The Visual Aids of Salvation

By The Most Rev. Thomas Wenski

Editor’s Note: At the recent meeting of the CRS Board of Directors—the USCCB-appointed group of bishops, religious, and laity tasked with governing and supporting the work of CRS—Archbishop Thomas Wenski (Miami) celebrated mass for his fellow bishops, board members and CRS staff.  What follows is his homily.  The “Charmaine” he refers to is fellow board member Charmaine Warmenhoven.

Photo by Philip Laubner/CRS

Photo by Philip Laubner/CRS

A picture speaks a thousand words—which is why, today, we are most effective when we can accompany words with images. That’s why we use PowerPoint—and incorporate photos, graphs, maps and other visuals into our presentations. Last night, at dinner, weren’t Charmaine’s words about her trip to Guatamala enhanced by the visuals? Homilies might be more effective— and certainly more interesting—if we could figure out how to effectively incorporate audio-visual resources into them. Some liturgical purists might object, but in today’s Gospel, Jesus does just that. He didn’t have laptop to project a PowerPoint presentation, but he did have miracles—they were powerful “visuals” that illustrated what he was preaching about.

Jesus talked about the Kingdom—in the miracle, there was the Kingdom breaking into the world. Well, those miracles still do happen every day in many different ways, because of Catholic Relief Services—and while I don’t say CRS makes them happen—for the glory belongs to God!—CRS is in the miracle business. Even a goat given to family—a goat that might eventually pay for a child’s schooling—is a miracle that gives glory to God.

This is why we care about “Catholic identity”—because what CRS does is Jesus’ work.  It might not be “churchy” work, but it is nonetheless God’s work. Remember, Jesus was not only about “soul salvation,” he was about “whole salvation.” As Saint Iraeneus said, the glory of God is man fully alive.

Of course, Jesus performs this miracle on the way to Jerusalem, and we know what awaits him there. He is involved in a cosmic struggle: This is the struggle of life versus death, sin versus grace; God versus The Devil. He expels a demon who has made a man deaf and dumb. Jesus heals him—as Jesus healed us when, at Baptism, the priest also performed an exorcism on us, touching our ears and our lips so that we might hear the Word of God and proclaim it.

Photo by Jim Stipe/CRS

Photo by Jim Stipe/CRS

Today, of course, people are more skeptical. We have a harder time believing in miracles or in exorcisms. But in the Gospel today, even those opposed to Jesus didn’t question the fact of the miracle. It was obvious: The dumb man speaks!

The Pharisees don’t question the miracle, but they question the source of Jesus’ power. He casts out devils, they say, by the power of Beelzebub. And so the Pharisees here are engaging in a tactic—still quite common today in politics.  It is called “poisoning the well.” They try to put down Jesus by associating him with something commonly repulsive. Beelzebub, for the Jews, is “The Lord of the Flies”—that is, the lord of the dung heap. Here, in the conduct of the Pharisees, we see something of the mystery of iniquity. There is something demonic about their opposition—for if Satan had rendered that man literally deaf and dumb, they are figuratively deaf and, dumb—and blind!

CRS Global Fund Project Manager Albert Rushingwa speaks to mothers during an awareness program focused on preventing bites from mosquitos at the Shaloom Health Centre, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo on November 12, 2014. CRS is an implementing partner of the Global Fund Malaria Program, working in 22 out of 119 targeted health zones across the western part of DRC. The goal of the program is to contribute to 50% reduction in morbidity and mortality rates due to Malaria in the DRC by 2016. The program targets 223,128 direct beneficiaries, particularly pregnant women, and children under five years of age. Major planned and ongoing activities include the distribution of Long Lasting Treated Nets (LLTNs), anti malarial drugs, and rapid diagnostic tests.

Photo by Sam Phelps for CRS.

Isaiah says, “Woe to those who call good evil and evil good.” So, if the opponents of Jesus say that he cast out demons in the name of Beelzebub, we should not be surprised that our opponents say something similar about the Church and about CRS and the miracles we help bring about every day.

Despite those that would try to “poison the well”, the Kingdom is breaking into the world. In this miracle and in all of Jesus’ miracles, including the miracle of his Passover, we can see that there is that cosmic battle being waged between good and evil; but Satan is being defeated. “If I drive out demons by the figure of God, then the Kingdom of God has come to you.”

We have to see ourselves as part of this cosmic battle—and we have to make sure we’re on the right side; in any case, there is no room for neutrality. Lent calls us to walk with Jesus along his way, the way to Jerusalem. We are either on the way with him or we are in the way.

The Most Reverend Thomas Wenski is the archbishop of Miami.


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