21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Rock, paper, scissors. Simple. Easy. Uncomplicated. Some say it’s a game of skill; some, a game of chance. Historically, its roots go back to the Chinese Han dynasty between 206 BCE—220 CE. They may have used other hand gestures to represent different things to form a universally agreed-upon pattern of win and loss. But the process and resolution are unarguable, unless the hand gesture is unclear. I have since discovered that there are many organized competitions and at least one world tournament involving 128 countries. It was even used once in a court of law to settle a trivial dispute in Florida in 2006. Clearly, it’s bigger than I imagined.

Now for most people, the game is self-explanatory. Children can understand it and pick it up easily. However, an episode of the TV show “The Big Bang Theory” introduced us to a slightly more complex version of this time-honored game of chance, originally from Sam Kass, an internet blogger. Rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock. Dr. Sheldon Cooper explains it best. “Scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock, rock crushes lizard, lizard poisons Spock, Spock smashes scissors, scissors decapitates lizard, lizard eats paper, paper disproves Spock, Spock vaporizes rock, and as it always has, rock crushes scissors.” I am not going to repeat it. Google it yourself.

Now like most people, I much prefer a quiet, calm, and stress-free existence. Also like most people, I do not actively seek conflict or pick fights. But clearly, chaos and the troublesome forces that lurk around in the dark will not leave us alone. Nor can we resolve our challenges using methods that depend on luck or chance. We have to take sides. It would be so much easier if we were all on the same side against the darkness. But as recent events have shown, such is not the case. So in a world of much confusion and controversy, we cannot rely for success on chance or luck. And it would help very much if the path forward was always clear and reasonable, and if we had strong, compassionate, and capable leaders who would bring us together and lead us out of confusion and controversy. Only if. And as with all our fantasies and pipe dreams, we still have to wake up and return to reality, where life is neither quiet, nor calm, nor stress-free. Some of us might need medication to help face anxiety. But even that alone will not resolve the challenges brought on by chaos and the troublesome forces that lurk around in the dark. It helps to be calm and focused and level-headed when dealing with crisis. And we will still need strong, compassionate, and capable leadership.

With the death of Bishop Francis DiLorenzo last week, the Diocese of Richmond is without a shepherd. Msgr. Mark Lane who served as Vicar General under Bishop DiLorenzo was elected by the diocesan consultors and is now acting administrator. His main job is to keep essential services going, and to prepare us for the bishop that the Pope will send. In the meantime, much across the diocese is on hold. Whatever requires the action or role of a bishop is suspended. But I assure you, the work of our Building Committee continues. There are some things for which we will eventually need the new bishop’s approval, but for now we continue with what has already received approval.

The exercise of leadership in the church of Jesus Christ has through the ages at times been strong and at times turbulent and controversial. I suppose that is due to the flawed human element that it must involve. But the assurance we have from Jesus Christ, our true Shepherd and Leader, is comforting and encouraging. We know we do not have to face the chaos and the troublesome forces that lurk in the dark alone. Now, we will be shaken by danger and violence and war and political upheaval and natural disaster; and sometimes there will be casualties, and sometimes the casualties will be staggering, and sometimes the danger will hit close to home; but we have assurance from our true Shepherd and Leader, that his church is built on solid rock. Everything else around us may sway violently in the crosswinds of political sentiment and popular opinion. But we place our confidence in God who is mightier than any storm.

Although much depends on the actions of our leaders, ordinary people like ourselves are not powerless in the face of danger and violence and war and political upheaval and natural disaster. We are all aware that Hurricane Harvey came ashore on the gulf coast of Texas just before 10:00 PM late last night at category 4 strength with top sustained winds of up to 130 mph. We cannot ignore the reality that there will be extensive damage and loss. State officials were responsible for providing communities along the path of the storm advance warning and assistance with evacuation and emergency shelter. But families and individuals have to play their part as well. And we who are nowhere near the danger can offer help in many ways. We can support the Red Cross and Catholic Charities, which I’m sure we will be taking up a second collection for in the coming weeks. Those affected by the storm will be offered hospitality by friends and relatives in unaffected areas and other states. Nearby cities and towns will likely do something similar. And as the storm rages, which I hear will take longer than most, there will be much more damage and loss. So when the storm passes, the difficult work of recovery and rebuilding will then begin.

We cannot prevent storms. They are part of our reality, like mosquitoes and seasonal allergies. But we can minimize their damage by not losing our focus and our confidence. As well, we can reach out to those who hurt with compassion and kindness that we might help ease tension and encourage healing. We are most certainly not powerless. So in the face of evil and error, the assurance Jesus gives us today is not some fantasy magic formula that we just need to wait for and watch, that the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against the church founded on the rock that is Peter’s faith. Instead, each of us is encouraged like Peter, to build our faith and our lives on the rock that is Jesus Christ himself. The rock of Peter’s faith is unshakeable because Jesus Christ on whom Peter’s faith depends is unshakeable. Many storms have come and gone—heresies, religious wars, persecution, anti-popes, the sex abuse scandal—and many storms will come at us still, but the rock that is Peter’s faith still stands because Jesus Christ will not leave us to face chaos and darkness alone.

Some years ago, I got to visit the tomb of St. Peter under the main altar of the basilica named after him at the Vatican in Rome. He was a simple fisherman, flawed as we all are. But the church Jesus Christ founded on his witness of faith still stands, a testament to what God can accomplish with imperfect tools. We, too, are imperfect tools. And God can accomplish wonders with our help. Nothing about it will depend on luck.

Rolo B Castillo © 2017