6 May 2012
“[Peter] said to [Jesus], ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘[Then] feed my lambs.’” (John 21:15) In the name …
I get in my car everyday, but I don’t know much more about it than where to put the gas. I like to watch some television before I go to bed at night, but again, besides turning it on and picking a station, I don’t know how the thing actually works. And it gets worse the more technologically advanced something is. I barely know how to save a name and phone number on my cell phone never mind trying to use any of those apps I hear people talking about. I grew-up doing school reports with an encyclopedia. Now you type any thought that momentarily crosses your mind and Google can find millions of pieces of information for you in less than a second. To me that’s almost miraculous. If the world was hit by a cataclysm tomorrow and I was one of the few left to rebuild civilization, I would have nothing to offer. We’d have to start from the Stone Age all over again. I can maybe bang a rock against another rock to make something, but I couldn’t pass on any knowledge about replacing 99% of the stuff I need and use every day. We get used to them without understanding them. It’s like they’re magic.
That’s a workable arrangement if there’s someone else who is responsible for making sure that things do what they’re supposed to do. I’m still amazed, for instance, when I’m driving down the road and those big cargo planes from Westover are just sitting in the sky. They look too big to actually stay up in thin air. But it doesn’t matter if I don’t know how they work, but if a guy like Eric Dibrindisi, who maintains those planes, doesn’t know, then there’s a serious problem. Now let’s switch gears. We’re at church. We’re the house of God, the body of Christ, the community of believers. The church is not a building. The church is the assembly of baptized people. The church is us. And if the church is us, we can’t act like disinterested spectators watching a cargo plane sitting in the sky. The church is our business, our responsibility. We have to know how she works. We can’t shrug it off on someone else. That’s one of the lessons I’m learning to appreciate even more from this year’s Bible study discussion of Second Corinthians. There were no spectators in the earliest church. They understood church was up to them.
And before any of us start thinking that church is just what we do when we get here or what the priest does at the altar, I want to jump ahead to November 6th. On that day when everyone of us who is 18 and older will be encouraged to go to the polls and vote, when the polling stations will see large crowds because of the presidential election, we here in Massachusetts will also be confronted by the ballot question on death with dignity or as it is sometimes called physician assisted suicide. Now this is not at all like the much-covered suicide this past Wednesday of Junior Seau, the professional football player. There may have been physical conditions that constrained his ability to make rational judgments and the way in which he died was lonely and gruesome. Physician assisted suicide is a whole other animal.
I hope between now and November we’ll all know the details of how death with dignity should work. There are powerfully motivating rational arguments on both sides of this issue; there are powerful moral arguments on both sides of this issue. And when you enter that polling station, you are going to be confronted with a choice. Church will be on your shoulders at that moment. The moral responsibility of this matter is an example of the church acting in the world, of you acting in the world. At that moment, the responsibility of church is solely your own. It can’t be avoided because it will be decided with or without your input. But how do we approach our preparation for such an important endeavour? Do we want somebody in the church to tell us how to vote? I’m sure that this will be done from some pulpits. I won’t do it. I’ll be glad to hold discussions on the topic to help us find our way through this moral maze, but I will not tell anyone how to vote their conscience.
You know, when anesthesia was invented a century and a half ago, some church leaders were opposed to it. They argued that the pain of an operation was the will of God and that it should not be interfered with by humans. We have to be careful of this quickly repeated easy-argument about the human intrusion into the will of God, but there really are substantive arguments for and against this ballot measure. And I also believe that these kinds of questions are going to arise ever more frequently as science advances. What will we rely upon to make our decisions if we don’t take our responsibility as church seriously? If the church’s arguments are persuasive, she’ll convince. But if all she can do is state edicts, then it must be because her arguments are not all that convincing. So we are left with the responsibility of being church, of knowing how she works.
This is why church may be entering an age where she is more important than she has ever been before because it is a struggle to hear Christ’s voice in these complicated issues, and we need each other. Last weekend we read the Gospel where Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. This weekend we hear the resurrected Jesus share-out that privilege of the shepherd’s responsibility. Three times He asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times we hear Jesus commission Peter to feed my sheep. This isn’t just about Peter or it would have become irrelevant long ago. So when we hear these words today, they’re meant for all of us. If we love Jesus, then it becomes our responsibility to act the shepherd, to care for God’s people, and as we read last week, even for those who do not belong to this fold. November 6th makes clear that morality thrusts itself upon us everywhere. It can’t be avoided or segregated into church buildings. This is going to challenge us to know why we believe and what we believe as never before, and this is going to be our opportunity to grow in the faith and to increase the faith. That we may be up to this challenge of shepherding all God’s people, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo