Archbishop Robert Carlson delivered the following homily at a Mass for Peace and Justice at the Cathedral Basilica on August 9th, 2015, to commemorate the beginning of the events we call “Ferguson” with the death of Michael Brown.
During the Mass, members of the newly-established Peace and Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of St. Louis were officially commissioned.
Scroll to the end for a video of the homily. For on-going coverage of the events surrounding the issues of Ferguson, visit stlouisreview.com/ferguson.
There is never a shortage of people and things to pray for, and this week is no exception as we mark the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the first anniversary of the death of Michael Brown and the crisis that followed in Ferguson and across the United States.
Whether you consider the dropping of the atomic bomb justified or not, we know it was a weapon that inflicted tremendous human suffering. Likewise, whatever you think of the circumstances in Ferguson which resulted in the death of a young man in a confrontation with a police officer, we know that the events uncovered a culture of systemic racism, rage just below the surface of daily life, and a court system which failed to recognize institutional injustice in its manner of operation.
In today’s Gospel, we hear a continuation of Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse. There are three dimensions of the Bread of Life I’d like to highlight. First: Food. Two Sundays ago we heard that Jesus fed five thousand with five loaves and two fish. Jesus provided the food the people needed, and here today he provides us with the food that we need.
Second: Faith. Last Sunday we heard Jesus challenge people to believe in him as the Bread of Life. Jesus invited them to faith, and here he invites each one of us to grow in faith.
Third and last: forgiveness. Jesus tells us that if we receive him as the Bread of Life, we will have his life within us. He shows what this life means on the Cross, when he forgives those who killed him.
Food, faith, forgiveness: Three lessons for us! It is hard to enjoy a shared meal with someone when you are at odds or do not respect the other person. If we ever hope to sit at a common table with our brothers and sisters — Black or White, Red or Yellow — the color of the skin makes absolutely no difference — we need to learn how to ask God to bless us with the grace of mercy and love, the mercy and love that we see in Jesus. When we receive him as the Bread of Life, we can let go of hate and hurts and grievances, and we can actually forgive one another — a healing that interconnects with faith and is the first step toward building relationships and assisting those who live in poverty.
As Pope Paul VI said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” There is much that needs to be done in our work for justice! And by our presence here we say clearly we reject violence, especially violence that masks itself as the breastplate of justice.
And by our presence here we commit ourselves to continue to work for meaningful change and for healing fostered by a better understanding of the pain of others, our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Healing, justice: They can only be achieved in our respect for one another and our commitment to being with one another in the suffering, not letting our brothers and sisters bear their sufferings alone, helping each one to carry the Cross of suffering and respecting at all times their human dignity.
As we read in the Old Testament, from the prophet Micah, “This is what Yahweh wants of you: Only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
We are being invited to take the first step in what I call a pilgrimage of trust, which begins when we are willing to admit our failures, ask pardon of one another and seek the forgiveness of each other.
And we cannot miss what St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians: “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting…must be removed from you, along with all malice.” Instead, this great saint invites us to kindness and compassion and forgiveness — indeed as God forgives us — but remember the next time you say the Our Father that you ask God to forgive you exactly to the same degree that you forgive others.
This is important for the Christian message of love and justice. Our message shows its effectiveness through the actions we take in the cause of justice in the world and especially here in St. Louis, in our own backyard. We will not gain any credibility as a people of faith if we refuse to serve those closest to us.
It is for this reason that almost a year ago I called for the formation of the Peace and Justice Commission, and today it is my honor at this Mass to be able to formally call them to their service. These dedicated men and women from across the archdiocese will look at the challenges all around us and, from a Catholic perspective, provide pathways to change.
It is our role to live our lives according to the commandments and the beatitudes — after all, happy are those — dare I say, indeed blest — that hunger and thirst for what is right! (Matthew 5:6)
As Pope Francis said just a few weeks ago in his visit to Bolivia, “Working for justice is not simply a moral obligation for Christians, it is a commandment” — “an invitation that comes from Christ!”
And so my brothers, as we gather today and as we go forth, let us take that which divides us, let us take it to the foot of the Cross and before the Lord commit ourselves to one another.
The homily begins at about 37:00.