It is sad for me to admit that we are living in a time when we are not shocked anymore when someone runs an SUV through a shopping mall—or walks into a school or place of worship and starts shooting—because these have become daily events, and we simply cannot live in a state of shock on a daily basis. Although not shocked, we still lament and grieve that our life together is like this, and so we can resonate easily with the words of the first reading today. That text from the prophet Habakkuk began: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help, but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and clamorous discord.” Funny, isn’t it—we identify so well with words spoken by someone 2,600 years ago. It seems that some things about the human condition never change.
But the text goes on to say: “Then the Lord answered me and said: Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets… For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint.” When the prophet Habakkuk cries out in anguish because of the violence he sees, God says to him “Don’t forget about the vision!” Don’t forget the vision.
Anytime our world is shattered… anytime our self-understanding is challenged… anytime our philosophy is life is attacked… anytime our life starts to fall apart—we have to put things back together in a way that makes sense to us and integrates the new experience which caused the disintegration. This was happening to Habakkuk, and God says to him, “Don’t forget the vision I have already given you”. And in our hearing of this reading today, God is speaking the same message to us in a violence-prone world: “Don’t forget the vision I have given you”. It is because some are tempted to return violence for violence, with revenge as their only motivation, that remembering the vision God has for us is very important at this time.
In preparing for weddings I have over the next few weekends, I came across a wedding homily I kept because of its poignancy. The wedding took place just one month after the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks. Many of you will remember what an unsettling time that was for our country as we struggled to deal with the enormity of what had happened. During the homily I reminded the couple that, while their love for one another was felt very intensely between themselves, the sacrament of marriage they were celebrating was a very public witness– a sign of hope that all of us were in need of those days. Their public vows reminded us of the vision God has for us. Part of what I said was this:
• Peter and Alicia, when we started planning your wedding many months ago, we could never have imagined the tragic events that would take place in our country only weeks before your wedding. Because of those events, in fact, Alicia’s parents were stuck in California and missed her bridal shower. The terrorism of those events is the context within which we celebrate this wedding. I mention this because this context creates even more poignancy for what you do here. The vows you will make in a few moments stand in direct contrast to acts of terrorism… in fact, what you do challenges and confronts every terrorist. Because terrorism evolves out of hatred and mistrust; it shows a lack of respect for human life; and it is intended to breed fear, and uncertainty, and a lack of hope in the future. The two of you are looking terrorism straight in the eyes and saying:” You may not respect life, but we intend to become co-creators with God of human life. Our love will be greater and will not be destroyed by your hatred. Our commitment of faithful, life-long love means you have not destroyed our hope in the future, nor has your fear or mistrust polluted our relationship.” All of us are very grateful to you both, because you are a sign of hope for many of us who are still grieving after recent events.
The drive from the church to the reception in downtown Baltimore necessitated driving through some worn-down city neighborhoods of poverty, where children still somehow manage to play in the streets and grow up. But one woman after that drive said to me at the reception: “It struck me today that many people have been living with terrorism in our own country for some time—we just haven’t seen it in that way. When mothers in these neighborhoods are fearful that stray bullets from drug-related gun fights may hit their children sitting on the front steps or even in their living rooms, it is like fearing a terrorist attack.” Domestic violence, racial tensions, abortion, mass shootings, drug-related murders, euthanasia, and hate crimes are all evidence of the violence and the terrorism we have been living with. These all evidence a destructive lack of respect for human life. And in the face of all that, God pleads with us saying, “Remember the vision—remember the vision I have for you!”
In the gospel today, the apostles implore Jesus to give them the gift of faith. And Jesus says to them that if you have true faith you have a great power. You may not see something visible, but you will see the results. It is like the love of one spouse for another, or the love of parents for their children. That love changes their lives deeply. It leads them to get up in the morning, and to keep going, to forgive injuries, and to persevere. That love leads them to act heroically, even on a daily basis. It can even prompt the offering of one’s own life for the beloved—as in the case of mass shootings when one family member protects another and winds up taking the bullet.
Faith is like that too. If it is rooted deep within a person, it can be powerful indeed, and can results in heroic deeds, even on a daily basis. This perspective in reinforced by the words of the second reading today from the second letter to Timothy: Beloved, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have… For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power, and love, and self-control. There is more than enough faith in every house of worship in this country to make a big difference. Our problem is that we have not always released our faith in service to God and others—we have not fully embraced our faith to do its work.
Jesus repeatedly invited us to experience the fullness of life. To be his disciple and to follow his teaching is to live in a culture of life, rather than the culture of death which so often surrounds us. The culture of death can be deceptive and even alluring for us at times—which is why we pray with the apostles in the gospel that eyes might be opened and that our faith might be deepened. The first reading from Habakkuk concluded with these words: “The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live”. That is the power of the hope in which we celebrate this Eucharist today.
Lord, help us not to forget the vision!