Gospel MK 12:28-34
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
My dear followers of Jesus,
I grew up just minutes from the University of Notre Dame. During my high school days, I watched Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC on the local news speak about the issues of the world. I watched him as chair of the Civil Rights Commission, as President of Notre Dame, and as a priest, speak about justice, racism, poverty and hunger. The message I received from the television was that the Church was not a building, but a way of life that brings hope in Jesus Christ to a hurting world.
What I saw on television in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in that small town revealed to me that ministry and life itself was meant to lift people up, not to put them down. I saw a local priest as a world citizen bring hope to many while I watched in awe on a small screen. He counseled five different popes and other world leaders all while remaining in his position at Notre Dame for thirty-five years.
In my own priesthood, I have spent many years among people marginalized by society. In my days in downtown Portland, I worked among people who never got a break in life. A very high percentage of the men who came to our hospitality center were sexually abused as children and nearly all of the women. Many people started drinking alcohol when they were seven or eight years old. Many of our people suffered from mental illness because of early trauma and years living outside. No person there could afford going to a doctor, a clinic or the emergency room.
Everyone who came to our parish carried the weight of other people’s put downs and negative attitudes. They were blamed for restaurants in the neighborhood closing because they had no place to sleep but in doorways. Other churches blamed people in poverty for violence and sexual abuse of children, so the church-school down the street built higher fences. The people surviving poverty were blamed for not pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. The only problem was that none of them could afford boots.
I learned to listen to people who on the surface were different from myself. The more I leaned into their stories, the more similar we became. They thought I was different too. We had to meet on a ground of hope, on the soil of common humanity. Skin color, ethnic origin, family histories and the number of years in school, were stories told in order to get to know people.
I learned much more from folks in those years than I can ever articulate. I learned much about my own skin color and how privileged I am in every aspect of how I view the world. I learned that my vast education is meaningless unless I use wisdom to listen. I learned that my prayer to an invisible God is also meaningless unless I learn every day how to live for other people. I learned that my solitude as a priest is a waste of time unless I enter into deep relationship with people who teach me how to long for God.
I have spent years working on my conversion toward empathy among people who survive without power in our culture. I am deaf to so much around me because I am not hungry. I am housed and given respect. I am still learning how to love when other people’s experience is one of pain, hardship, poverty and grief. I am still learning to walk with people who teach me how to live beyond the confines of my own sheltered past.
Today is the memorial service for George Floyd. Many people will stand in silence across the globe. We will hold his life and his anguish in the silence. We will hold the systemic racism of our culture in the silence. We will hold his loved ones and his lost dreams in the silence. We will hold all black men who have been murdered in the silence. We will also hold in the silence our longing for peace. We will hold God’s love for all people in the silence. We will hold our own corruption, negative attitudes and arrogance in the silence. In the silence we will feel something more than our own ability to breathe.
Today, in the silence, I will recall the images on the small screen from years ago that all people are part of God’s plan. In the silence, I will hear the voices of people who struggle to breathe while still on earth and those who now live with God forever. I will beg God to teach me how to love with my own heart, mind, soul, skin color, and conscience. I will ask God to teach me how to love Him, and to love my neighbor as myself. I will rest in the love of God, the Kingdom here on earth.
God give you peace.