Homily for 3rd Sunday of Easter - Year A 2017
As you drive around, I’m sure you have seen how a lot of churches use their signs out front to come up with catchy slogans or funny anecdotes. Maybe you’ve seen some like this:
· “There are some questions that can’t be answered by Google”
· “Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him”
· Sometimes they have an unintended meaning like this one: “Don’t let stress kill you – let the Church help!”
One church on French Road near my parents' house once had this one: “Our God allows U-turns. “
I was reminded of that sign when I was reflecting on the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They had just witnessed the execution of the “one that they had hoped would redeem Israel”, and they were leaving Jerusalem – maybe even fleeing Jerusalem – certainly confused, perhaps in fear. But then they encountered Jesus – and their encounter of the Lord caused them to make a U-turn, to go back to Jerusalem, to face whatever it was that was waiting for them there.
I see this U-turn in my ministry at Collins Correctional Facility. Just last Friday night I was once again visiting with some of the men inside who have decided to turn their lives over to Jesus. Some of them have done some pretty awful things – but because of their encounter with the risen Lord, they too have made this U-turn, to turn their lives around and face the difficult choice of walking as a disciple instead of their previous way of life. The conversions I have seen in that facility have amazed me, encouraged me, and touched my heart.
Some inmates in our country, however, are deprived of this opportunity for conversion because their lives are taken by capital punishment. Thankfully, we have suspended capital punishment in NY, but if you have been following the news you know that there have been 4 inmates executed in the past week in Arkansas – the first executions in 12 years. Ledell Lee, Marcel Williams, Jack H. Jones Jr., and Kenneth Williams, were all executed by lethal injection in Arkansas – and the hurried pace was the result of the fact that one of the drugs that they use in the procedure was due to expire at the end of this month.
Our US bishops have called for an end to the death penalty since at least 1980 – most prominently in a document from 2005 called “The Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death”. They remind us that, in their words, we need to “abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life”. They go on to say that we must promote “a culture of life in which our nation will no longer try to teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill. This cycle of violence diminishes all of us.”
Pope Francis said this a couple of years ago: “Today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed. It is an offense against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person…It does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance”.
But in spite of the teaching of our Bishops, in spite of the strong opposition to the death penalty of the last three Popes, and in spite of the fact that Jesus was the victim of capital punishment, half of the Catholics in the US still support the death penalty. Half!! We need to make a U-turn of our own, away from the path of fear or revenge, or a misunderstanding of justice, or whatever causes us to support capital punishment.
Our bishops have called us to conversion and have suggested that we do four things:
1. Pray for victims of crime, those facing execution, and those working in the criminal justice system;
2. Reach out to the families of those affected by violent crime by bringing Christ’s love and compassion;
3. Learn about the Church’s teaching on capital punishment and educate others;
4. Advocate for better public policies to protect society and end the use of the death penalty.
Our God does, indeed, allow U-turns; and we who have encountered the Risen Jesus are called to turn away from capital punishment and to turn instead to embrace mercy, to embrace forgiveness, to embrace life.