“My Brothers and Sisters, there are powers and principalities in our Church trying to make us victims…,” said Fr. Kenneth J. Hughes, S.J., in a homily on Sunday, May 13, 2012, at St. Mary of the Angels Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts. As he concluded his homily, the congregation rose to its feet and applauded. With Fr. Hughes’ permission, we’re reprinting his entire homily here —
“One blue sky above us,
One ocean lapping all our shores,
One earth so green and round,
Who could ask for more?
And because I love you,
I’ll give it one more try
To show my Rainbow Race
It’s too soon to die.”
“Go tell, go tell all – – – – – the little children.
Tell all their mothers and fathers, too – –
Now’s our last chance to learn to share
What’s been given to me and you.”
Do you recognize those words? They are from a protest song of the 70’s by Pete Seeger. It is called, “My Rainbow Race.” This song, a long time ago, was translated into Norwegian and made popular as a children’s song by a well known Norwegian artist, Lillebjoern Nilsen.
Now, do you remember last summer that tragedy in Norway when 32-year-old Anders Breivik bombed a government building and then massacred a group of teenagers and young adults on an island north of Oslo, killing 77 people in all? Do you remember that I told you how the people of Norway responded by placing thousands of flowers, mostly roses, and thousands of candles, flags and messages of love before the cathedral? Do you remember that I told you how the government quickly assured foreigners, especially Muslims, that they were welcome. And do you remember the words I quoted of a young woman survivor who said, “If one man out of hatred can cause so much destruction, think of what all of us together can do out of love?” The key words were “together” and “love.”
As you may be aware, the trial of this man is currently going on in Oslo. And. just two weeks ago, in court, Breivik accused Nilsen of brainwashing the Norwegian people with this very song because he saw “My Rainbow Race” as embracing all people, all foreigners, including Muslims, whom he detested. He wanted a pure Norwegian nation, and that is why he killed.
How did the people respond? By singing, “My Rainbow Race.” Two young women, unknown to each other, but connecting through Face Book, proposed singing this song and Nilsen agreed to it. And so, in pouring rain some 40,000 people (and, remember, Oslo is a small city of only 400,000) gathered with red roses in hand to sing, “My Rainbow Race.” Then, they processed to the courthouse where the trial is taking place and lay their roses on its steps. Once again, they wanted to show the world that, in Norway, love is stronger than hatred and that love seeks to embrace all, love does not exclude. The people refused to be victims of another’s anger.
My Brothers and Sisters, there are powers and principalities in our Church trying to make us victims just as Breivik tried to make victims of the Norwegian people. I pass over in silence (well, not really!) the rejection of graduation speakers, the marginalization of gays and lesbians, the censure of theologians without dialogue, the silencing with threatened excommunication of justly complaining parishioners, the dismissal of girl altar servers. What I will not pass over in silence, however, (especially on this Mother’s Day) is the Church’s treatment of women in general and of religious women in particular. The manner of this proposed latest scrutiny of the leadership of women religious is an insult to the many dedicated and hard-working women who express most in our society the compassion and love of Jesus Christ.
Have we forgotten so soon that it was to the faithful women of Good Friday Jesus appeared first on Easter Sunday and whom He asked, first, to proclaim the Good news? And the men did not believe them. Has nothing changed? Have we learned nothing from today’s reading from Acts of the Apostles? Peter says, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” And the people, we are told, “were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles.” Who of us dares limit the power and movement of the Holy Spirit today?
Are we listening to St. John tell us, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God. Are we listening to Jesus say, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” That is the Christian orthodoxy first: to show love to one another. It is a chain of love beginning from the Father: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” It may seem like a hierarchic love from above, but Jesus turns it into a circle. He says, “I call you friends.” In friendship we become a circle of love with God and with one another. And, at the center of this circle of friendship is the Eucharist, the presence of Jesus, strengthening us to do what we cannot do of ourselves: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
I know that, on behalf of women religious, people are keeping silent vigil from 5-6pm every Tuesday in May at various churches, but I found myself wondering: what would it be like if, on a particular Sunday, 40,000 Catholics, in each of our major cities across the nation, were to process to their cathedrals, singing hymns of love and placing flowers on the cathedral steps? How can we show our Church leaders that they need not be afraid? Yet, at the same time, how can we show them that we will not be victims of coercion, neither will we stop the mission which Jesus has given us through the Church when He said: “Love one another as I have loved you?”
So, my Brothers and Sisters,
“Go tell, go tell all – – – – the little children.
Tell all their mothers and fathers, too – –
Now’s our last chance to share
What been given to me and you.”
And that is the gift of love!
Acts: 10.25-26, 34-35, 44-48; I John 4.7-10; John 15.9-17
If you dream of a church defined by what it stands for rather than what it stands against, join us at Voice of the Faithful’s 10th Year Conference, Sept. 14-15, 2012, Boston, Massachusetts.