“‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’” (Acts 14:22)(+)
About a month ago, 25 coal miners died in an explosion deep underground. So far underground that it would take them about an hour at the beginning of their shifts to be transported down and into the mines where they were digging.I remember Fr. Sen. Urban telling me many years ago about his dad.His father was a coal miner from the Anthracite region around Scranton.When Fr. Sen. Urban was appointed the pastor of our parish in Norwich, CT, he arranged for his father to get a job at a local shipyard.That couldn’t have been easy work by any means, but his father gave thanks every day for that job.He worked outdoors, above ground and by the ocean.Compared to working in the depths of the earth, it was paradise.
Just over a week ago an oil drilling rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion killed 11 men. The Coast Guard now figures that it is leaking about 5,000 barrels of crude oil a day into the waters of the Gulf, and they are actually thinking about setting the spill on fire.The oil slick covers an area the size of Rhode Island and they’re thinking about having to set it on fire to protect the environment on the shore.
With these events in our recent memory, the federal government finally gave its approval for a wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod and NantucketIsland.It has taken about nine years to win this approval, and there are still going to be a slew of law suits that could drag it on still longer.The windmills will stand 440 feet above the surface of the water, but from Nantucket they will look like specks on the horizon, and from Cape Cod they will appear to be a half-inch tall.But there are still protests that the windmills, which will provide something like 3/4’s of the energy needed for all of Cape Cod, that they should not be built because they ruin the vista of a beautiful seascape.
There are also Native American tribes that are protesting its intrusion on ancient and now submerged burial grounds.I appreciate the value of sacred places, but even in the small example of our church denomination, when Route 95 was being built, for instance, it literally went right over the top of our church building in New London, CT.My family and I were on that road last Friday and right beneath us was our church.Also, when they expanded the Scranton-Wilkes-BarreAirport, they needed to extend the landing lights for the lengthened runway.They ended up building these huge steel structures from the slope of the hill on which the airport sat down into the valley so that the landing lights would be level with the runway.Down at the bottom of that valley lays the cemetery of our Dupont, PA parish.The story in Dupont is that the long line of steel supports and the cross section that divides it, provides the largest cemetery cross in the whole National Catholic Church.And finally, I performed a funeral for a parish family, and the burial took place at the combined, relocated cemetery for all of those people who were buried in the small towns underneath what is now Quabbin Reservoir and who had to be disinterred and moved.
Sometimes progress can’t be without its problems and difficulties – even when those obstacles hit close to home and even when they hit close to church, but the greater good has to be kept in mind.The deaths of the coal miners so far underground and the deaths of those oilrig workers on platforms ever drilling deeper into the seabed, the pollution from burning coal and the ecological disaster caused by spewing 5,000 gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico every day, when all of this danger and destruction is compared with half-inch tall blotches on the horizon from windmills producing clean energy, well these have to be considered in perspective and then the greater good should be the option chosen.This is close to the idea of selflessness that we read about in today’s Lesson and Gospel.It can’t always be about the perfect solution or the most favourable.It should be about the greater good.
In today’s Lesson, Paul is retracing his steps and re-visiting churches that he has just organized.He’s checking on their stability and progress.And as he leaves these churches that are just getting their start, Paul encourages them and urges them to persevere saying, “‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’” Paul knows that their calling as first generation Christians will not be easy, but he emphasizes the greater good.Persevere, he says, for yourselves and for others.A recent study of religion in America found that much of evangelism centers on marketing, and marketing emphasizes the pleasant and appealing.Because of this many churches no longer speak of sacrifice and hardship, and this is building a false impression of the faith, it is building a church that Paul and those first generation Christians would not recognize.
Likewise, today’s Gospel comes out of the story of Jesus at the Last Supper.Judas has just been revealed as the disciple who will betray Jesus, and our Gospel selection begins as Judas has just exited the Upper Room.As soon as His betrayer is gone, Jesus turns to the others and says, “‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.’” (John 13:31)Judas is going to set in motion all of the events that will lead to Jesus’ crucifixion and death, and yet Jesus can look at the promise of His suffering and refer to it as His glory and God’s too.Jesus is revealing to us the greater good that through His suffering human salvation will be won and the separation between God and humankind will be erased, and He’s also revealing that in this act of God’s sacrifice that God is glorified.It is not only Jesus’ sacrifice and glory.It is God’s as well.God plays by the same rules we do.He’s not asking us to do something He wouldn’t do, but instead to become like He is, which is the very definition of holiness.
As Christians we are called upon to persevere, to look beyond our own personal situation and to envision the greater good that is possible through our efforts and even our sacrifices.We hope and pray that because of our faith we can play some part in building a better life and a better world not only for ourselves but for those around us, even if that means not getting everything we want or think we deserve.Our faith leads us to think about the greater good, not just my good.And in the long run we will all benefit from this shift away from selfishness and toward generosity.In this way God is glorified by our acceptance and imitation of His selfless nature, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.(+)