Fr. David’s homily September 4, 2016.

Slavery

I don’t know if you’ve been following the Georgetown University story. Georgetown is one of the great universities in our country, founded by the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1780. Presently the university is uncovering its role in both the use of and the sale of slaves beginning in the 17th century. Over the course of 150 years the Jesuits owned hundreds of slaves. In1838 several hundred of these slaves, men, women and children, were rounded up by the churchmen and transported first by wagon, then by ship to plantations in Louisiana. The sale of this slave labor: men, women and children, generated revenue to support the ministries of the Jesuits, including Georgetown University. Racism, hypocrisy and brutality are part of the history of Georgetown and the Jesuits as they are of America itself.

And here I strike my own breast and the breast of my American Franciscan brothers. Franciscans, led by Brother Junipero Serra, the founder of the missions in California, from San Diego to San Francisco, used the labor of the native Americans to build these missions. They were the slaves of the Franciscans, forced to be baptized, their native culture and religion banned.

A report was issued just last Thursday (Sept. 1) by a task force set in place by Georgetown, entitled: “Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation.” It’s a credit to the university that several steps are being taken not only to repent of the sins of their past but also to make reparation to the descendents of slaves whose names the Jesuits have meticulously preserved.

What has this to do with the Word of God we hear today?

The second reading today is one of the most beautiful writings in the New Testament. It’s taken from Saint Paul’s letter to his close friend, Philemon. It seems as if slavery was practiced by the early Christians. Penalties for runaway slaves were severe, not unlike the penalties imposed by slave owners in our own country. In this case Paul has befriended a runaway slave, Onesimus.
He writes to Onesimus’ owner, Paul’s friend, Philemon, and he begs Philemon to take Onesimus back without punishing him. He writes: “I’m sending him, that is my own heart, back to you.” You see, Paul is aware of the law and while he could have kept Onesimus, yet he knew that would be wrong. And so he pleads for mercy. “Take him back,” Paul writes, “don’t treat him as a slave but as a brother. Welcome him as you would welcome me.”

Paul wants Philemon to see the big picture, the big picture of another human being deserving of mercy and kindness. The big picture means that we keep our lives in perspective. That’s what Jesus means when he says: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Literally, of course, it’s repugnant. I thought we were supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves? Even more so, how important it is to love one’s family.

Jesus, once again, is talking about keeping our lives in perspective. The word “hate” he uses means precisely that. It doesn’t mean rejection. It means that while we love our families, there is also the human family. “How big is your world?” he asks his hearers.

The Georgetown history is our history. Fr. David Collins, a Jesuit who led the Georgetown task force: “Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation,” writes: “Slavery is our history, and we are its heirs. America would not be America except for its deplorable history of slavery. There will be no ‘liberty and justice for all’ until we understand that, not just Georgetown University, and the Roman Catholic Church, but we as a nation.” (NYT, op-ed., Aug 31, 2016)

Indeed. When the temptation arises to make harsh and unwarranted judgments about our African American brothers and sisters, the words of Paul to Philemon resound. “Take him back, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved…as a man and in the Lord. Welcome him as you would welcome me.”

David J. McBriar, O.F.M.

 

Reading PHMN 9-10, 12-17

I, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus, urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment; I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary. Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.

Gospel LK 14:25-33

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troop s he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”