30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 23, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
As most of you know,
I was born, bred, schooled and gainfully employed until the age of 31
in the Great State of Texas.
Texas is a unique state, with a unique geography, tradition and, above all history
–a history filled with colorful characters and dramatic events.
Perhaps the best known of these is the story of its war for independence,
especially the Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio, my home town,
and its great heroes:
James Bowie, William Travis, Davy Crockett and Sam Houston.
So, as you can see, I am a proud Texan.
But when I moved to Virginia 25 years ago to study for the priesthood,
I had to admit I had come to a state with an even more remarkable heritage.
In all honesty,
Texas’s colorful history pales in comparison
to the illustrious history of Virginia,
and Crockett and Houston are midgets in comparison
to the giants of Virginia, like
Patrick Henry, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson,
and, of course, George Washington.
Virginia has been a tremendously important state in the history of our nation,
and therefore in the history of the whole world.
And there can be no doubt that individual Virginians
have profoundly changed and shaped that history.
But Virginia and Virginians
also have a terrible stain on their record:
200 years ago they supported an institution so horrible
that today we Virginians, and all Americans, still feel the guilt:
the despicable institution of slavery:
the treatment of a human being
as less than human
and so without any basic human rights or dignity.
How could such a great state with great statesmen
ever support this inhumane institution?
Well, you can come up with lots of explanations:
different times, the effects of culture, the economics, etc.
And you can argue that while Jefferson and Washington
seemed to truly want to eliminate slavery, they found it impossible to do so
without ripping the fragile Union of States apart
losing their historic chance to establish
a government truly of “We the people.”
But then…why did they continue to own their own slaves
—Washington only freeing his in his will, Jefferson not even doing that?
Of course, again, there are lots of reasons,
and I’m well aware of them so please don’t come to me after Mass
to educate me.
And understand me: I am not trying to knock down these giants
—their great and noble historical achievements stand for themselves.
But no matter how we look at it, no reasons and no historical anomalies
eradicate the fact that slavery is—and always has been—
a grave moral evil.
And as great as these men were, no one could convince me that in 2016
Virginians would ever elect a Thomas Jefferson or George Washington
if they were around today
and still supported slavery.
As we know that one stain was not isolated in its effects,
as it corrupted the whole society of the first part of the 19th century,
warping the economic, social and political systems,
eventually leading to over 500,000 dead in a bloody civil war,
which was followed by another 100 years
of the hatred and oppression of racism
that we bear the scars of even to this day.
All because certain states and even certain great men in those states
refused to recognize a particular class of persons as human beings
with basic human rights.
In 2 weeks Virginians, along with all American citizens,
will vote in our national election.
But sadly, this year’s election has been so marred by inexcusable failings
of both major party, presidential candidates
that many folks are very confused about who to vote for,
and may not vote at all.
Both candidates are grossly flawed, as I said last week:
“A plague on both [their] houses.”
But let’s try to put this in perspective.
First, the last election that wasn’t plagued
by negative campaigning was the election of George Washington,
who ran unopposed, and was universally revered.
But when Jefferson ran against John Adams in 1800,
you’d be shocked to read the accusations of crimes and gross immorality
that were publicly thrown around by both parties.
But more importantly, whether we like it or not,
one of this year’s deeply flawed candidates will be our next president.
And so, we have to find some way to determine, really,
who is not as bad as the other.
Now, we could go through each issue, and each scandal, trying to figure that out.
But in this election, that’s so hard to do,
since the scandals on both sides are so horrible
and it’s difficult to tell exactly where the parties stand on the issues,
and which issues are more important than others.
But what if there was one issue that we could see
exactly where both parties stood,
an issue that almost by definition outweighed all other issues put together?
For example, what if one of the candidates
seemed to have all the right answers,
but one day came out saying
that a certain group of people are inferior to others,
not fully human beings with fundamental human rights.
Who in their right mind would vote for him or her,
even if he or she was the 2nd coming of George Washington himself?
The thing is, there are candidates around today who say this very thing,
and not just in the presidential race, but also our congressional races.
But this time the group they target is not people of African decent,
but people of every color and ethnicity
who have only one fatal defect:
they are simply unborn baby human beings.
The issue is, of course, abortion.
Imagine if a Candidate came out and said black people were not persons
and defended a white man’s right to choose
to treat a black man as his property…or to lynch a black man.
The whole country would be in an uproar,
and no one would vote for that candidate.
Why don’t we have the same reaction to a candidate who says
that unborn babies are not persons with rights,
and that pregnant women have the right to
treat them as their property and even the “right to choose” to abort them?
Yet, that is what one candidate is saying in the presidential election
–and what her running mate
and all the candidates from her party running for congress in Virginia
are saying as well.
At last week’s debate, she even defended her vote in the Senate
supporting partial birth abortion
—in other words she thinks it’s okay to abort a healthy baby
who is 9 months full term,
as it is coming out of the mother’s birth canal,
She stood there and defended this barbarism!
While her opponent, amazingly cogently for a change,
defended the dignity and right to life of unborn babies,
and promised to appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices
the Democratic party that once supported slavery,
now supports abortion,
while the Republican party that was founded to end slavery
is now committed to end abortion.
Is it “ironic”—or merely “fitting”?
Jefferson and Washington were great men,
and they gave birth to a great state and a great nation.
But what made them great was the founding principle,
carved into the foundation of our history by Jefferson himself, as he wrote:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident,
that all Men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty,
and the Pursuit of Happiness….”
But in denying those self-evident truths as applying
to Africans and their descendants, those otherwise great Virginians
undermined the very thing that made for greatness,
and led our nation, our state, to disaster.
And the same stands true today as candidates present themselves to Virginians
denying the self-evident truth—the “unalienable right…to Life”
when it comes to unborn babies.
How can you vote for them?
And how can you stay home and not vote against them?
In today’s gospel, we encounter the self-righteous Pharisee.
Now, the Pharisee seems, in many ways, a very good man:
he was not “greedy, dishonest, [or] adulterous”
and he fasted twice a week, and paid tithes on all his income.
But he was also guilty of the sin of pride,
and blinded by that pride he couldn’t see the other sins he was guilty of,
unlike the penitent tax collector who, humbly saw himself as he truly was.
How many otherwise good Christians in the 18th and 19th century
were blinded by either
their noble ambitions for our nation
or simply by greed
or by a prideful sense of both a moral and natural superiority
over the black race,
and so defended the practice of slavery.
How blind were Thomas Jefferson and George Washington,
to the great inhumanity called slavery?
How blind are we Virginians today to the great inhumanity called abortion?
Virginia is a state with rich traditions of noble courage,
and great heroic figures that forged our great nation.
Even so, too many Virginians of times passed, including our greatest heroes,
were blinded by their times, culture, and fears,
and, yes, even blinded by their hopes for the future of America.
But, as time would tell, their hopes could never be fulfilled until
“all men” were truly treated as “created equal,”
and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,
…Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”
On Tuesday, November 8, I pray that we Virginians
will live up to what was best in our forefathers.
But I pray also that, by the grace of Jesus Christ,
we may see what they were so unpardonably blinded to.
I pray that we will all be true heroes, authentic moral giants,
defending the unalienable rights of all human beings,
especially their right to life.