Easter Homily 2009

Grailville, Loveland, Ohio


If Easter is about anything, it surely is about hope. Jesus has conquered

death, that most powerful barrier of all against our human efforts to work

for a world of peace and justice. The kingdom he proclaimed will not - can

not - be prevented. The word of a faithful God that came down like rain to

soak the earth has not been offered in vain. It will not return to the heavens

until it compels our earth to bring forth life. He has won the victory.


And so we take up the hunt we have shared these many years. How do

we know the fruits of that rain? Where do we find it? Where are the Easter

people in our world?


If we keep watch for them, they suddenly appear before our eyes. We

might notice them right here in our city. The other night on TV we saw a

report of a woman who noticed a gap in the great work being done by our

shelters and drop-in centers for the poor. There is food, yes. Clothing, yes.

Blankets, yes. But what about that other essential so easily overlooked - diapers? So she rolled up her sleeves, badgered the owners of supermarkets, asked for

donations for corporations. And she has collected 1000's of diapers for

distribution to poor families. They fill her garage and home from floor to

ceiling.


My Easter present this year is the story of two very different Easter

people. One is a woman, one a man. She does the work of the kingdom in

India; he trudges along the streets of Los Angeles. The obstacles they

confront - and defeat! - could not be more formidable.


Ela Bhatt is a 76-year-old Indian lady, born of a privileged Brahmin

family. Educated as a lawyer, she might have settled for a life of privilege.

Instead she has devoted her life to the empowerment of women as in a very

pragmatic, Gandhian fashion. Against clear opposition she has built an

network of over 100 cooperatives run by women, They provide child care for

working mothers, and offer small loans and training so women can be self-employed:seamstresses and small farmers and artisans and even gas-station

attendants. Her organization offers health insurance and life insurance to over 100,000 women. Her micro-finance organization has 350,000 depositors using

small loans to become self-sufficient. And like Gandhi she herself lives

simply in a small bungalow. As one admirer put it:”In her personal life,

there is not the slightest hint of hypocrisy.”


And on the streets of L.A. there is Aqueela Sherrills. He’s certainly not a

Brahmin, He is a former member of a street gang. Like Ela facing the

imposing barrier against women in India, he set himself an equally daunting

task: to bring about a truce in the war between the most violent gangs in the

city, the Bloods and the Crips. Which he accomplished! After which his own

son was shot to death. As he walked the painful path of forgiveness, he

arrived at the idea that our world needs a reverence movement: that means

holding a perspective of reverence for the other even in the face of

confrontation. It involves intense self-critique and honesty. Let me quote

from one of his followers:

 

“Usually whatever the external thing is that we’re fighting, there is an

internal manifestation of it. For instance, I’m challenging the

incarceration industry. But there are ways in my own life that I’m

punitive and unforgiving. So I want society to be rehabilitative and give

people second chances, but I’m not that way myself. I think that people

who want to change society have a double duty . We have to be willing to

confront the warmonger within and without, the punitive incarcerator

within and without, the polluter within and without, the greedy capitalist

developer within and without. We have to really look at how we

are: combative, punitive, self-destructive, greedy; we’re passionate

about changing that in the external world, even as we enact it in our

internal world and in our relationships with each other.”


Instead of starting with “I’m going to change them and then I’m going to

change me” he says, “Well, I’ve got to change both them and me, and

probably the first step to changing them is changing me.”


I was reminded of the work of another Easter person, Msgr. Bob Fox. He

worked on the streets of Spanish Harlem in the 60s. When he would talk to

Catholics from the suburbs he’d ask: “How would you respond to seeing a

hooker in your path? The tourist says, “Wow! a real prostitute. This is the

big city. . . .” The ‘good Catholic’ says, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Then Fox would say: “What we ought to say is ‘There go I! I may not sell

my body, but I sell my self and my principles everyday for all sorts of

things: for prestige, for acclaim, for a higher position one the totem pole.’”

As one of Sherrill’s followers says, “Part of the struggle is to look at the

shadow side, the broken part of ourselves as activists in these movements

for peace and justice. We have to stop seeing that as a distraction from the

real work and see it as part of the real work.”


I don’t know whether either Ela Bhatt or Aqueela Sherrills ever speaks

of Jesus. But they are Easter people all the same, because they are people of

hope, but they are also people who bring the gift of self-critique to the work.

They have put aside their own egos to be present in care to their sisters and

brothers. They may never even have heard of Jesus. You know, he never

said you had to be a Catholic to do the work of the kingdom.


And it doesn’t have to be a grand cause, either. Jesus spoke of a seed cast

into the ground; that dies in order to give life. He spoke of leaven in flour.

He might just as well have spoken of diapers. (I heard they recently discovered a rare old manuscript of the New Testament. It turns out that there is an extra in the list of Beatitudes, number 6a: “blessed are they who only gather diapers for the poor.”) When one of the women in Ela Bhatt’s organization was asked what “freedom” meant to her, she said freedom was “looking a policeman in the eye.”


I leave you with a final gift. It’s from an Augustinian friend in South Africa:

“Jesus told the women at the tomb, “Go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’ If we go back to the Scriptures and remember all that Jesus did in Galilee, there’s some hints of where we will find him. We’ll find him where people are forgiven and reconciled, healed of what alienates them, lifted up and not put down, seeing and believing in the possible, and enjoying wellness of body, mind, and spirit. Christ indeed goes before us in the ‘Galilees’ of our everyday lives. Let’s hope that we’ll recognize him and know his Spirit is alive and well. Remember, he promised us that he’d go before us and meet us there! I hope you enjoy that meeting!”


Amen?

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