November 24, 2007. The day Mizzou beat Kansas to become #1 in the country. The greatest sporting event I’ve ever had the privilege of attending. The next day a bunch of friends and I piled into a car to drive back to campus in Columbia. One of these friends admitted that when she was in Kansas she wasn’t sure if she should have gotten out of her car in her Mizzou sweatshirt when filling up for gas. Whether or not to show off or to be afraid for her safety. This sparked a great debate amongst us. It was decided that I as the lone legacy, a third generation Tiger, should consult a higher source. My father. When we called he simply asked, “Why is she even filling up with gas in Kansas?”
Today’s second reading includes a word we don’t hear often in the Bible and certainly not in our everyday speech. Enmity. It means being hostile towards one another, it is the opposite of being friends, enemies, anti-friends, if you will. I think it’s fair to say there’s a good deal of enmity between Mizzou and KU.
That enmity is nothing new. The MU-KU rivalry doesn’t own enmity. We first hear the word used in Genesis. When God says that as a consequence of original sin, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” So we see that it’s something that’s been around for a long time.
It’s so easy to look around and see how divisive our current climate or society has become. There is so much division, so much enmity.
We could take the defeatist attitude and say that enmity will never go away, and that since none of us are perfect, our broken and flawed humanity will allow it to continue. In contrast, the question arises of what we are called to do as Catholic Christians?
Do we continue to perpetuate that enmity, division and hostility? How easy it is to go on Facebook or twitter and get sucked into an angry debate that solves absolutely nothing and just gets you even angrier and creates more division. I’m not saying we shouldn’t stand up for the Gospels, I’m just asking can we do so in way that doesn’t promote enmity. Perhaps even worse, unfriending someone just because they think differently than you. That’s right, now because they think differently than you, you don’t even want to know what they ate for dinner last night. Even off social media, the way that we hold onto grudges at work, or even in our own homes and families, allows for enmity to grow. Think about those small things that over time become giant wedges and separations, keeping us apart.
A few years after that famous Mizzou-KU game, I was moving into my dorm at Conception Seminary College. At the time everything that I owned was black and gold. (Now I just stick to the black). I noticed as went back and forth from my room to my car that everything the guy next me was unloading was blue… Eventually we looked at each other with fear and dared to ask the question, “Did you go to Kansas? Did you go to Mizzou?” So we sat down and talked and we had remarkably similar stories. We were both high school athletes, we both wanted to be sports reporters. So much was the same except for that one, very important detail.
We said, “Look, I’ve pretty much been raised to hate your guts. But I recognize we are both here for the same reason. To discern our call to the priesthood and follow Christ. So we can spend the next two years hating each other, or we can help each other to grow.” So we came to an agreement, “Only on game-days!” By the grace of God, Six years later we were both ordained priests, in part because of our support of one another.
When St. Paul uses the word enmity in today’s second reading, he doesn’t use it the same way as it’s used in Genesis. So instead of God placing enmity between us, Paul says that Christ has come to tear down the walls of enmity and to bring peace. This is why Christ is called the New Adam, because he destroys, he undoes, the enmity brought about by Adam and Eve in Genesis.
Christ came to take away enmity, so we could have peace. How are we living up to that standard? Certainly none of us are perfect and the enmity will persist, but shouldn’t we be striving to get rid of it from our lives and promote peace on social media, in society, our workplaces and our homes? Is there a grudge with a friend or family member we’ve been holding onto for too long? Christ died on the cross so we can let go. Or do we let enmity continue? We are called to promote peace, not enmity. But how?
The easy answer is, “Don’t do it!” Yet we all know that’s easier said than done. St. Paul tells us that it is through the Cross that Christ destroys enmity. When we gather here at the Altar, we gather at the Cross. Perhaps in the Eucharist today you might find the courage and the strength to tear down the walls of enmity that exist in your life. For Paul tells us that it is by flesh that the dividing wall of enmity is torn down. That same flesh we receive in the Eucharist. Have the courage to seek reconciliation and peace. The Eucharist can give you the courage you need to pick up the phone and call that person you’ve been avoiding for so long. Likewise, it can give you the strength to resist the temptation to dive into an argument on Facebook the next time the temptation arises. It’s why Christ died on the Cross. I know you may think that the wounds are too deep, the grudges held too long, the divisions too wide. Remember God’s love is infinitely greater than any enmity that we place between one another. Anything is possible for God. He even got a Mizzou and KU fan to get along and follow the call to the priesthood.
Immaculate Conception Church
July 22, 2018 A.D. – 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B
*As always these homily texts are representative, as I deliver my homilies without text or notes, and naturally there are variations from Mass to Mass.