Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude Mostowik

Solemnity of Pentecost May 31, 2020

In 1938, Albert Camus expressed his concern that as preparations for the World War II were underway, the number of victims grew, and as fear spread, the Church seemed unconscionably silent. When it did speak out it was obtuse or abstract.

He said bluntly:

For a long time during those frightful years I waited for a great voice to speak up in [the Church]. I, an unbeliever? Precisely. For I knew that the spirit would be lost if it did not utter a cry of condemnation when faced with force….What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could arise in the heart of the simplest person. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the bloodstained face history has taken on today. The grouping we need is a grouping of people resolved to speak out clearly and to pay up personally.

One might wonder if many church leaders have been silent or obtuse in any leadership offered during this pandemic excerpt to have churches reopened. To hell with people who might be infected with the virus. It seems that many people on the ground have had more to say and more to witness to the presence of Covid-19. The locked doors in the gospel, ecclesiastical lockdown, are more about a mentality where people duck and weave, lie low, run for cover or look over their shoulders when things get hot.

We have seen septuagenarian politicians standing before us, with other people of power, bravely announcing decisions that have negative repercussion on people. We have seen it with the current pandemic. It also happened with the USA withdrawal from the Paris Accord and Iran Treaty on nuclear weapons. More recently, the USA has withdrawn support for the World Health Organisation. Australia has for years ignored refugee laws. It is called the national interest. As I write we are celebrating the 5th Anniversary of Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ with its call for ecological conversion. In Australia, the USA, Brazil and other countries we witness egotistical stupidity, human rights violations and ecological terrorism that will have repercussions on future generations. Their actions say, Who cares? To hell with children everywhere. To hell with the planet.

Though many of these call themselves and believe they have received the Holy Spirit, they do not hear the Pentecost message that Jesus gives. For them, it is:

  • Before all else, be separate; be individuals;
  • God only cares about us;
  • There is no such thing as the common good;
  • The goods of the earth only belong to those who can pay for it or steal it;
  • Our country above others in God’s eyes;
  • Despise the stranger and the one who is different or ‘other;
  • Neglect the poor and ignore the suffering of others;
  • When threatened retaliate and destroy the enemy rather than befriend him or her.

On this Pentecost Sunday, every baptized and confirmed person should be outraged at the hypocrisy. We should leave the patriarchs in lockdown and get out of the upper room into the streets with the Parthians, Medes, and the Elamites.

Pope Francis has continually reminded us that we are interconnected. The readings today tell us about human unity, mutual responsibility and care of the most vulnerable. The present global pandemic has wreaked havoc on so many lives. But in many places, people have tried to unite in the common efforts of care and concern as death tolls. Gaping holes have been created in the fabric of human life regardless of race, creed, economic and ethnic background, orientation, gender or class. Many have come to see that despite our diversity and different social and geographical locations, we are all one in this common global pandemic experience. The invitation is for us to reach deep within ourselves to discover what truly binds us one to another. It is not pandemic that bonds us but the Spirit within all creation, all life, all people. Pentecost needs to be a way of life, something lived out, not an annual celebration. Without realising that we, and all living things, are one, peace is not possible.

The long list of peoples named in the Acts of the Apostles emphasises that everyone is included and that all are loved by God and the Holy Spirit is a living Spirit that moves the community from fear to fearlessness, from faltering to faith, from powerlessness to passionate power. Diversity became a blessing where people previously maintained and protected their differences behind walls of ethnocentrism. Nothing was lost by becoming one with all others.

The Spirit transformed individuals into an inclusive community that went out into the streets. Paul in the second reading reminds us that we are all members of a single Body of Christ - whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, woman or man. It is about ‘justice’ not ‘just us’.

But, God does have favourites. God has made a ‘preferential option. ’ The preferred ones are those who will suffer most due to climate change. God has made a ‘preferential option’ where the welfare of some is put ahead of others.  These preferred ones are the very ones who suffer most at the hands of the powerful with climate change, pandemics, pollution, loss of diversity, poverty and other forms of inequality such as poor education and health care. These preferred ones are the victims of ‘empire’ and capitalism. When Jesus shows his wounds to the disciples we see where his preference are. His scars reveal that he is still tortured by what empire can unleash upon the most vulnerable on our planet. By showing his wounds, Jesus says, ‘Whatever you do to the least in my family, you do to me’ (Matthew 25). This contradicts the attitude expressed earlier, ‘To hell with children; to hell with people of colour and strangers; to hell with asylum seekers; to hell with those who bear the brunt during this pandemic; to hell with the planet, to hell with the poor who will be the first to suffer from climate change?’

What begins in that upper room must be completed in the streets. The good news of the Resurrection must go public. Otherwise it loses its power and relevance. Taking to the streets requires living out the inclusiveness of the Spirit. The lines of nation, race, and culture cannot limit this movement. When Jesus breathed the Spirit upon the disciples they realised their responsibility to become agents of the new creation – as we are too - and bring forth justice, to transform social policy, to be a life-giving force, and liberate us to move beyond human failure into light and peace. That Spirit must also make us aware of incongruities, inequalities, and injustice in our community. We cannot see them if we are looking to the heavens!!! (Cf. last week’s first reading) 

Jesus’ footprints are still on the earth – they now become ours. The Spirit comes in different places, different circumstances and different people with fullness of life and healing. The words filled with Spirit were spoken from the margins of the Roman Empire. They continue to speak from the margins of our world. All in all we are engaging in the practice of justice where lies, cover-ups and denials seem to prevail. All are words to do with life, peace, freedom. The Jesus who comes with the wounds in his hands, feet and side reminds us that the Spirit will take us into those places of suffering in our world and that those places of suffering call forth from us our compassion and touch.

Fr. Claude Mostowik msc

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