DEFAULT EMOTION: OUTRAGE?

Hi everyone! Here’s my homily for the 7th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - Feb 23, 2014. Today’s Mass readings can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/022314.cfm . As always, I’m grateful for all the sharing, posting of my blog on Facebook, Twitter, reddit - and for your feedback and comments. I’m humbled that the Lord may use me as one of His instruments in sharing His word. In Christ - Fr. Jim


HOMILY:

A couple of weeks ago, days after the untimely death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman - the prolific actor who had been found dead in New York City as a result of a drug overdose - there was an interesting article in the New York Post entitled "The Outrage Factory." Author Sarah Stewart pointed out that Hoffman’s death which raised a wide-range of emotions from fans being shocked, angry, sad – well thanks to the Internet, the collective feeling on the topic "found a way to return to its default emotion: outrage." She shared an example of how another actor had re-tweeted his feelings about Hoffman’s death saying: "Sad isn’t the word I’d use to describe a 46-year old man throwing his life away to drugs ‘senseless’ is more like it ‘stupid’ is another." Soon after there was a backlash against that actor as being insensitive, cruel, and stupid himself for not understanding that addiction is a disease.

Reasonable people can probably see that:

- Obviously the death of a young actor (being 40 years old now - 46 seems young to me!) is sad...

- Drug addiction is horrific and has claimed way too many people’s lives and destroyed many others, including the families and loved ones of the addicts (just a point, Hoffman did leave behind a wife and children)

- Yet, at the same time, some in our celebrity-centered press do seem to mourn the deaths of individuals like Hoffman or Whitney Houston as if they were tragic accidents with a sense of inevitability to them where people seem to distance anyone from having any responsibility for such terrible things.

But Stewarts point is that "reason" seems to be pushed aside as we allow ourselves to go to that "default emotion: outrage." As she put it: "In our age of ceaseless, monotonous outrage. Another day, another lone target for collective shaming. As I pondered one example after another from recent months, I kept picturing a stoning...[and how] these are high times for rock throwing." With each 140 character worded tweet (or worse, not even being clever ourselves and simply "retweeting"someone else’s thoughts) we’re not having debates or discussions - we’re growing more and more addicted to feelings of moral superiority over whatever the issue is.

That’s why extreme "outrage" based shows are as popular as they are. Doesn’t matter
This was one of the "tamer" illustrations which while highly
offensive demonstrates the point of the extremes
we find throughout the media
what end of the dial you turn to (figuratively or literally) - Whether it’s the Daily Show with Jonathan Stewart; HBO’s Bill Maher or one of the programs you find on Fox News - they often tap into issues, are selectively outraged about a topic or a person and feed into their audiences agreeing with them, going into a deeper snit and feeling "I am so much smarter and better than my enemies! They are soooo wrong, and I am soooo right!"

Sadly those types of things happen on a much more local level as well. Recently, my home parish’s Catholic school announced they were closing. It is sad news, and most definitely evoked a wide range of emotions for a number of valid reasons. While I can understand the painful feelings people had over the announcement, but reading the nasty, horrendous comments that were directed at the pastor; looking at that anger one thought that came to mind reading them was "if this is how the people of that parish or that parish school think, or act – well how Catholic of a school is it?"

And, if we’re really honest, you and I know we can look even closer, go even more local: look at our own lives, and see how this strikes even closer to home. A sarcastic word, a misinterpreted act, a snarky response - and people get angry, hurt, become embittered...How many friendships, families - relationships which were built on a heck of a lot more than one misstep, a legitimate mistake or even a bonafide hurtful act but then the sum of that relationship is "ended." How quick are we to allow relationships to be broken, ended, dismissed as "unforgivable" because we too fall back to that "default emotion: outrage"

You have to wonder if Jesus were on facebook or twitter if people would react like that to him as well... I was thinking just looking at tonight’s Gospel, can see Jesus tweeting: "I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." – That’s a nice twitter length message - Jesus still has about 70 characters to go! Would Jesus get slammed with responses like "Easy for you to say #Impossible #Hypocrites #IFYOUKNEWWHATIWENTTHRUYOU’DMINDYOUROWNBUSINESS"

Sadly he probably would - if not worse. But it doesn’t matter... For us, for us Christians, this Gospel we are given commands to LOVE OUR ENEMIES - TO FORGIVE THEM, TO TURN THE OTHER CHEEK– and Jesus is clear, they are commands... Jesus isn’t offering a suggestion for our mental well being; he’s not given us tips on "how to make friends and influence people" – he isn’t even guaranteeing that following this command will be "successful" in turning someone from making and doing awful things. While so often throughout the Gospels Jesus is directing us not to focus on ourselves but to be attentive to others - in this instance he is solely telling us to fixate on ourselves. Forcing us to ask ourselves:


How is our heart? Has it become embittered? Cold? Because if it has, what are the things we’re holding onto there? Fixated on? Obsessing over? Allowing to color our vision, our tenor, our response to other things? Because when we hold onto them, when we withhold forgiveness or don’t even attempt to be open to that possibility- that changes us. And not in a good way. Can’t help but think, how many people who referred to Philip Seyomor Hoffman’s death as "stupid" were reacting to people they knew who died similarly which is why it provoked such a strong reaction to someone who is a stranger to a vast number of us commenting on him?

What Jesus is offering us with this command is a way to experience the most powerful and ultimate gift of freedom... Think about it, "enemies" no longer having any hold over you... The pursuits and energy expended of trying to get even with or stewing over in fury angry at them and angry that we’re not able to do anything about it.

And the thing is, Jesus isn’t speaking about this from a philosophical perspective - like he’s waxing eloquently about something for us as His followers simply to do. He will intimately enter into this difficult task. He will experience it Himself. He’s foreshadowing his own Passion, Death and Resurrection. He’s inviting us to experience ourselves how sin will be ultimately defeated and the effects of sin are conquered. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see the Son of God - who is without sin, who is completely innocent - savagely, ruthlessly attacked and destroyed.

So often when I picture that scene, and try to imagine if it were me, I’d be fighting, I’d be yelling, I’d be ready to tear people down - try to turn groups against each other... All those natural, base emotions are there. Yes, I can see within myself, sadly the default emotion of outrage.

Yet, Jesus’ eyes are fixed solely on the Father.

It’s Jesus’ DNA to be united in the absolute Love of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy
Spirit. And so as his fellow brothers and sisters are doing horrendous things to Him, as people in the crowd are almost waiting, maybe even slightly hoping Jesus lashes back at them so that they can point and say "SEE, SEE - THERE’S A BREAKING POINT - THERE’S ALWAYS A BREAKING POINT!" That never happens... it never occurs. His last words directed towards his adversaries "Father Forgive them..."

Jesus isn’t blind to our pain. Or pretending that this isn’t hard to live up to - or even to consider it as a realistic option in our lives. But he’s trying to include us in the true power that comes from being one of his followers... To experience the freedom of the Risen One ourselves. To allow ourselves to be open to true healing; To letting go of some of the pain we’re holding onto. For some of us - that might seem impossible - the pain is too fresh, too raw, too real. And if that’s the case - he’s gently inviting us to begin simply by praying for the desire to forgive. But the reality is the Lord is clearly telling us we cannot be comfortable with outrage or anger or hate. Following Him means our default emotion has to be Love. Yes it hurts, Yes its painful. But it's the only way to truly be His.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fr. Chern,

I stumbled on your post and I liked it. I am about as lapsed as a lapsed Catholic can be, but you pointed out a salient facet of our modern society, one which does little to make the world a better place. Well done.

Thanks from someone in Japan

Fr. Jim Chern said...

Thanks for the feedback...

And don't forget in Christ's eyes, no one has to feel lapsed... His love never does.