Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19

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Bishop's Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time

Lockdown. We all understand what that word means now.

By Bishop Larry Silva
August 23, 2020

[St. Pius X Church, Manoa]

Lockdown. We all understand what that word means now.  We stay home and forego the normal things we do in life.  Restaurants are closed for all but take-out.  Schools operate, but only on-line and not in-person.  We work virtually from home or we do not work at all.  Houses of worship are closed, and we can only worship together by logging into a website.  Unfortunately, these are not just nightmarish musings of some novelist, but realities we have had to undergo recently in an attempt to reduce contagion from the coronavirus.  The power of the keys has become very real to us in these days.

Of course, most of us conform to these lockdown orders, because we know that they are made for the long-term health and well-being of the community.  But at the same time, we all experience various levels of rebellion against them, some by open defiance, some by thinking them a Marxist plot to take over the world, but most by simply grumbling about them even as we observe them.  No one has an actual key that can lock us all away, but the power of the keys is very palpable at this time.  We mostly follow along because we trust that those who lock and unlock are informed by good science and by wisdom.

Jesus, of course, was aware that there is great power in keys, and so he wanted to entrust the keys of the kingdom of heaven to his Church by entrusting them first to Peter, a name which means “rock.”  This name that Jesus gave to Simon the fisherman must have been a bit of a tease and probably made many laugh.  Today we see Peter’s great profession of faith in Jesus as the Son of the living God.  If we look at the very next incident reported in Matthew’s Gospel, we will hear Jesus saying to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!  … You are thinking, not as God does, but as human beings do.”  In fact, Peter’s behavior in the Gospels might best be described as “jello” rather than “rock.”  Yet it was this weak and fickle man to whom Jesus entrusted the keys of the kingdom.  It is because when all is said and done, Peter was attentive to the voice of God himself and allowed God to reveal to him things he could not have thought of himself.

It is this power of the keys, given by Jesus himself to Peter and his successors, that makes us pay great attention to the teachings of the Church that is guided by Peter’s successor.  Yes, for every Pope and the bishops who also share the apostolic ministry, there is some “jello-ness,” but in the end it is the authority of God himself that guides the teachings of the Church.

At this time in our history it is critical that we reflect upon the power of the keys and who wields that power.  We must always discern whether it is God who inspires a certain action or attitude, or Satan.  We think it would be easy to discern, because we imagine God’s ways would be obviously good to us and Satan’s ways obviously evil.  And while this is sometimes true, often it is the opposite, and Satan has a great talent for convincing us that something is good when in fact, if we unlock its origin and its end, we will see how evil it is.

At this election time, one of the greatest controversies is over abortion, the preeminent of all the life issues.  We Catholics (we hope!) are insistent that abortion is a grave evil that deprives an innocent human being of her right to life.  And while the mercy of God wants to reconcile those who have chosen this evil or cooperated with it, his mercy always presumes repentance.  We use the power of the keys to unlock the invisible baby in the womb and to demonstrate scientifically that this is indeed a human life separate from the mother, though dependent on her.  At the same time, others try to lock this reality away by using lying terms for abortion like “health care” and the language of “rights.”  Many unlock the door of the oppression of women, which is something that we must work against, but use this as a way to divert us from looking at the rights of the child.  It is like unlocking one door that needs to be opened, so that the door that would make us face the brutality of abortion may remain tight shut.  We, to whom the power of the keys given to the Church in union with Peter, must insist on keeping the door open so that the horror of abortion can be seen clearly and eliminated from our society.

In our keen awareness of racism in our country, it is also key that we be discerning by listening to God’s voice.  There are those who would open the door of white supremacy while closing the door to any other form of racism, as if only white people could be racist.  In the end, this will do nothing to break down the barriers of racism.  Since I spent about 25 years of my life working in inner-city parishes in Oakland, I have seen much racism, but it has not always been white against black.  I have seen black people do racist things and Asian people do racist things.  Yes, we must all unlock in ourselves our hidden prejudices and biases toward those who are different from us, so that we can work on eliminating them.  But oversimplifying the matter into heroes and villains judged according to the color of one’s skin is itself racist and will not help us unlock the real healing that is needed among us that recognizes every human being as a beloved child of God.

There are more lockdowns we experience than the ones related to the coronavirus, and, like Peter, we must listen to the voice of God, so that we can open the doors of truth and lock away the lies of falsehood; so that we can unlock all the barriers that divide us, and open the door to the kingdom of God.