Baccalaureate Mass Homily
Rev. Jude DeAngelo, O.F.M. Conv., University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry
Great Upper Church, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
May 13, 2016
“Shelter in place.” As a university community we have received that command on more than one occasion over the course of this year. “Shelter in place.” These words give rise to different emotions in different people. For some, the phrase brings anxiety and fear. For others the phrase, “shelter in place,” is heard and their fear is supplanted by a sense of security that someone is looking out for them. Regardless of the emotions that these words evoke in you and me, it is a command that we should follow so as to remain as physically safe as we possibly can in a crisis situation.
However, I think that these words, “shelter in place,” can also be used to describe some of the anomalies of our time. For instance, in this age of technology we seem to be fostering generation after generation of people whose primary means of social interaction is a computer or iPhone that contain, programs and applications like, texting, “Facebook”, “snap-chat” or “group-me”. We can even add Emojis to convey or to cover our emotional response to a particular pseudo social interaction. We have replaced physically seeing the genuine smile on an actual person’s face with a symbol of a yellow circle with two dots and a line turned up at both ends. I’m just old fashioned – probably too old fashioned - because I do not think, 6 red hearts in a row and two stick figures standing next to each other followed by a cartoon of the setting sun can ever convey the genuine emotional and spiritual experience of two real people in love standing side by side, with their hands joined, gazing at the sun’s splendid display of glory just before it disappears behind the distant mountain as twilight whispers to all that night is near.
The misuse of technology has allowed many people to shelter in place as they control who they talk to and when they talk to them. I have seen entire families sitting together in a restaurant, sheltering in place; parents and children not engaging in meaningful, face-to-face conversation but, rather looking down at their iPhones and using their soon to be evolutionary altered thumbs to control a conversation in another part of their self-contained world. Sheltered in the i-cloud, these family members don’t have to risk face-to-face conversations about life, dreams, goals, their opposing baseball teams or even the plans they have after dinner. They can avoid disagreements. They do not need to face awkward silences or angry looks. But, in their individual shelters they also miss, the tear in the eye, the genuine laugh, the hand stretched out to be grasped. And, they miss out on the opportunity to feed one another with life and love.
The over use of technology is not the only area that causes us to retreat into a cocoon of isolation. We are told to be afraid of the world in which we live. Our politicians, our entertainers, our news reporters and, yes even some of our religious leaders foster a fear of this world which drives many people into their private shelters filled with a month’s supply of dehydrated food and stock piles of guns and bullets. As they isolate themselves in shelters prepared for some future Armageddon, they no longer risk communicating with those who share our common home. How many of us know the names of our neighbors’ children or who in the neighborhood lost a job? Many people are afraid to ask a neighbor for a ride to work because they wear a head scarf or English is not their first language.
As fear of the “other” builds in our society we are told that building walls, and gates and steel doors will make us feel safe again. But, I believe those walls and gates only encase people’s fears until those emotions can no longer be contained and explode in acts of violence. You see, when the shelters we build have no room for the “other” we give into the fear that grips our western culture. When social isolation is the preferred option of existence it only breeds contempt for the other and eventually to the disregard for the other as a human person. And, where there is disregard for our brother or sister as person we no longer see our common humanity. This contempt, this disregard of the other’s humanity is a subtle form of violence that goes unnamed in our culture but it is a violence that is more rampant than we care to admit.
But the love of Jesus Christ calls us to leave the shelters that enslave us and to be free of the self-imposed violence of isolation and despair. As Christians who have been educated here at The Catholic University of America you cannot shelter in place even as people retreat from the Gospel commands of justice and charity. As Catholics we must feed the lambs and tend and feed the sheep. We are called upon to spread the Good News that Christ lives and triumphs over fear and sin. The Savior alone is the source of the Christian’s hope - not the rhetoric of pop cultural icons who promise greatness and security at the price of denying the dignity and respect due to every man, woman and child God has created.
In Christ Jesus there is no distinction between an “us” and a “them.” In Christ there is only an “us” and a “we”. “In Him we live and move and have our being” and “we come from every race and tongue and from every people and nation.” As Catholics, Christians and all people of good will, the Kingdom of God is the only true shelter we have and that kingdom has no boundaries. His Kingdom is not a shelter of one particular place nor, does it need walls to keep others out and others in. The Kingdom of God lives in you and me and as Catholics we hear and obey Jesus’ command, the same command He spoke to Peter, “Follow me.”
As bearers of the Kingdom we are not foolish or naïve. But, we don’t allow our minds to be contained in immature, gated thoughts which seek to scapegoat other people. We know that we can and will be bound at times against our will by the tragedies of modern living. But, we will not have our true freedom held captive by fear and hatred. We will never lose hope in Christ Jesus who has conquered sin and death. We have come to know and believe that if our world is ever to be a place of justice and peace we must literally feed others and tend to their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. We must follow Christ into the breach of war zones and dysfunctional neighborhoods and broken lives and bring the message of hope by our actions, our resources and our prayers. As Christians we must grasp the hand of our brother and sister who have lost faith and hope and proclaim our conviction that life in Christ shatters the darkness of ignorance and fear.
So members of graduating class of 2016, I remind you, “do not be afraid” and “do not shelter in place.” God is your shelter and only heaven is the believer’s place for rest. Live today and every day as members of the household of God. Throw open the doors of your heart. Feed others, tend to their needs and follow Him – the Way, the Truth and the Life - Christ Jesus our Risen Lord. So do we shelter in place my brothers and sisters? No, we follow Jesus into our world and build His Kingdom of justice, love and peace.