artificial barriers and instead to see someone as she really is.
Similarly with our Hispanic brothers and sisters: Yes, many of them come here illegally. Yes, they bring with them a very different culture that sometimes overwhelms us or, in the church context, makes our liturgies feel foreign and uncomfortable. Yes, the language barrier requires additional resources and effort on the part of all of our institutions, including this parish.
But when we are face-to-face with our fellow human beings and fellow Catholic Christians, when we cut through the politics to see our shared humanity, what we will do? Will we tell them that we love them, that we support them, and that they are welcome here? Will we make small or even large compromises in order to try to give them a home with us? When we hear about someone mercilessly stalked by the federal government, whose only crime is jumping a border twenty years ago, what kind of support will we offer them? Or someone who goes to Mexico to try to file the proper paperwork, only to get stuck there for years separated from their family. How will we use our own status as citizens to advocate for a more just system?
Look, my goal here is not to shove a political agenda down your throat. But the people around us, in our neighborhoods, are scared and feeling threatened, because they are seeing large groups of violent people, violent Americans, shouting for white power and the removal of foreigners. We, in this community, have the power to provide a different narrative, so show a different kind of American, to be examples of love rather than anger or hatred. The change can start here, in our little parish, in our little corner of Washington State. It is up to us to follow the example of our ancient Christian forbearers and show that, in the love of Jesus, all separation and division falls away.
Burlington (Misas Españolas, en Español)
Aquí en la comunidad hispana, terminas siendo el blanco de la supremacía blanca y la xenofobia. Y lamento. Lamento en nombre de todos los estadounidenses, que han olvidado que sus antepasados alemanes, irlandeses, italianos y otros también emigraron a este país, y se enfrentaron a la persecución en el camino. Lamento que la tierra de la oportunidad de oro siga tratando de cerrar sus puertas a usted, a pesar de que por lo tanto, tanto tiempo nos hemos orgullosos de dar un trabajo justo y una vida cómoda a cualquiera que estaba dispuesto a trabajar duro. Lamento que el miedo y la ignorancia de nuestros ciudadanos, y la polarización de nuestra política, nos hayan impedido arreglar un sistema de inmigración profundamente quebrantado que te haga vivir en un miedo constante y en familias rotas.
Sí, amigos míos, lamento. Por favor, sepan que la iglesia católica siempre será su hogar, y que nuestros obispos, sacerdotes y parroquias están dedicados a apoyarle, incluso cuando a veces no lo hacemos tan bien como quisiéramos.
Sin embargo, como tu predicador, también es mi trabajo desafiarte, porque lo que pasa con la vida cristiana es que incluso cuando somos las víctimas, siempre podemos encontrar alguna manera de crecer en santidad. Desafortunadamente, tengo que retarte injustamente. Tengo que pedirle que sea mejor que sus compatriotas americanos, para hacer más que sus compatriotas americanos.
Para aquellos de ustedes que son inmigrantes, ya han mostrado gran coraje en dejar todo atrás y venir a un nuevo país, a menudo en gran peligro. Pero el coraje que has demostrado no puede terminar allí. Por favor, continúen mostrando cuánto aman a este país y creen en lo que representa. Por favor, continúe el arduo trabajo de aprender inglés. Por favor, resistan la tentación de traer todo desde el viejo país con ustedes, para crear un nuevo México o una nueva Colombia en sus vecindarios. Tus compatriotas americanos, los que marchan por las calles, te tienen miedo. Muéstreles que no hay nada que temer, y lo hacen por ser mejores estadounidenses y mejores cristianos que estos manifestantes nunca serán.
[entregado en inglés] Para aquellos de ustedes que vienen de familias inmigrantes, se verán tentados a crecer enojados, con un chip en el hombro. Usted quizá siente que todas las fuerzas del mundo están en su contra, sólo porque usted viene de una casa hispana. Y tienes razón: algunas partes del mundo están en tu contra, y eso es injusto. Pero no alimenta la ira de la supremacía blanca con tu propia ira. Ser mejor que ellos. Ser mejores americanos. Ser mejores cristianos. Aléjate de la violencia y mantente alejado de las pandillas. Si quieres resistir, si quieres protestar, el mayor acto de protesta que puedes hacer es orar por los que te odian. Ore por la gente que amenaza a sus familias. Ore por la gente que dice que usted no pertenece. Oren para que sus corazones sean convertidos. Así es como se mete el odio en el ojo. Es el Reino de Jesús el que va a ganar al final, así que si quieres estar en el lado correcto de la historia, será mejor que estés en el lado de Jesús.
El odio y la violencia y el racismo nos afectan a todos, y es el trabajo de todos nosotros abordarlo. Mi experiencia aquí en Saint Charles es que nuestras comunidades inglesas y españolas se aman, y trabajan juntas muy bien. ¡Por favor, sigue así! Son pequeñas comunidades como la nuestra donde desaparecen los límites de la raza y el lenguaje. Continuemos siendo una comunidad que ama a Jesús, juntos, como una familia unida de fe.
Burlington (Spanish Masses, English version)
Here in the Hispanic Community, you end up being the target of white supremacy and xenophobia. And I am sorry. I am sorry on behalf of all Americans, who have forgotten that their German, Irish, Italian, and other ancestors also immigrated to this country, and faced persecution along the way. I am sorry that the land of Golden Opportunity keeps trying to close its doors to you, even though for so, so long we have prided ourselves on giving a fair job and a comfortable life to anyone who was willing to work hard. I am sorry that the fear and the ignorance of our citizens, and the polarization of our politics, has prevented us from fixing a deeply broken immigration system that causes you to live in constant fear and in broken families.
Yes, my friends, I am sorry. Please know that the Catholic Church will always be your home, and that our bishops, priests, and parishes are dedicated to supporting you, even when we sometimes fail to do so as well as we would like.
However, as your preacher, it is also my job to challenge you, because the thing about the Christian life is that even when we are the victims, we can always find some way to grow in holiness. Unfortunately, I must challenge you unfairly. I must ask you to be better than your fellow Americans, to do more than your fellow Americans.
For those of you who are immigrants, you have already shown great courage in leaving everything behind and coming to a new country, often at great peril. But the courage you have shown cannot end there. Please, continue to show how much you love this country and believe in what it stands for. Please, continue the hard work of learning English. Please, resist the temptation to bring everything from the old country with you, to create a New Mexico or a New Colombia in your neighborhoods. Your fellow Americans, the ones marching in the streets, are afraid of you. Show them that there is nothing to be afraid of, and do so by being better Americans and better Christians than these marchers will ever be.
For those of you who come from immigrant families, you will be tempted to grow up angry, with a chip on your shoulder. You may feel like the all the forces of the world are against you, just because you come from a Hispanic household. And you are right: some parts of the world are against you, and that is unfair. But do not feed the anger of the white supremacists with your own anger. Be better than them. Be better Americans. Be better Christians. Stay away from violence and stay the Hell away from gangs. If you want to resist, if you want to protest, the greatest act of protest you can ever make is to pray for those who hate you. Pray for the people that threaten your families. Pray for the people who say that you do not belong. Pray that their hearts will be converted. That is how you poke hatred right in the eye. It is Jesus’ Kingdom that will win out in the end, so if you want to be on the right side of history, you had better be on Jesus’ side.
Hatred and violence and racism affects all of us, and it is the work of all of us to address it. My experience here at Saint Charles is that our English and Spanish communities do love each other, and do work together very well. Please keep this up! It is small communities like ours where the boundaries of race and language disappear. Let us continue to be a community that loves Jesus, together, as one united family of faith.