Every generation must change the system…through gentle strength and presence


Every generation must change the system…through gentle strength and presence

Our Gospel finishes today with a blunt message: “if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. But the one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the presence of my Father…”

What does it mean to “declare yourself for Jesus Christ in the presence of men?”
Does it mean to stand on the street corner and shout “I believe in Jesus!” = NO
Does it mean to knock on doors and ask: “Have you found Jesus?” = NO
Does it mean to go to Mass each week and be a member of the choir (etc.)? = MAYBE

For the “YES” possibilities I’d suggest there are many. We only have to look across the border and reflect on the courage of the Ugandan Martyrs, and many martyrs since the Resurrection.

But how does that touch us today? For ordinary people, doing ordinary things, how do I “declare myself for Jesus” in the presence of men and women today?

For students at school, it could be standing up against a bully to defend another student.
For older youth: visiting and supporting an orphanage or repairing homes for the elderly.

It could be visiting the sick and lonely; joining a prison visitation group to encourage prisoners.
At work, it could be mum or dad refusing a promotion to spend more time with their children.

But, I think the Gospel calls us to go beyond these examples. So many of us say we are too busy to challenge politicians with letters or protests, by visiting their office or organising a group to march for one ideal or another: I suggest you reflect on Judges 9:8-21 (google it).

I’ve been watching the growing protest movements happening around the world right now: many of them calling for a social change of racial issues and Police heavy-handedness.  In some ways I’m happy, but in other ways I’m worried.

When Jesus says to stand up, He didn’t say to bring guns or petrol bombs; He didn’t say to kill or destroy other people’s property: that is just evil; Jesus also said to respect and pray for our leaders, which includes our Police.

It has caused me a lot of sadness to see ordinary Police mistreated and attacked. It saddens me even more when many of us remain silent about that – including myself.

Jesus Christ brought a message that is pro-life: so any time we stand up to defend the life or the basic rights of other people we are standing up for Jesus.

St Paul says in today’s lesson: “Sin entered the world through one man, and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned.”

This text can also remind us that the actions of one good person can change a whole community: I’ll never forget the impact and courage of the lone Chinese man who stopped tanks during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Never doubt that your actions to “speak up” against evil can have a great impact. Of course, the impact is faster and more effective if a large number of people join in; but we should not wait for “all the others” to join us. People prefer to get on a train is already heading somewhere, rather than sit on a train that is staying at the station until it is full.

The First Reading reminds us of the challenges faced by the Prophet Jeremiah:
“All those who used to be my friends watched for my downfall,” Fear of being rejected by friends or colleagues at work, can stop us from doing what is right. The only way we will have enough courage to stand up alone, or to support others who stand up for truth and goodness, is to BUILD a faithful relationship with God: to be encouraged by the Word of God and strengthened by the Eucharist. Build is in capital letters because it takes time.

Fear usually makes us focus on the immediate negatives of an intended action. However, when we focus on the good that will come, it makes it easier to start: just think of the sufferings our mothers endure to give birth to us: it’s really painful, but they focus on the baby not themselves.

Jesus was thinking of us. Jeremiah was thinking of his people in Israel.  St Paul was thinking of the new Christians. Who are you & I thinking about?

It’s easy to blame others for keeping quiet, eg, our politicians, our parents, police, etc. but let us lead the way, and others will join us. With one warning:

Violence and condemnation of others is not the way to bring positive and lasting change: what is needed is: presence, listening, respectful dialogue and sacrifice things precious to us. This was evident in USA this week, when a black man carried an attacking white man to safety.

By Gerard Conlan, OMI