Bishop’s message for October: Tikkun Olam (Repair the World)

A transcript of Bishop David Talley’s Homily at the Red Mass celebrated at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral on September 21, 2018, Feast of St. Matthew; Mass of the Holy Spirit

We celebrate this Red Mass, a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, to ask blessing and benediction on the judges and attorneys and legislators and government officials that serve us all in civic leadership. As any student of civics knows, we are founded as a nation as a people ruled by law, and not by kings or princes or moneyed interests. And we seek to honor you today, you who make this concept present in our midst, in your administration of justice.

Interestingly, in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, today is the Feast day of St. Matthew. You remember this Apostle of the Lord. Levi held a position of authority in the day of Jesus. He was a tax collector, and he “administered justice”… Rome’s take and his own take, from all who worked. He did this before an itinerant preacher came by and suggested another way of life for him.

Last Sunday afternoon, after celebrating a Mass of Confirmation in Deville, I drove down to Spirits on Texas Avenue, to take part in the CENLA Homeless Coalition fund-raiser. I had a reserved seat at the table of Fr. Craig Scott and his team from St. Rita’s.  There was a fine band there, with great drinks and delicious burgers. There was a silent auction, to raise funds for this important work.

After a kind soul bought me a drink, and after I spoke with Kendra Gauthier, the extraordinary woman behind the recent successes of the CENLA Homeless Coalition, I went for the burgers. And then I sat down and I talked … but mostly I listened.

YES, it was a fund-raiser for the CENLA Homeless Coalition and that’s a good thing. YES, Spirits can whip up a delicious burger and a satisfying drink and that’s a good thing. But do you know what the best part was for me last Sunday afternoon? It was being in a room-full of folks that seemed to be walking in the direction I’m hoping to walk.

Now, the room wasn’t full of Catholics. We were there of course but there were good Methodists and Baptists present, maybe even a Pentecostal or two.  There may have been a man or woman of the Covenant, maybe a follower of Islam. There may have been several none of the above present with us. Not sure. We weren’t wearing religious uniforms … except for me.

I didn’t have any deep theological discussion there–it wasn’t that kind of gathering. Still, for me, the gathering of men and women at Spirits was an extraordinary experience of the Lord’s Presence in the here and now. Why so? How so?

With the CENLA Homeless Coalition serving as a catalyst, people gathered together purposefully and spoke the truth about what we see outside our car windows each day, what we know to be the truth, hidden from our regular lives:  the open wound of homelessness, pockets of deep unemployment in some neighborhoods; drug abuse, every kind of abuse; broken families and broken homes and broken hearts; untreated issues of body and mind and spirit. What we see in the anawin–what we see in the poorest ones–that drift in and out of our managed world daily and what we don’t want to admit to ourselves is A PROFOUND SENSE OF BEING UTTERLY ALONE IN THE FIGHT TO REMAIN SANE AND CIVIL AND HUMAN.

In these difficult days, it seems like we … are … so alone … in dealing with the insanity and the incivility and the inhumanity that is all around us, broadcast 24 hours a day and filling the Internet with vitriol and violence WITH BOTH DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN PUNDITS SPEWING OUT POISON. If you have eyes to see and a heart to comprehend you know about this broken-ness and about this political poison on all sides.

The gaggle of folks that joined together at Spirits last Sunday, we had a common desire, a common heart whether it was articulated or not. With the CENLA Homeless Coalition as our catalyst…we gathered, hoping to repair the world. YES, it seems awfully lonely as we strive to be civil, to be sane, to be fully human when the whole world is screaming look at me…deal with me….it’s ALL about me.  But, as dark as it is we must begin again … together … repairing the world.

TIKKUN OLAM: a Hebrew concept many of you are familiar with, it is the desire and the longing and the will to actively repair the world as the Creator desires. The world as we experience it here and now is not the design of the Creator. But what I recognized as a movement of the Lord at Spirits gives me hope. TIKUNN OLAM–our longing to repair the world–to be instruments of the Creator, in repairing what is broken and praising the One who heals.

To repair the world we inhabit in central Louisiana, we must be in this fight together, fighting for the sanity and the civility and the humanity we long for. You who are honored today by this assembly: The honored judges, the honored attorneys, the honored legislators and government officials. You and we are in this fight together and–it is a fight–against the darkness of insanity and incivility and inhumanity. Chaos is not to be our end.

NOW, if we come to hear our personal faith tradition speak beautifully and lovingly about the invisible God, but does not speak of loving God’s own creation, or the humanity that is God’s image and likeness ARE YOU TRULY LOVING THE CREATOR?

From the sad days of exile when Jerusalem was crushed, the holy Temple razed to the ground and most of its citizens force-marched to another distant land IN THE EAST, the prophetic voice of Isaiah cried out: So, you love God, do you? and to show your love and sorrow for your sin, you fast.

But … Do you not know that this is the fasting that God desires:  releasing those bound unjustly, setting free the oppressed, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them. THEN … THEN your light shall break forth like the dawn and your wound quickly healed.

What is this wound that Isaiah mentions, our wound … the wound that Jesus of Nazareth seeks to heal? There is a wound of isolation … thinking only of oneself, alone, completely alone, not part of a family, or a history, or a community, or a people. There is a wound of self-centeredness untouched by the law of the land or the building up of the common good for the good of all but always self-referential, self-seeking. There is a wound of separation: we are meant for God, we are meant for one another. We are relational creatures as the living God is relational. But when we build cocoons of safety and security so that we will not see or hear or feel or fathom the cry of another, we are lost to ourselves. We worship idols, not the living God.

The One that many of us follow, Jesus of Nazareth, speaks about the two great commandments of loving God and loving neighbor. The path for humanity to follow, taught by the Lord Jesus, who embodies the fullness of the law, presents us the Way of Life–the Way of redeeming and fruitful life–one that is not about isolation or self centeredness or separation. In fact, this wandering rabbi, who was making Tikkun olam … repairing the world … indeed the cosmos … his life’s work, tells us that we, this congregation today, this respected gathering of jurists and advocates and legislators, this group honored by Christ’s Church today, and the clerics and congregation that honor you–we together are called to be one in repairing the earth, sanely, civilly, humanely, according to the design given by the Creator hidden in the depths of our nature.

During the great Depression (of a bygone era), with the after-effects of the dust bowl out west and the great collapse of moneyed interests in Washington and New York felt by all there was a folk song made popular and sung sarcastically that spoke of the Lord, of the living God, as giving you pie in the sky when you die. The singing reformer saw religion as a dream-world–a false piety … an illusion.

That was then. Today for example, with the horror that the Catholic Church is experiencing, when civil authorities and attorneys and jurists (gratefully) have uncovered hundreds of cases, showing that many of our priests and many of our bishops–these consecrated men of God–sexually abused thousands of children and teens … we Catholics sit in sack cloth. We seethe with anger and are weighed down in shame and sorrow and confusion. Though these bishops and priests seen in their immorality and criminal behavior are a very small percentage of those of us who serve the Lord, still … still, this great evil has greatly diminished our credibility as Evangelists, in the eyes of many. And apart from this current scandal, the young teens and twenty-somethings among us just shrug their shoulders … like … what does this talk of God or of the common good or any good mean anyway, to me? And we, we who have the gift of faith, we who are intentional in our discipleship, our faith traditions, we too have constructed safe and secure cocoons – cocoons that keep us happily at peace with our own  theology and our own identity – but apart from the solidarity needed to repair the world.

So, with all the brokenness and rage that you see in the courts and government offices each day, with all that the faithful see each day, where do we go … what do we do?

This Red Mass honors you in your administration of justice. The red color of the vestment I wear is in honor of the great breath of God–the Spirit that blows through us, within us, as promised by the prophets and by the Son. Though tempted to give in or give up as insanity and incivility and inhumanity seem the cause de jour, I challenge you, I challenge us to believe in the goodness that we know, the truth that we seek and the beauty that lifts our hearts. Let us replace the vitriol and violence of cable TV and the halls of government and the neighborhood streets of our cities and towns with this great work – Tikkun Olam. Let us join together to repair the world in and through each person we are privileged to serve. This is intentional discipleship. This is Christ the Lord, alive, living in and through us, He, the Vine of Life, we, His branches.

AMDG

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
(For The Greater Glory of God)