My Dear brothers and sister in Christ
Peace be with you. If you are on Facebook or Twitter or any other kind of social network, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. In case you aren’t on the computer as much as I am or you’ve been living in a cave, the idea is that one of your friends challenges you to dump a bucket of ice water over your head in support of research to ALS or, as it’s commonly called, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. If you don’t want to dump the water, you can donate to the ALS Society in support of the research. Most people do both, donate and dump the water, and then record the dumping so that you can challenge other friends. It sounds like a good way to raise money for an important cause. About a week ago, I started noticing some of “those people” on facebook starting to critique it. By “those people” I mean the crazy Christian types who seem to think that every issue needs to be put under the microscope and turned into an us versus them scenario. You probably all know the type, the ones who put out a list of businesses on facebook that use “Holidays” instead of “Christmas” and tell people not to shop there. Or the people who put out voter guides almost exclusively based on the candidate’s position on abortion. THOSE people. They critiqued the ALS society for using fetal stem cell lines in looking for a cure. At first, I didn’t take too much stock in it. I mean, it’s just a silly fundraiser for a company trying to solve a frustrating mysterious illness…a fundraiser that has raised, according to one report, 94 millon dollars. Still, I didn’t want to say anything because I knew that, if I put a critique on my facebook page, it would get a firestorm of criticism like “The Pope says judge not. Why are you being so judgy Father?” Or, “My grandfather died of ALS. They should use whatever tool is at their disposal to solve this.” So, I said nothing. After all, lately I’ve had enough meetings, emails, and telephone calls from people who hate me. Why add to it on social media.
But then two things happened on Friday that challenged me. The first was that Archbishop Jackels spoke out publicly against the challenge because of the use of fetal stem cell research. Fetal stem cell research is basically creating human life for the purpose of farming it for what we want and, in the process, killing it. Archbishop Jackels encouraged the priests, deacons, and all people to speak out against it. The second was a video that not only pointed out the use of fetal stem cell research but also pointed out that only about 70% of what you donate goes directly to research into curing ALS. The other 30% goes to pay the Board of directors who each earn between one hundred and four hundred thousand dollars.
As Christians, this can often seem like a very challenging world. Oftentimes, we stand on the opposite side of issues with the majority of people. Whether it’s gay marriage or immigrant children crossing the border for a better life or the use of fetal stem cell research, we often clash with friends and family who would rather follow a political party or whatever Oprah Winfrey says than the ways of Christ and his Church.
Our readings today offer us hope in this scenario. The first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah tells of a time when the Prophet felt kind of like I did for the first part of the week. Thus far in the book, God has asked him to speak out five times in warning to the Israelites about the upcoming Babylonian Exile. Either they reform their lives or they will lose the land God has given them. Each time he has done what God wants and each time people mock him and ignore him. So, he tries to ignore all the lawlessness and sinfulness around him and just be silent. But, then he can’t take it any longer and he has to speak out and warn them again. He feels like he was duped into a position of calling people to do what God wants and repent from what they have been doing when, instead, people are doing the exact opposite of God’s will and continuing to sin.
In the Gospel, Jesus begins to tell the Apostles that he must suffer and die but, unlike the prophets before him who befell the same fate, he will rise. For Peter, it is unthinkable that Jesus will die. Jesus is supposed to be the kind of leader that will unite Israel and make it a great nation again under his leadership. So Jesus has to rebuke Peter strongly and encourage him to get behind him or else he is acting in the same selfish way the devil acts.
Sometimes, as Christians we have to be “those people,” We have to speak out in ways that we know won’t be popular. We have to defend those who have no voice or whose voice is muted by the powerful. The purpose, however, isn’t just to be a contrarian or make people upset. Our sole focus needs to be doing what we know is right and the way we know we are doing what is right is if we are doing so, not for personal prestige or power or preservation of the status quo but because we want to follow God’s ways in the Church. What things in our life are challenging us today to get behind Jesus and follow him?