Orlando, Florida is still reeling over the shocks of the past two weekends. The first, as you recall, was the shooting murder of a young female singer. That was followed by the massacre of 49 people and the wounding of more than 50 others. And then, not even a week later, another tragic event in which a little boy, barely out of infancy, was snatched by an alligator and many hours later was found dead, his body still intact. All three tragedies are too horrible to imagine; but it’s the middle one, the massacre of the innocents, to which I’ve given much thought in the composition of this Sunday’s homily.
You know that the chosen place for the massacre was an establishment called the Pulse. It was there that adults of all ages would meet for conversation, drinks, music and dancing in an atmosphere of mutual acceptance so different from the suspicion and rejection and humiliation they were accustomed to experience because of their yet unconventional sexuality. They were gay men and lesbian women, bisexuals, trans genders, and questioning persons, all of them trying to find comfort and peace in their sexual identity. I doubt that anyone who does not have such a person in his or her own family or among their closest friends can understand what that means, how it feels. I assure you that, after my strict, puritanical, thoroughly “Catholic” sexual upbringing , it took me many, many years to unlearn and to adjust my thinking and my attitude toward what I had been taught to regard as deadly sin, eternally damnable in – quote – “the eyes of God.”
The shortest of today’s three ancient biblical readings, the one from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, couldn’t be more appropriate for these post-massacre days. He reminds us that in our baptism we Christians assumed a common identity that overrides our individual identities, down even to our sexual orientation. It doesn’t destroy our individuality; rather, it embellishes and enhances the uniqueness of each of us. Because of our baptism into Jesus, we are not cells or parts existing independently outside the body, but are instead vibrantly functioning within his body.
It is wrong, unjust, sinful to prevent anyone from being embraced by that union that we possess. It is wrong to reject any good person, however different from us. The hatred that motivated the Orlando shooter was aimed not merely at his fellow human beings, but at persons who were different from him in a way he refused to honor and accept. If we are wondering what we can do to prevent such tragedies from ever occurring again, I think this is where we should start. No, we can’t make radical or sweeping – or for that matter any — changes in the behavior of other persons; but we can contribute to the creation of a culture in which all of us more & more welcome the differences we see in each other. We can learn, by practicing, what a joy it is to discover unfamiliar aspects of other persons and then dialog with them with eager expectation.
Peace and security will come to us humans of the 21st century, not by government or church legislation, but by our individual and collective efforts to reach out to and to welcome all good people who in any way approach us. That’s the kind of inclusive society that Jesus consistently spoke about: an embrace so broad that it included even our enemies. No one can legitimately dispute that: it was the centerpiece of his gospel, the good news that he was proclaiming — the good news that, in fact, he was. Is this the year — the Year of Mercy — that we will take him seriously and stop trying to change or tone down his message? He explained his goal, his mission, so simply: that you will all be one as the Father and I are one, he said. And wouldn’t that be loverly?