The following homily was offered by Pax Christi USA’s bishop president, Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., during the closing Eucharistic liturgy at the 50th anniversary national conference, August 7, 2022.
“Do not be afraid any longer little flock…” One of the most frequent admonitions to come from the mouth of Jesus is “be not afraid.” Easier said than done we might respond, because we live in a scary world and among those who promote fear and division. But we are called to live without fear because we will inherit the kingdom!
Not only does Jesus say, “do not be afraid little flock,” but he has already admitted that he sends his flock of lambs out in the midst of wolves! Yet we still are not to be afraid.
For 50 years, members of Pax Christi USA have done their best to live as peace-loving lambs in the midst of wolves. Though there have always been fearmongers around us, there have also been very genuine reasons for fear throughout these 50 years. What did Pax Christians have to fear in 1972? Well for one, Richard Nixon was president. And as our rockin’ grannies reminded us last night the Watergate hearings began that year as well. Eleven Israelis were murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics, 22 bombs exploded in Belfast on Bloody Friday, and of course, the unjust war in Vietnam was still being waged against the wishes of the masses.
What do Pax Christians have to fear in 2022? Well for one, Donald Trump still claims to be president. The January 6 hearings have begun. And although US troops left Afghanistan a year ago, they did not leave it in peace—and there is still plenty of war and oppression raging around us: in Ukraine, in Israel, in Myanmar, in Yemen and in too many other places.
Throughout these 50 years we have also learned that we are not alone. In 1972, 100,000 people marched against the war. Between 2020 and 2022, 18-22 million people have marched for racial justice and against racism. And throughout the years there have been moments to celebrate, even if they were fleeting, in 1972 the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was signed between the US and the USSR. Hopefully we have yet to see the great peace accomplishment of 2022.
In our gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to be “vigilant,” to not slack-off and get comfortable, but to be always ready. Pax Christi at its best has been vigilant about monitoring the advance of the nuclear arms race and advocating for de-escalation and elimination; has been vigilant about justice around the world and has constantly challenged our own nation’s contributions to injustice. Pax Christi has become more and more vigilant about our own complicity in systemic racism and has tried to bring about conversion in the organization, in the Church and in the world. We have been vigilant about climate change and its effects on the most vulnerable around the world. We have tried to be vigilant about the treatment of migrants and refugees, striving to walk with them, because they will be our guides to the kingdom. We cannot slack off or become comfortable!
Perhaps most importantly, we must strive to be vigilant about the violence that can be found in each of our hearts, the wolf that lives within. The ease with which we can dismiss our opponents or even dehumanize them; the words that come forth that are themselves violent (to say nothing of the tweets). It is too easy to respond in kind to ugliness and violence; but that cannot be our way. Out of the treasury of our hearts our mouths speak. Let us build up that treasury with our prayer, study and action, calling each other to greater integrity as people of peace whose light shines forth through a prism of peace, providing beauty in the midst of so much gloomy despair.
In 1972, the Church was in the midst of the high expectations and the happy confusion that was the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. There was great hope that the Church could really read the signs of the times and give an accounting of our hope in a world that seemed quite turbulent. The re-discovery of baptism as the fundamental sacrament for Christians and for membership in the Church produced a flurry of new opportunities for lay involvement in the mission of the Church and an enthusiasm for addressing the joys and sorrows, the struggles and pains of the world and becoming true servants in the world. There was an optimism that fed gospel hope, despite the difficulties and challenges. In 2022, we are living a moment in which Pope Francis is working hard to revive the spirit of that council and proposing a model of synodality, of walking together brothers and sisters all, to overcome too many steps backwards in recent decades and the unfortunate feeling of standing still and being stuck in so much of the Church today.
As a Church it does not seem that we were sufficiently vigilant about those who were being excluded, about promoting the nonviolence of Christ, about challenging oppression wherever it was, about promoting equality and equal dignity among all our members. We seemed to be part of an institution living in fear, not heeding that most frequent admonition of Jesus, to be not afraid.
How blessed we are at this moment to have a pontiff who invites again to be bold, to take chances, to heed the cries of the earth and the cries of the poor. Pope Francis expresses his preference for a Church that is hurting and bruised because it is out in the streets rather than suffocating from being confined. How many of our members and our heroes in a half-century have known what it means to be hurting and bruised for their work in the church?
“They did not receive what had been promised, but saw it and greeted it from afar,” says the Letter to the Hebrews today.
We don’t have to wander very far to encounter the wolves: when Catholics are promoting the death-penalty and awarded for doing so, are eager for vengeance and retaliation, when we are willing to bless armaments but not some couples, when the voices of women are not being heard in the fights about abortion, when the institution cannot bring itself to say “Black lives matter,” and when the self-proclaimed uber-Catholics insist that they know more and better than the pope.
When Jesus gave the instructions in today’s gospel, Peter asks, “Is this for us?” “Are you talking to me?” Perhaps the Church has done the same for a long time.
The faith that is celebrated in the first and second readings was a faith that is bold and that is willing to take risks based on hope. Abraham believed some pretty impossible things and he was rewarded for it. The leaders that we have celebrated in this conference believed in peace with justice, believed in a more just world, believed that our Church could help bring about a better society – but only by being faithful, and unafraid, and holding on to the simple values of the gospel instead of making excuses why security, protection, aggression and violence should be tolerated.
“Much will be required of the one entrusted with much,” the Lord says. Dorothy Day knew that well, so did the Berrigans, so did Sister Dianna Ortiz, Bishop Walter Sullivan and so many of the people named in our own litany of saints. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be” is true for each of us just as it is for our nation that can spend $778 billion of its treasury on defense in a year.
As we celebrate this jubilee of Pax Christi, may we all be inspired by the wonderful image of God who is eager to welcome us to the table of his kingdom, sit us down and serve us. As we gather around this table today, may we recognize that same Savior serving us and commit ourselves to do what we can to bring more and more of God’s children to the table of the kingdom.