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Bishop's Homily for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 31, 2021

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu; Holy Spirit Parish/Newman Center, Manoa]

The ancients believed that sacrifices were to be offered to appease angry gods.  If the crops failed or there was a drought or pestilence, one would offer sacrifice to atone for whatever it was the gods were angry about that caused them to punish people.  When there were wars to be fought over disputed territory, sacrifices were offered to win the favor of the gods or to convince them to direct their attention to the “good side” and to help them defeat the enemy.  Sometimes the gods were perceived to be so angry that some cultures even went to extremes by offering other human beings in sacrifice, all to appease the angry gods.

But the living and true God changed things forever.  Instead of demanding sacrifice to appease his anger against humanity – for which he has much justification! – he sent his only begotten Son to be a sacrifice to appease an angry humanity.  In Jesus, it is God who offers the ultimate sacrifice in order to bring us peace.  This was not an act of a huffy god who demands that those who offend him offer something valuable to appease him.  This was the greatest act of love, God giving us an amazing gift we did not deserve, in the hope that this self-offering of Jesus, the High Priest, would open our hearts to receive his love and thereby have the ability to love exquisitely in return.

Yet, if God offered his only Son in sacrifice to appease an angry humanity, why is humanity still so angry, so divided?  It cannot be denied that we live in a world of factions and divisions, one against another:  Republicans and Democrats are no longer two political parties with different perspectives who work together for the good of the country and of the world; instead they have become bitter enemies, one demonizing the other at every opportunity.  There is so much bullying on social media that it even leads some to suicide.  We have racial tensions, and sometimes rather than trying to live with and appreciate differences, we demonize those who are different, dividing the world into victims and oppressors, heroes and villains, so that wedges are hammered in between us rather than bridges being built.  Much of the world grows in prosperity and wealth, while another significant part of it sinks deeper and deeper into debilitating poverty.  Our families, which are meant to be schools of unconditional love, have become places of competition, or worse, of seemingly benevolent neglect of each other.

If one great sacrifice has been offered once for all by God offering himself as a sacrifice for us, why are we not appeased?  Perhaps it is because we have forgotten that putting God first and loving him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength means that we ourselves can no longer be the center of the universe.  We often make ourselves gods, thinking that each individual has the right to decide what truth is, when life begins or ends, what gender we will be, what is right and what is wrong.  We become angrier and angrier when the rest of the world does not bow down to us to offer proper homage, and so we become more wrathful and more destructive.

This is why we Christians are called together here.  Yes, we can certainly become involved in the diabolical silliness of self-deification, but at least we have the light that God has shed on the world, the light of true, self-emptying love.  At least we have the example of the true and living God whose love does not so much demand sacrifice of us, but invites us to awe and wonder at the sacrifice he has made for us.  At least we know that if we put the love of God first in our lives, we will be so overwhelmed by such great love that we will want to empty ourselves and love our neighbor – even those we often find so difficult to love.  We will even want to lay down our own lives in sacrifice.

Jesus proclaims, not only with his words, but with his very life, this new paradigm, this new perspective, this new way of looking at life.  He does not demand what he himself is not willing to give, and he laid down his life for us in sacrifice, acting as both priest and victim.  It is this new commandment, this new perspective, that our world needs so much, because then we will lower ourselves to see those who disagree with us as sisters and brothers.  We will joyfully empty ourselves to share the good things we have been given – whether our goods, our time, or our talents – with others who are in dire need.  We will still have our various affiliations and opinions, but we will be more respectful of others, even if we know they are wrong, and will thus be better able to live and work together.

To love God above all things is a challenge, but we are sent to witness to the world that it is a great blessing, because God has first loved us so much that he sacrificed himself for us.  Knowing and celebrating this great gift can only make us want to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to bring healing and peace to the world.