Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19
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By Bishop Larry Silva
October 18, 2020
St. Stephen Diocesan Center (Bishop’s Circle Donor Mass; St. Roch Church, Kahuku (Confirmation & First Communion)]
Aren’t there enough demons loose in the world without our creating more of them? Yes, we have many real demons, manifestations of the Father of Lies and the Prince of Darkness. There is the demon that convinces us that we have a right to end the life of another human being – or even our own --, including the life of an innocent in the womb, directly contradicting the law of God. There is the demon that convinces us that we never have enough and that we must acquire more and more for ourselves, even as others are left with less and less. There is the demon that convinces us that we are superior to others because of the color of our skin, the level of our education, or who is in our circles of influence.
Yet, despite the presence of all these real demons – and more – we have a tendency to demonize many others. Sometimes when people disagree with one another they choose to see their opponent as a demon, someone who is simply evil, because that person does not share their point of view. We demonize people who do not hold the same beliefs we do. We even resort to attempting to control others’ thoughts, making sure they are ostracized if they do not share our own “sacred” point of view. Sometimes we even demonize family members who have hurt us, refusing to speak to them or deciding to be mean to them because of some real or imagined offense they committed against us. Thus we take the already real problems in the world and we compound them, causing more darkness and obscuring the truth even more vigorously.
The Word of God today, however, challenges us not to demonize others, but to respect them and give them their due, even if we disagree with them or are very different from them. Cyrus is mentioned in the reading from Isaiah. He is the King of Persia, which we now know as Iran. In the contemporary world, we know that Iran and Israel are mortal enemies; and so it was in the ancient world. Yet God chooses Cyrus to be the liberator of the Jewish people who were under his rule. He did not know the true and living God who had been revealed to Israel, yet God still used him to show kindness to the people of Israel and to be their ultimate liberator at that time. It would have been easy to demonize Cyrus because he was the ruler of the enemy, yet God used Cyrus for the good of his beloved people Israel.
In the same way we see the Pharisees, the Jewish leaders, testing Jesus by expecting that he would demonize the Romans, who were occupying their land. They expect that, if he is a good Jew like themselves, he will protest against the payment of the temple tax as a way of demonizing the Romans. Yet Jesus would have none of that. He makes his famous statement about rendering to Cesar what belongs to Cesar and to God what belongs to God. This is his way of refusing to demonize even those who oppressed his own people – because, after all, he had come not just for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but to save all humanity. He affirmed the dignity even of the enemies of his people by refusing to demonize them.
This godly way of dealing with our enemies, with those who oppress or hurt us, is extremely relevant in our own day. I will be glad when the Presidential elections are behind us, for example, because there is very little dialogue about differing points of view, but plenty of demonization of one side by the other. Rather than initiating respectful dialogue among people of different races, there is far too much demonization of one race by another, a situation that will never help us to live together in harmony. Even when we know we have the moral high ground on issues of respect for life, the beauty of God’s plan for human sexuality, or the insistence that all people have a basic right to food, shelter and good health care, we can easily demonize those who do not agree with us, thus causing even more division. Jesus teaches us the lesson that, even if we disagree with someone, even if they are morally wrong, it is never right or helpful to demonize them but to respect them. Has anyone ever changed for the better out of hate, or is it not love that always changes hearts and minds? Yes, it is important to recognize enemies, such as the Persians or the Romans, but when we treat even our enemies with respect, we often find that we ourselves can prosper and flourish. That is not something we understand naturally, but something that is supernaturally, revealed to us today in a special way through the Word of God that challenges us to love our enemies and to know that only by doing so will there be any hope of actually making them our friends.