Je Suis Charlie
11 Jan 2015
“And the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13)
In the name …
I really wanted to start off this morning’s sermon with something light. Last Sunday was all about the ice and then we spent last week in Arctic cold, which continues today. As I told people on my Epiphany home visits, “God has a great sense of humour.” My first night out blessing houses and the wind chill was 20 below zero. And God smiled. I planned to share with you a little something from our Diocesan Youth Outing of last weekend. Fr. Sen. Rob taught the kids about Epiphany by pretending he was back in our seminary in Scranton. He did so by having the presenters hold up pictures in front of them as masks. There was a Bp. Bilinski, Fr. Sen. Krusienski, Fr. Sen. Rob and one of myself. See, this is where it’s too bad if you’re sitting way in the back instead of up here in the good seats. I don’t know if you can see this or not (*). I’ll ask one of my acolytes to pass this back to you in a little bit. I hope my cameraman can zoom in on this picture. I have no idea what I’m reacting to that caused me to make this face, and I have no idea how my buddy, my ex-pal, Fr. Rob found this picture. But it wasn’t long before people were asking, “Who could love a face like that?” I told the kids that Sharon’s eyesight isn’t too good.
And I wanted to use this picture and the question asked in good natured joking of “Who could love a face like this?” as my introduction to 1 Corinthians 13 and the early church hymn to Christian love. Because no matter what we look like, no matter who we are, no matter how different, strange, popular or beautiful we may be, no matter what would cause someone, anyone, to ask the question “Who could love a face like this?” the answer is always Jesus. And not only Jesus; the virtue of Christian love means that all of us who believe in Jesus are supposed to try and love like Jesus loves. Last week on the Sunday after the New Year I talked about why that Mass was celebrated in red, the colour of the Holy Spirit. As the New Year begins we make the deliberate move to walk forward with God beside us. The next week, today, the church asks us to read 1 Corinthians 13, the hymn of Christian love. This is our annual reminder as the new year gets under way of what it means to walk beside God: “Faith, hope and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.”
But then Wednesday happened. Two brothers marched into the office of a French satirical magazine in Paris, sought out the editor and some cartoonists, and then in cold blood killed them, and the whole while they shouted out “God is great” and that they had avenged Mohammed. They murdered twelve innocents because of cartoons about Mohammed – because of cartoons. Their faith convinced them that murder was a righteous act because of cartoons. This reaction would be a satirical cartoon itself if it weren’t for real. The visceral reaction of the French people and others throughout the civilized world was to come out of their homes and offices to stand united against this kind of religious insanity. When I first read the news about these murders, the pictures of the crowds caught my eye, and sometimes your eyes can play games on you. They can make you think you are seeing something familiar that isn’t really there. The name of the French magazine is Charlie Hebdo, and the people who gathered by the thousands held up signs that read “I am Charlie” in French. I don’t speak French; it’s unfamiliar to me. What my eyes thought they saw, in the instant before I could think about what I saw, were signs that read in English “Jesus is Charlie.” That picture is on the bottom of your song sheet this morning. Slip one extra “s” in there and you have “Jesus is Charlie” in English.
I know that’s not what it means. In French it says, “I am Charlie,” and it means that all of those people were standing in public squares in solidarity with the ones who were murdered. But I still can’t help to see the words “Jesus is Charlie” every time I look quickly at that picture. I think it symbolizes for me the contrast between fanatics who kill while yelling out “God is great” and the Jesus who inspired today’s hymn to Christian love. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says these words: “‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’” (25:40) This magazine satirizes all religions, including Christianity. Charlie Hebdo was not a church publication by any means. At Christmas, they made fun of the baby Jesus and Mary, but even so Jesus was there with those twelve. Jesus loves not because people necessarily deserve it, but because love is His very nature. He cannot not-love. This is a religious teaching that religious fanatics cannot understand. “Jesus is Charlie” because what we do to others we do to Him, and this is why yelling “God is great” while killing innocents is the very definition of blasphemy.
But this morning’s Lesson is not only about the way Jesus loves. It’s about how we are supposed to love like Jesus. We live in a fractured world. I fear what it means when we emphasize more and more the differences between us rather than trying to work based on what is shared among us. Politicians are a horrible example of what we should be. I dislike the distinction of red and blue states. The divide of wealth and opportunity is growing and is dangerous. Long before “In God We Trust” became the official motto of our nation, there was E pluribus unum, from the many, one. We celebrated our diversity and wouldn’t let it fracture us. That’s part of the message of Christian love. I started off with the joke about “Who could love a face like this?” But that Jesus looks past the surface and that Jesus looks for the good and the possible, is why He can love a face like this. That’s the definition of Christian love, and that’s what we need to strive to imitate. Religion can become something horrible and destructive and that’s why we need to pray to better understand and live by the words: “And the greatest of these is love.” For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo