Sunday’s homily at Basilica of St. Mary was a powerful commentary on a portion of the Gospel of Matthew: “You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with brother will be liable to judgment.” (full text MT 5:20-22A, 2728, 33-34A, 37).
Fr. Harry, a retired Priest of the Diocese and frequent celebrant and gifted homilist at Basilica, wove his message not around physical killing, but the more common, now almost ubiquitous and unfortunately acceptable practice of “killing” others by actions other than a gun or similar. He talked of a couple of old guys, once friends, who hadn’t talked to each other for decades, though they worked in the same building, who were more or less forced into contact by the marriage of their respective granddaughter and grandson…and in the process of renewal of their long interrupted relationship couldn’t even remember what caused the fracture in the first place….
So it goes.
Driving home, for some reason, I got to thinking of a homily I had heard in a Port-au-Prince Haiti Catholic Church on December 7, 2003. Six of us were in our first full day in Haiti*. The congregation of the church was financially very poor, but vibrant. The Priest, Gerard Jean-Juste**, was a charismatic preacher, and this particular day, he knew he had a target for his message in we six visitors from the United States, an hour or so flight away.
(click to enlarge)
He didn’t look at us – we really hadn’t met him at this point, but he knew we were there – but his message about the role of our wealthy society in the U.S. – to be the “killers” or “healers” of this desperately poor country – struck home. He supported the democratically elected President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide; and by the sundry means available to it, the U.S. was in the process of “killing” this president whose constituency was the poor. Rather than helping (“healing”) the poor. We were making it all but impossible for Haiti to compete in any way with their very wealthy neighbor, our own country. Democracy in Haiti was competition, and could not be tolerated. With “friends” like us, who needed enemies?
While there weren’t dead bodies in the street – at least not a great number of them – nonetheless, they may as well have been: farmers who had grown rice were forced out of business by U.S. undercutting Haitian farmer prices, and then dominating the rice market…things like that.
I got to thinking of a recent visit to our towns bookstore. I was looking for a book of meditations for a friend whose wife had recently died. Walking down an aisle, I was stopped short by a sign, which so struck me I went back to the car to bring in my camera and click this photo:
I googled the author and found quite an array of books, almost all dark topics: about killing Patton, …Kennedy, …Lincoln, …Jesus; similar about the attempted killing of Reagan; in effect, the killing of Hitler and the Nazis, and per the picture, killing “The Rising Sun” in WWII; the Next Nuclear War….
Clearly, killing was O’Reilly’s selling point for his books. There is a polarity in this country in which many enshrine the idea of killing an enemy: a political opponent, “al Qaeda”, on and on. We sort of enjoy killing. It is politically very useful to have an enemy to kill.
Similarly, I am sure, there is a “healing” niche as well, with a completely different audience….
A friend of mine, a migrant from another country, here for many years, but not yet a citizen, described us well, recently. The U.S., he said, is a polarized country, where we largely exist in “bubbles”, like those two old guys that had no relationship whatever for many years, until some unplanned event brought them together again.
I’m on the “healer” side of this polarity. At the same time, I say we have to find ways to constructively communicate with the other side as well.
“Killing”, whether physically or by character assassination, is no solution. In assorted way, the assassins described in the books ended up dying themselves, either individually (like Lincoln’s assassin) or on a larger scale (Nazi Germany).
“Killer” or “Healer”? I’ll take “healer” any time.
TUESDAY, VALENTINE’S DAY: a shining moment when “healing” held sway.
* – More about the trip, if you wish, here.
** – Jean-Juste was on the “wrong” side in the battle with the U.S. Less than 3 months after our meeting him, he was imprisoned, then deposed to the United States, where he ultimately died, effectively in exile. President Aristide was deposed and taken out of his country by the United States. It was a sad lesson for me, on my first visit to Haiti.