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

Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize!

By Bishop Larry Silva
September 12, 2021

[St. Raphael Church, Koloa (with installation of pastor)]

Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize!

That is something we are quite accustomed to do these days.  We use hand sanitizer when we enter the church or another building, when we leave it, and maybe a time or two in between.  We sanitize the pews and other surfaces after Mass.  I even had to smile at the Presidential Inauguration last January when, after every speaker or presenter, a man went up to sanitize the podium.

But it was long before the pandemic that we developed the tendency to sanitize.  In fact, we sometimes sanitize Jesus.  We are in good company, because St. Peter tried to sanitize him when Jesus began talking about suffering greatly, being rejected and killed, and raised up on the third day.  Peter wanted a sanitized Gospel where everything would be sweetness and light, one that would lead away from suffering, rejection and death.  Peter, who had just listened to God by declaring that Jesus was “the Christ,” that is, the Messiah, now was listening not to God but to human voices.  Jesus set him straight that the Gospel was simply not to be sanitized.

When we enter a church, we are accustomed to see a crucifix, and some of our fellow Christians take offense at it, since it is too gruesome-looking.  Yet, with few exceptions, Jesus is portrayed on the cross as clean and neat, sporting his laundered and pressed loin cloth.  In other words, even our art tries to sanitize the horrors that Jesus suffered for us.  The implication, of course, is that we tend to sanitize our own lives of all suffering, rather than take up our crosses so that we can have greater life.

I think of a couple struggling in their marriage.  Their friends think everything is great between them, because they sanitize their behavior when they in public.  They know they need help, but they do not seek it out because then someone else would see the dirty little secrets they keep.  So rather than take up the cross and admit they need help, they sanitize everything to the point that it is simply lifeless.  But if they dedicate themselves to the difficult and hard work of tending deliberately to their relationship, they may suffer, but in the end, there will be healing and peace – and much greater love.

Sometimes we sanitize by using the “out of sight, out of mind” principle.  We know that people are suffering greatly in Haiti from a devastating earthquake, in Myanmar due to a military dictatorship, in Louisiana due to the hurricane, and on our own streets due to devastating poverty, mental illness or drug addiction.  It is easy to go about our beautiful lives without thinking of these great human sufferings, but as followers of Jesus we look directly at the suffering and respond to it with our resources, our concrete compassion or our political involvement.

So often we sanitize Jesus himself, especially when he challenges us by saying such things as “when someone hits you on one cheek, turn and offer the other,” or “love your enemies,” or “forgive seven times seventy.”  These are very hard sayings, and we can easily sanitize Jesus by skipping over them and focusing only on the nice and supportive things he says.  But, as Jesus warns us, unless we take up our crosses, we can have no part with him.

Jesus was not afraid to open himself to suffering, to give his face to buffets and spitting, and to get his hands dirty by reaching out to those who were most in need – even when he was roundly criticized for doing so.  Of course, suffering was not the end of the story, but rather glorious victory over sin and death.  He invites us to learn when to sanitize for the love of neighbor and self and when to not allow ourselves to sanitize suffering, so that we can take up our crosses and follow him to eternal glory.