When I studied abroad in El Salvador, I took a class on liberation theology, and it was up to us to create our own final projects. One of the suggestions was to write (and give) a homily (sermon), and I chose this. I was revisiting my files from El Salvador a couple nights ago and re-read what I had written. I like it a lot, so I wanted to share it. Not everything will make sense since I wrote it for a group that had a shared experience in El Salvador, but I'm hoping it will have some relevance for other people as well.
A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (Chapter 12)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peacably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
We Are Many Parts, We Are All One Body
by Amber McChesney-Young
May 4, 2007
A recurring theme for me, and I think for many of us, throughout this semester has been dealing with our privilege. Why do I have so much and they don't? Why do they have to work so hard and I don't? What do I do with the money, education, opportunities, and so many other advantages that I have and they don't? My privilege made me feel distant from the people here. I felt guilty and confused and angry. I kept asking myself what is my role? How can I help the poor when I, with my U.S. middle-class white upbringing, am so limited in my ability to understand their reality? But, as Paul says, we are many different parts of one body. We each play different roles with our different gifts, but we must work to support each other because we are one in the body of Christ. It's important to recognize the limitations of our contexts, but we cannot change where we were born or who are our families. What we can do is choose what we do with the situations and gifts we are given. We can recognize that our inequalities are unjust, and that our privilege over others is not right, but unfortunately change does not happen with a snap of the fingers or a click of the heels. We have to recognize where we are in our lives, what are our contexts, what are our gifts, and then what we can do from there. Maybe we don't have to completely understand each other to support one another anyway. The lung can never truly understand what the heart does, and vice versa, but that doesn't mean that they aren't each essential to the other. The fact is that we are all connected, and when one part of the body hurts, it affects the rest of the body. To me, this is what solidarity means. We recognize our oneness and live our lives according to this.
The key to solidarity, I believe, is humanizing everyone. We recognize the inherent value of every member. We understand that everyone is a child of God with equal dignity. This is easier said than done. Our U.S. society and culture are not based in soldarity. They are based on individualism and self-advancement, including, and usually, at the expense of others. We dehumanize people who are distant from us—geographically, socially, or economically. An Iraqi citizen is far less human to us than a college student in Virginia. An old homeless man dying on the street is far less human to us than a child from a wealthy family suffering from cancer. Paul says "Do not be conformed to this world." Our experience in El Salvador has helped unconform us by turning the Salvadoran poor into our friends. It has humanized them. They're not just poor people, they are Joselin, Angelica, and Teresita. They are very real people. Paul says, "be transformed by the renewing of your minds." Now that we are preparing to return to the U.S., this message is especially important. When we return, we must remember the humanity of the Salvadoran people and all the peoples of the world. We have to remember that an undocumented immigrant is not just an immigrant but could be Lupita's sister, Amilcar's father, or someone we stayed with in the campo.
It's easy to get caught up in thinking about what divides us, but in reality we are incredibly connected. Remember how a couple weeks ago Sr. Peggy told us that we inhale approximately 30,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms of argon every time we breath, and that's the same argon that Ghandi breathed, that Romero breathed, and that Jesus breathed. We are constantly breathing each other in. We depend on each other for sustenance and life. We laugh and cry and sing, just like people all around the world. We are one body in Christ.
Finally, I want to touch on the last sentence of the reading: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." We've seen a lot of evil in El Salvador, and when we return to the U.S., we will see a lot more. It's really frustrating, and I've found myself feeling hopeless a lot of the time. But we can't give up, because if we don't do anything there's no chance of making any progress towards justice. We need to respond to evil with love. You can't overcome evil with more evil. We must remember that we are all sisters and brothers, and if we live our lives in consideration of every person's dignity, we can make a tremendous impact. We have to use our gifts to serve the body as a whole, always remembering every person's humanity.