Sunday, July 07, 2013

The POWER of God That’s Available to Us

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in the movie, "42".
The real Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey in 1950.
(Fourteenth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on July 7, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 66: 10-14c; Galatians 6: 14-18; Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourteenth Sunday 2013]


I came across a great article recently about the movie, “42”.  I’ll begin my homily today by reading to you a portion of that article.  It was written by Eric Metaxas, and it begins with these words:


A new film about Jackie Robinson, titled “42”—the number he wore during his historic career—tells the triumphant story of how the Civil Rights icon integrated professional baseball by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  But there's a mysterious hole at the center of this otherwise worthy film.

The man who chose Robinson for his role, and masterminded the whole affair, was Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford.  In their initial meeting, the cigar-chomping Rickey makes it clear that whoever will be the first African American in major league baseball will be viciously attacked, verbally and physically.  So Rickey famously says he's looking for a man "with guts enough not to fight back."  He needs someone who will resist the temptation to retaliate.  Robinson agrees to go along with it.

But where did Rickey get that crazy idea and why did Robinson agree?  The film doesn't tell us, but the answers to these questions lie in the devout Christian faith of both men.


Then Eric Metaxas gets specific as to why Jackie Robinson was chosen.  He writes:


For starters, Rickey himself was a "Bible-thumping Methodist" who refused to attend games on Sunday.  He sincerely believed it was God's will that he integrate baseball and saw it as an opportunity to intervene in the moral history of the nation, as Lincoln had done.

And Rickey chose Robinson because of the young man's faith and moral character.  There were numerous other Negro Leagues players to consider, but Rickey knew integrating the racist world of professional sports would take more than athletic ability. The attacks would be ugly, and the press would fuel the fire.  If the player chosen were goaded into retaliating, the grand experiment would be set back a decade or more.

Rickey knew he must find someone whose behavior on and off the field would be exemplary, and who believed "turning the other cheek" was not just the practical thing to do but the right thing.  In their historic meeting, to underscore the spiritual dimension of the undertaking, Rickey pulled out a book by Giovanni Papini, titled 'Life of Christ.'  He opened to the passage about the Sermon on the Mount and read it aloud.

We know that Robinson's passionate sense of justice had gotten him into trouble earlier in life.  But the patient mentoring of pastor Karl Downs convinced him that Christ's command to "resist not evil" wasn't a cowardly way out but a profoundly heroic stance.

When he met Rickey, Robinson was prepared for what lay ahead and agreed.  But it was a brutally difficult undertaking.  Robinson got down on his knees many nights during those first two years, asking God for the strength to continue resisting the temptation to fight back, or to say something he would regret.


Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey both experienced power in and through their Christian faith: the POWER to do the right thing; the POWER to deal with and to overcome hatred, racism and bigotry.  That’s a historical fact!  Unfortunately, that fact is largely ignored or glossed over in this otherwise excellent movie—with the exception of certain references to Rickey’s religious beliefs.  As Eric Metaxas put it, the makers of “42” decided to “pitch around” the issue, in the process doing a “disservice to history—and to the memories of Robinson and Rickey.”

I mention all this in my homily this morning because our readings today remind us that the very same power that Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson experienced in their lives is also available to us—and even more so to us, because as Catholics we have the sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist!

Isaiah said to us in today’s first reading, “The Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.”  Do we believe that?  In today’s second reading from Galatians 6 St. Paul said, “May I never boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ!”  Paul said those words precisely because he had experienced the power of God in his life most profoundly through the cross!  By the power of the cross he had been forgiven for his sin of being an accomplice in the murder of St. Stephen; by the power of the cross he had been forgiven for all the other sins in his life that he had repented of.  By the POWER of the cross he had just finished writing a very challenging message to the Galatians: he had told them some hard truths that many of them did not want to hear!  He definitely needed POWER to do that!  Then he ends the letter by praying that these Galatians will experience the Lord’s “grace”.  Grace, in a very real sense, is a synonym for God’s power.

And then we have this gospel story from Luke 10, where Jesus sends out 72 disciples to every town he intends to visit.  He tells them that their job is to prepare the people in those places for his arrival.  They’re to do that by preaching the kingdom and by healing the sick.  Now an interesting question is, “Did these 72 disciples really expect to be successful in their mission?  Did they really expect to be able to do the things that Jesus was asking them to do?”  I wonder about that because we are told in the passage that, when they came back to Jesus at the end of the mission, they said to him, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”

From the way that line is worded, it seems like these 72 disciples were surprised.  It seems like they really didn’t expect that to happen.  They did not expect to experience such power!

So what about us? 

Do we experience power in our Catholic faith?  Do we believe in the power of prayer to draw down the blessings of God into our own lives and into our world?   Do we believe in the power of the sacrament of Confession to bring us forgiveness for our sins?  Do we believe in the power of the Mass?  Do we really believe that when we hear the word of God proclaimed to us in the Scriptures at Mass, and then receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist—do we really believe that when we do those things we receive power: the POWER to live the gospel message faithfully, and to witness to our Catholic faith out there in the world?

Hopefully we do—hopefully we believe all those things.

And hopefully we always will.