Fr. Leonard Klein's 9-11-11 Homily ~The Obligations of the State are not the same as those of the Church or of the Individual

In the 6 years we've been attending the Traditional Latin Mass, we have had priests that are truly gifted with their homilies. There are more than a half dozen priests in my small diocese that can say the Latin Mass, praise God. (More, interested and training!)

In the time my family has attended, we've been there to note five of them. We began with an old, Italian priest, Fr. Roberto Balducelli. Father gave entrancing homilies in an Italian accent and into his 90's fixed fences and ran up hills at the Latin Mass picnic. He had a grip on history and had lived it! His homilies could take you away to another time and place.

Then, another historian came. This pastor was a former history and Latin teacher and Philadelphia trolley car driver. He had stories. "Let God love you!" he would always say. In his 50's, this priest had a booming personality and his solid homilies especially engaged the children, as he often brought humor in. 

Also available are 2 younger priests in their 40's. One can do a lightening fast TLM but you never feel rushed. His homilies, though brief, are excellent and thought-provoking. Like a surgeon, he can cut right to the matter of it. The kids love his mustang and his catch line to them, "See boys, you too can give up much for God but still peal out in a fine automobile!"

The other is a cerebral, former attorney. "What kind of attorney were you, Father?" I asked when I first called him with a vaccine bioethics question. "The honest kind," he replied. Behind the intellect, he's funny too. I once caught a fleeting glimpse of a 3 stooges impression from him before he quickly checked himself.

Now we have a new pastor, Father Leonard Klein. Knowing that he had been on EWTN's The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi, speaking on his conversion from being a Lutheran pastor, I had an inkling that he'd have an online presence. Today, I found many links to him.

Father Klein is a unique, intelligent and dedicated priest. He learned to say the Latin Mass by himself recently right before being made pastor of our parish! From his first Mass, we could tell that he felt and understood each word. He truly prays the Mass, feeling and knowing the Latin. He's a Pro-Life champion and one of the most riveting homilists I've ever known. Friends visiting our parish for a recent First Holy Communion remarked, "Hmmm, you get a little bit more meat in your homilies here." That's the gist of it and aren't we all hungry for it?!

Today we were spellbound, riveted. When I conferred with my husband, who was serving him on the altar, he too said, "You could have heard a pin drop." Everyone noticed the raptured hush that had come over the Church and stopped to tell Father on the way out. It's moment like these that I feel the Holy Spirit.

I thank Father Klein and God for his gift. God has been so good to our Latin Mass, sending us wonderful priests. (Perhaps, for another post, an argument could be made that bright and talented priests are attracted to the Latin Mass today? Wink.) It is with Father Klein's permission that I post his homily, from the Novus Ordo readings, on 9-11-11.

Ordinary Time 24-A / 9/11/11
by Pastor Leonard Klein
"Today, Americans and others of good will throughout the world are commemorating the evil unleashed on our nation on this day ten years ago. It is a time for memory, prayer and reflection, and I want to take the time in today’s homily to reflect on those events and to clarify some issues related to Catholic thinking about 9/11 and its consequences.

So I looked first of all to the Scripture lessons for the day, and I must say that since I did so a few weeks back, I have had an uneasy feeling about how they might be misused. The Gospel [the vengeful servant] and the First Reading [Sirach “the vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance] call for forgiveness and for turning away from vengeance. The Gospel especially calls for longsuffering in response to evils done to us. We are to be prepared to forgive our brother or sister seventy times seven; that is of course hyperbole. Jesus means that we are not to keep count. And we are not to keep count because God has forgiven us much more than we have suffered at the hands of others.

This is all true, a very deep truth of the faith. But, as I said, these readings are very vulnerable to abuse on this day. Thus the need for clarification.

First of all, the readings are not about foreign policy or what the appropriate role of a state is when its people are attacked. The Old Testament reading has to do with private vengeance, something the Church has always condemned. The Gospel comes from a section of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus’ instructions about life in the Church are collected. He reminds us that since God has been infinitely patient and forgiving with us, we must do likewise to others. Even that, however, never meant that we should not personally confront those who have wronged us. Last week’s Gospel talked about just how to do that. Nor does the forgiveness that we owe to others oblige us to suffer abuse or endanger ourselves. The right to flee, for instance, an abusive spouse is actually codified in the canon law of the Church.

So we cannot parlay these readings, as I fear some will, into the claim that America was wrong to take punitive action against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Reasonable people can debate the wisdom and justice of the wars we are engaged in and of any of the policies pursued in response to Islamic extremism. But these cannot be ruled intrinsically immoral on the basis of how Jesus teaches us to treat our neighbors and our brothers and sisters in Christ in the ordinary course of our lives and life in the Church.

And, no, this does not mean that any kind of brutality in response to an attack is morally acceptable. The state too has limits under the Church’s just war teaching. You can’t just nuke every place the Taliban shows up. But the Church has a just war teaching precisely because the state has obligations that are radically different from those placed on us as God’s people. The Church must not make war; at times the state must.

It would also be a misuse of these lessons to interpret them as a reason to deny the reality of militant Islam or to pretend that violent Jihadism is not rooted in the Muslim faith, as is widely done. People who would not hesitate to tar the Catholic Church with any brush within reach will rush to portray 9/11 as somehow showing that Muslims are perpetual victims of oppression or imperialism. Or they blame Israel and our policy toward Israel. Or they make up a new phony psychological disorder called Islamophobia.

Some Christians have seen the horrible event as an occasion to repent for whatever sins they can attribute to “our side.” These have been as diverse as Pat Robertson and radical Christian pacifists. Universities all over the country are holding seminars on understanding Islam – fair enough but that approach places the problem squarely where it isn’t. Such exercises in self-flagellation have nothing to do with forgiveness or anything else in the scriptures. They are merely a form of perverse self-indulgence.

Of course, most of our Muslim neighbors are peaceful, and their practice of Islam leads them to an intimacy with the God of Abraham, to lives of discipline and charity. They are often allies in the fight for life, marriage and the family. And many of them practice their faith with a seriousness and discipline that put us to shame.

But we need also to keep in mind these words from George Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, Australia: I started, in a recent reading of the Koran, to note invocations to violence—and abandoned the exercise after fifty or sixty pages, as there are so many of them. [First Things, 2006]

Islam has been spread primarily by military action from the beginning, from the time of Mohammed himself. Within a hundred years of Mohammed’s death Islamic armies had pressed as far central France, where they were finally defeated by the grandfather of Charlemagne at the Battle of Tours in October, 732. And while our children are sometimes taught in school that the Crusades were barbarous attacks by thuggish knights on a civilized Islamic world, the truth is different. The First Crusade was called in 1099 at the behest of the Christian Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople for help against fierce aggression from the Muslim Turks. On the whole the Crusades were part of Christian Europe’s defensive response to Islamic aggression. The defense of Christian Europe from Islamic aggression began in the 700’s and was not completed until the liberation of the Balkan countries in the 1800’s.

Telling the truth about history is not bigotry. Refusal to deal with such data does not advance understanding or lead to good decisions. Being deeply concerned about features of Islamic law and theology – and I readily admit to being one of those who is deeply concerned – does not make one a bigot. Nor does it lead directly to any kind of oppression or discrimination. Indeed, we can say that American Christianity, which still shapes the moral universe of our nation’s culture, is responsible for the fact that Muslim immigrants and citizens have suffered virtually no violence in the wake of 9/11. You don’t have to agree with Islam or embrace relativism to treat your Muslim neighbor fairly. Private vengeance against Muslims has been virtually nil. Christians in the Muslim world should be so lucky.
And thus we are brought full circle back to the readings for today. It is at that point, that the Old Testament Reading and Gospel for today show their authority and power. Private vengeance is ruled out, and it is encouraging that American Christianity has appropriated the Gospel sufficiently to have squelched it in the wake of 9/11. That is no mean achievement. The scriptures have a real effect.

Morally, they require us to think clearly. (Morality requires clear thinking as well as virtues, prayer and good habits.) They require us to make a distinction between what the Gospel requires of us individually and what justice and the common good require of the state. The state is not in the business of the forgiveness sins. (There’s a scary thought.) The state is in the business of securing relative justice and peace in a sinful and imperfect world. As Christians in a democracy we have a great deal say about that. We call on the state to preserve and protect innocent life. That is why justice requires both the defense of the unborn and a defense establishment.

But we are called to forgiveness and mercy, individually and as a Church. We are called to imitate God’s mercy. This requires also remembering that we need forgiveness ourselves, for our own real sins, not those of our neighbor, our nation or our culture. And we don’t get forgiveness by evaluating government policies; we don’t obtain forgiveness by taking stands. Forgiveness comes from repentance and confession, from acknowledging that like our enemies we need it.

Because God has thus forgiven us, we do have a public duty to carve out areas of mercy and forgiveness, islands of sanity and hope in the world. We are called to influence the culture around us by our witness and example.

So we can mark this day without self-flagellation. We can remember the victims with sorrow and the heroes with pride.

We can remember that the state is under no obligation to forgive Al Qaeda and other individuals and groups who hate us and seek to kill Americans and others who get in the way of their ideology. First the state cannot forgive sins; second it would be dereliction of duty if it tried. But our nation also has a great tradition of reconstruction of the lands of our enemies after wars, and that too owes much to the Christian tradition and in justice should continue.

The obligations of the state are not the same as those of the Church or of the individual – that is the simple clarification that needs to be made to understand these lessons and to think clearly about this day. The reminder we must take from them is that in all situations we need and should be prepared to offer forgiveness but that the government is under obligation to protect its citizens, using force if necessary."


Conservamom said...

thank you so much for sharing this with us! You always have the most amazing stories,write ups,and information. So blessed to have found you and your blog!

Anonymous said...

You are so very blessed to hear such a homily. We had an awesome pastor who gave very honest, riveting and soul searching homilies. But, he retired. It has been such a hard time and there is such a need for real spiritual food...thank you so much for sharing. That homily is just what I needed to hear.

Anonymous said...

Allison, you are so very blessed to have such an excellent homilist! Kudos to him for bravely touching on something that was (no doubt) misinterpreted and incorrectly applied in homilies all day long.

Thomas DeAngelo said...

I had some young people over for dinner who attended this Mass and heard the homily. What followed was a very animated debate. Their view was no violence, EVER, even to defend you or your families life. These young people have a very relativistic view about things which to me seems to say that all of the many blessings and wealth they enjoy in their lives, and did not earn, they are not grateful for. I also find that these people that beleive in peace at any cost to us, usually tend to be pro-choice. I'm frightened for our future.

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