This has been a rough week. Most of us learned on Sunday morning of the horrific attack in Orlando, which shook the LGBT community and indeed our whole nation. “With his tenure in office marked by terror attacks and mass shootings, President Obama has reached a sad but remarkable milestone in his presidency: He has ordered the lowering of the nation’s flags to half-staff more often than any president in history. (One has to respect our President for being our mourner-in-chief, for truly mourning with us)
“On Sunday, Obama extended that unenviable streak even further, ordering all flags at federal buildings and ships at sea to be flown at half-staff to honor the 49 victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting. Those flags (remained) at half-staff until sunset Thursday, meaning that the nation (spent) most of National Flag Week…with the stars and stripes in a mournful pose.”1
The shooter’s stated allegiance with ISIS seems meant to obfuscate his hatred of the LGBT community and his own struggles with his sexuality. We may never know the true motivations of the shooter in Orlando, outside of the deep, boiling hatred of a horrible individual. We now live in a world in which one horrible individual can, on his or her own, do incredible damage, damage that can only be confronted not individually, but by all of us as a community.
And yet we as individuals, and our individual responses, are what make up our community response to to things both tragic and wonderful. Our Gospel lesson today dealt with this reality in an interesting way.
“Peter’s profession of faith—“You are the Christ of God”—has often been examined in terms of his own vocation: his calling, his primacy among the apostles, his later failure, and his loving encounter with the Risen Lord.
What is less often investigated is the reality presumed by Jesus’ question. His words reveal something startling about God. They also reveal something wondrous about us. “But you. Who do you say that I am?” This, much more than the opinions of the crowd, is Jesus’ central interest. He is pre-eminently concerned with the judgment and affirmation of the individual person standing before him. Thus, if we take Peter to be a representation of each of us believers, it becomes clear that what Christ wants of us is our own unique affirmation. No one else can offer our act of assent. All of us have our own hearts to give freely away. This is what God seems to cherish most about us.
“When Christ asks each of us, “Who do you say that I am?” he exposes the extraordinary character of our being. We persons are able to know our own relationship to the (the Lord and to) world, to possess it, and then to confer it upon others.”2 It is that very relationship with Jesus that not only compels us to confront the evils of this world, but gives us the power to do just that.
But first, who do you say Jesus is? If you follow Peter’s lead, if you yourself proclaim Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, then you too must bear the weight of the cross of the violence in our communities. The response to that weight, perhaps put to simply, is love. But just as the grief in Orlando is not abstract, our love cannot be abstract, it must be love in action: weeping with those who weep, caring for the lost, fighting and healing the hatred that separates us, reaching out to others in the Name of Christ.
We are in this together, responsible for one another. What we do here today, in witnessing the baptism of Emry James, couldn’t make this any more clear. We, as a group of individuals made family in Christ, will pledge to uphold him as a member of our family, to show him what a life of faith looks like, to teach him that, despite all of our differences, hatred is anathema to who we are and who God is.
This has been a rough week. Almost everyone I’ve met up with is looking for answers, a way to understand the world we live in and how to make it better. I don’t have all those answers, but I do know where understanding begins and where healing starts. It starts at that font and at this rail; it starts with who you say Jesus is, and what that means to you.
2John Kavanaugh, SJ: http://liturgy.slu.edu/12OrdC061916/theword_embodied.html