Have you noticed recently the great interest in all things Amish? I wonder why? There is a cable series about the Amish mafia, two PBS specials – one about Amish life, another about escaping Amish teenagers -and so many books. When I was a young boy, my Aunt brought me to Lancaster. This young boy living next to a city parking lot was “mesmerized.” Seeing people riding horse and buggies, hex signs on the barns – wondering “what is shoo-fly pie.” The Amish were mysterious – living mysterious lives. They are a private people - who believe that God has called them to a simple life of faith, discipline, and dedication, a life of rejecting pride, arrogance, self-importance – and placing high value on the virtue of humility. Mother Teresa said “humility is the mother of all virtues.” They believe that religion should be practiced, not displayed, translated into daily living - rather than focused on symbols or religious rituals. There are numerous differences between our Catholic faith and the protestant theology of the Amish – still, we find common ground – and we can learn much from them – most especially their “radical” display of love forgiveness.
Seven years ago, in Lancaster, Pa., Terri Roberts life changed forever. On that day, Terri’s troubled 32-year-old son Charlie walked into an Amish school and shot 10 young girls, five of them dying before Charlie took his own life. Outside her home – Terri heard the sound of sirens - and saw helicopters in the air. Then the phone rang. It was her husband Chuck who told her the terrible truth – about what their son had done. Her pain was such as Mary, standing at the foot of the cross. Terri Roberts said she and her husband would never be able to face their Amish neighbors again. But on that day, their Amish neighbor Henry came to their home - stood behind Terri's husband, and embraced him, rubbing his shoulders in consolation. The whole Amish Community responded by offering immediate forgiveness to Charlie — attending his funeral — and embracing his family. The Amish community's breadth of forgiveness – IS the “radical” love that Jesus calls all of us to today – for this is the way God loves. Jesus said “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus wants us to go down deep, into our hearts, our souls, to the root of things. When Jesus said, “I came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them”, his disciples were shocked? During this time, most of the Jews thought Jesus came to abolish the Mosaic laws, the laws handed down by Moses – the Ten Commandments, The Torah, laws of ceremonies, rituals, and symbols, reminding the people of their duties and responsibilities. Jesus’ actions spoke to this change. Jesus and his disciples did not fast, they did not always wash their hands before eating, their actions were considered revolutionary in the eyes of the Jewish people.
But Jesus explains that he came to FULFILL the law – He has authority “over” the Law - for HE is the New-Moses. The old law is now raised up. Holiness must now surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees – who practiced what Blessed John Paul II called a “hollow ritualism.” hollow to the degree rituals are performed - without affection and understanding. Ceremony was confused with substance – the Jewish religious hierarchy lost the spirit of love in their hearts. Now there must be a new “attitude”, a Christian attitude – to strive for God’s perfection – wanting to be a saint.
Jesus reassures the disciples “Whoever breaks the least of these commandments will be called the least in the Kingdom of heaven.” “The law” still stands. It is not abrogated – it IS being intensified
Jesus enlightens his disciples by opening up the Fifth Commandment. “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, “You shall not kill, and whoever kills will be liable to judgment, but I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Jesus points out here that yes, the act of killing is terrible and sinful – but it is rooted in dysfunction and disorder – a corrupt attitude – an underlying hatred. To NOT KILL isn’t enough - we have to go deeper – to the root of the problem.
Again, Jesus enlightens the disciples by opening up the Sixth Commandment. “You have heard that it was said “you shall not commit adultery”, but I say to you, everyone that looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So, just looking at a woman or a man as a means to an end is “sin.” Adultery is terrible and sinful, but it is grounded in a dysfunctional attitude – the remedy is to go deeper, to get to the “root” of the problem.
What is required is an “interior” conversion – a conversion of the heart. Moved by grace, we turn toward God, away from sin, from a life characterized by self-determination to joyful surrender to God’s will. This conversion will manifest itself in all areas of our lives – for it is the heart that moves our decisions, actions, sentiments and dispositions. Mother Adela, the foundress of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary said “The heart is the interior throne of the human person.”
So how do we enter into this “conversion”? First – we pray the prayer of St. Alphonsus Liguori – “O my God and my All - make me a saint.” Then, we “discern.” The Psalmist says today “Give me discernment, that I may observe your law - and keep it with all my heart.” Seek keen insight - and good judgment. Go for it – find the knowledge to know what God wills for us in our lives – seek good “Catholic” Spiritual direction – every Catholic should have a spiritual director – helping us to develop a new attitude of loving kindness. Become an active participant in the sacramental life of the Church. Understand that “The Church” draws her life from the Eucharist.” You and me, we are the Church. At this Mass today, as we receive Our Lord’s Body and Blood, meditate – understand that there is no greater power than the Eucharist - to change and renew our hearts.
Terri Roberts still lives in Lancaster County, Pa. Although it has taken some time to overcome her demon of shame - she has found peace now, at the bedside of her son's most damaged, living victim -- a paralyzed schoolgirl, now 11. During their weekly visit, Terri bathes her - talks to her, brushes her hair and sings hymns to her. Terri had to dig deep, to go to the “root of things.”
Lord Jesus, we pray for the grace of interior conversion and a more intense acceptance of your Gospel message. Please allow our lives to be changed through a willingness to cooperate with Your grace. Lead us to a sincere intention to be faithful to You in all our actions. Help us to come to deepen our relationship with You. Amen