NOT A JERRY SPRINGER EPISODE: SURPRISED TO BE RELATED
Here is my homily for the FEAST OF ALL SAINTS - November 1, 2009. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/110109.shtml. Thanks for reading and all your feedback! God Bless - Fr. Jim
James Crowley - Henry Gates. You hear those names and for a majority of people, they sound like regular names - like John Smith. There might be some familiarity. You might say “where have I heard that name before?” but for the most part, unless you’re really focused on the news and have a great memory, most people, probably don’t really recognize those names.
If we add a few details though, for example that James Crowley is a Police Officer and that Henry Gates is a Professor at Harvard University, it’s a good bet that their “name recognition” would increase. Especially since, this past summer, both men were pretty prominent names in the news. For those who might not remember, Henry Gates, had been returning home from an international trip. He and his driver were having difficulty trying to open the front door of his house. A concerned neighbor called the police thinking that she was witnessing someone trying to break into the house. When Police Sargent Crowley arrived to investigate, Gates, who is an African-American, accused him of racial profiling. Tensions escalated, words were exchanged and well, as they say, the rest is history. Things got even more contentious when President Obama was asked about the incident at a press conference and characterized Gate’s arrest as “stupid.” After that, something that had already been controversial in the media became even more so. The police officer, his union, and many law enforcement personnel all came out in support of Crowley. Gates had his own supporters. It seemed to bring to the forefront debates about whether white people and black people can understand one another’s perspective. Things seemed to be boiling out of control. You might remember that things seemed to come to a conclusion with what was being called “the Beer summit” - where the President invited both men to sit outside the White House on the porch, have a beer and talk.
With a media that is constantly out to out-scoop one another, a story came out that didn’t catch a lot of people’s attention, but was incredibly fascinating. In the midst of the daily coverage over this incident (you can tell how slow the news was over the summer) ABC news discovered something. They reported a story with a headline saying “Harvard Professor Gates, who is Half Irish, related to Cop who arrested him.” The story told that Gates had discovered after having his DNA analyzed in 2008 that he was descended from an Irish immigrant from the 4th century. James Crowley, ironically is descended from that same line. You’d have to imagine for these two men that had to be pretty surprising. Here you have a white Irish Cop and a Black scholar. In so many ways seemingly coming from completely different worlds. As things became more and more contentious, the thought that they must have absolutely nothing in common with each other and that one another had no idea what the other must go through, think, experience on a daily basis must have gone through their heads. And for the most part, had there two paths never crossed, as they did in this unfortunate encounter, they could have gone through their lives thinking that. You could almost imagine the cop working a shift, maybe driving on patrol passing the professor walking to a classroom, never imagining they had anything in common with one another.
Yet in this amazing “coincidence” - they turn out to be distant relatives. True maybe their not like second cousins or something, but it had to surprise them at least a little bit, don’t you think? Perhaps this knowledge helped ease their tensions with each other. (Well, probably the beer from the beer summit helped too) But when people discover some connection to one another, it seems to be able to break down walls. Maybe it’s not something like a DNA test proving a connection of centuries to some Irish ancestry like it was for Crowley and Gates. Maybe you’re talking to a co-worker or a classmate and discover you’re from a neighboring high school or that you’re both Italian. You both are Yankee fans (and both hate the Phillies) - up until that moment you might have never perceived one similarity between each other - but now that you discover a connection, it’s hard not to appreciate that connection and feel differently. You’re able to stop seeing the differences so much and see something similar to each other.
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. And like so many things in our faith, we often misunderstand what it’s all about. We often look at these Saints just as really holy people who we have nothing in common with. These are holy people who love God and God loves them. They’ve died, they’re in heaven - they got it all together, while we focus on how we struggle. We think, hey it’s great if I get to Mass on Sunday , what connection can I have with the saints?
The reality is, today’s feast is meant to remind us, (or perhaps it’s sudden, new, shocking information to us) that we’re related to these Holy people. By our Baptisms we’ve been joined into God’s family, which is why throughout the Mass we refer to each other as brothers and sisters (not something we should be limiting just to Mass, by the way, but that’s something for another day)
So the Saints are in a sense our older brothers and sisters. Men and women like you and me. Who in their day and age struggled to be good people, holy people. Tried to find God in their lives and the world around them and to respond to his direction and activity. Which is why we had the Gospel reading we had today, Jesus Beatitudes. If we go up and down that list of all the people Jesus is calling “Blessed” - the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek (when have the meek ever been high on anyone’s list?) those who hunger and thirst (yeah them too) - would anyone of them consider themselves “Blessed?” Most of us when we experience moments of those things consider them “difficult time” or we’re “having a bad day.” But what makes a saint a saint is that they understand they are “blessed” not because it’s great these rough things are happening, but because they remain absolutely convinced that God is with them through that. And they pick themselves up, they struggle and try to live that reality in the face of those trials.
And the world notices them. Even with our 30 second- attention spans - names like Francis of Assisi, Therese of the Little Flower, Augustine, from hundreds and thousands of years ago somehow resonate in our memories. And more current heroes like John Paul II or Mother Teresa witnessed to us that saying “no” to the way the world operates and “yes” to the Lord is possible.
And there’s so many others that come in and out of life that might not elicit the global attention like those Saints, but there holiness impacted our lives. I can think of relatives, friends, or good holy priests who affected my life. I’m sure you can too. This feast day calls us not to idolize them from afar but to see our connection, see our relationship, see how we’re related to them. Our older brothers and sisters call out to us to recognize how God is active and present at all times in all things. In the joys and the sorrows - when we are mourning, when we are comforting those who are mourning - and everywhere in between. Our older brothers and sisters are encouraging and rooting for us too, looking for that banquet, that heavenly “summit” when we will be united together for much more than a brewsky in the sky - rather God’s eternal banquet.
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern