[NOTE: The following homily was given on Good Friday.]
Today is the most obvious day for us as Christian Catholics to reflect and for us a priest to preach against the death penalty. Jesus the executed speaks to us and tells us to kill no more. It is part of the Respect for Life vision and flows from the Catholic Social Justice teachings on the DIGNITY OF EACH PERSON as found in Jesus: love your neighbor as yourself. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and Jesus view of the Last days (Matthew 25) remind us that God always is expecting more from us as God’s children. We are in a Year of Mercy and the core teaching of this year is not about us but about GODS’ MERCY and we reflect and live God’s mercy out to all. It is mercy of abundance without limitations, unconditional, no walls no barriers of time, space, age, religion, language, culture, legal status, general, sexual orientation, health or racial divisions.
We clearly can say no to executions for innocent persons but the real challenge of faith is to even day NO to executions for the guilty. Jesus was charged and found guilty. He was executed for breaking the laws of the Sabbath and claiming to be King so the civil laws of treason were broken. We as Christians have romanticized his crimes and the execution and death but it was brutal and his family and friends were traumatized. Isaiah says: He was spurned and avoided by people, a man of suggesting, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom people hide their faces, spurned, and we help him in no esteem.” (Isaiah 52)The letter to the Hebrews says: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered…” (Hebrew 5:7-9) The Gospel of the Passion (John 18:1-19:42) is filled with the reality of Jesus being judged, condemned, attempted to be released, executed and then buried. We are reminded of the prayer of Jesus “Father into your hands I commend my spirit….” And the words of the fellow criminals, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
2016 is a year when executions can be ended in the state of California with the JUST THAT WORKS 2016 initiative. Please sign today and or get others to do before the deadline next month. Then we need to encourage persons to vote in the county that we pride those who give their lives in service while only 20% of the population votes and 80% including people of faith, first responders and veterans choice not to vote. We gather to be in stillness and fasting today, to honor the execution and death of Jesus. We hold that stillness as hold the pain of the world of hatred, racism, abortion, bigotry, war, torture, domestic and international violence. Jesus reminds us today: “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” (John 18)
We gather knowing this remembrance still holds the promise of Resurrection. We will stand with the victims of violence and also those on death rows and their families. We will stand with the refugees and the immigrants who are caught in the midst of personal, economic and structural situations. We stand with those left out or marginalized due to their handicap, their HIV status, their sexual orientation, the legal or sacramental marital status. We will stand with those in faithful marriages and long term religious vows and those who trying to make blended families to a safe place and new communities committed to serving the vulnerable.
We trust we will arise. We breathe as we await resurrection. We advocate for justice for all. We stand in the reality of Resurrection even on this “Good Friday” as we pause in stillness, prayer and action. We will arise with Jesus.
Fr. Chris Ponnet is Pastor at St. Camillus, a board member of Death Penalty Focus and Catholics Against the Death Penalty, and long-time member of Pax Christi Los Angeles and Pax Christi Southern California.