God, the Devil and the Capitol Attack

Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

A group prays for peace outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 8 in Washington, D.C.
A group prays for peace outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 8 in Washington, D.C. (photo: John Moore / Getty Images)

Every person in this church — from the people sitting in the last pew to those of you in the front to our celebrant and even me here in the ambo — every one of us is here because we have been called.

Christ has called each of us. That’s why we are here, each one of us. We all had to get up this morning, get dressed, and make our way here, but we’ve done so in response to a call.

Not that any of us was awakened from sleep this morning by the voice of the Lord, like young Samuel sleeping in the Temple before the ark in the reading from 1 Samuel. We haven’t had the experience of Andrew and Simon Peter in today’s Gospel, who heard the words of Jesus inviting Andrew to follow him and giving Simon his new name, Peter (or “rock”). 

The Lord’s call comes to us in many ways. 

 

Vocations in Life

From the moment of your conception, when God created your immortal soul, you received a vocation, a calling, to beatitude — to blessedness, to the eternal enjoyment of God in heaven. Every human being on earth has this calling to eternal happiness.

At your baptism you were called to life in Christ as a member of God’s New Testament people on earth, the Catholic Church. The word “Church” in the New Testament in its origins means an assembly of those who have been called out. To be Catholic, to be a member of the Church, is to be called out of the world to a new way of life in Christ.

Some of us have been called to a vocation to married life, to the sacrament of Matrimony. Those whom God blesses with children are called to love and raise and educate their children. 

Some are called to the vocation of Holy Orders, as a deacon, priest, or bishop, or to a religious vocation in a community of consecrated life, whether a cloistered monastery or convent or a community of sisters or brothers. 

And all of us, whatever our state in life, whether married or single, clerical or lay, are called by the Lord in various ways throughout our life to serve him in particular circumstances, to respond to particular needs around us, to open our hearts and our lives to others, to be open to the ways that God can bless others through us and us through them.

So we may never be in the position of Samuel or Andrew and Peter, hearing the Lord’s voice directly with our ears. But perhaps we’ve been where the psalmist was when he wrote, in the words of the responsorial psalm we just sang, Psalm 40, “Sacrifice or offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me… Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”

Have you ever prayed for God to open your ears to hear his voice and for the will to obey it? I’m sure nearly all of us have, and this should be our constant prayer: always to be open and ready for whatever the Lord may call us to do, like the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation: “Behold, I am the Lord’s handmaid; let to be to me according to your word.” “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”

 

Being Misled or Led Astray

Of course, in discerning the Lord’s calling our lives, it’s definitely possible to make mistakes, to be led astray. Like Samuel in the first reading, we might not recognize the Lord’s voice when it comes.

Or we may think the Lord is calling us to something when he isn’t. You don’t have to look any further than 11 days ago on Capitol Hill to see that. 

Make no mistake: The hundreds of people who besieged and invaded the seat of our nation’s legislature were there in response to a call — a call that many of them were certain was from God.

Most of them were Christian; doubtless many were Catholic. Christian symbols and language were everywhere. The holy name of Jesus was everywhere: on signs and banners, on clothing, in chanted slogans. “Jesus Saves.” “Jesus 2020,” as if our Lord had been on the ballot in November.

Did you hear, the day before the Capitol attack, about the “Jericho March” in Washington? The name comes from the Old Testament story of Joshua and the Israelites marching around the walled city of Jericho, blowing shofars or rams’ horns — and the Lord made the city walls cave in so that the Israelites could attack the city and slaughter the inhabitants. 

The marchers in Washington brought actual shofars and were blowing them. And then the next day hundreds of them attacked the Capitol, clearly believing that, like the attack on Jericho, this was God’s will.

 

How the Devil Misleads Believers

Just yesterday, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, released a statement responding to the Capitol attack, and threats of further violence, in which he said:

As a Christian, I must say to anyone considering further violence: you are being led astray by a voice that is not from God.

Why was this dramatic statement from a U.S. bishops’ conference chairman about being led astray by a voice not from God necessary? How were so many believers misled about the voice of God?

Part of the answer, tragically, is that these false beliefs were encouraged by both political and religious leaders — including leaders in the religious media world, celebrity priests and deacons — leaders who in some cases had long since either been themselves led astray by voices not from God or simply stopped listening for the Lord’s voice at all.

We can’t forget that it isn’t just God who speaks to us in many ways. The devil does also.

This Friday, Jan. 22, is the annual Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the monstrous Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in this country.

Many people today consider abortion necessary for reproductive health and gender equality. These are lies of the devil. The unborn child is a member of the human family, with the same dignity as any of us, demanding our solidarity and protection. That’s the truth, and as Catholics we must always bear witness to that truth. The devil’s lies lead many astray.

But for those of us who are pro-life, the devil has other lies, other tricks to lead us astray, to distort the pro-life cause and make it serve other agendas. We need to be on guard against being led astray, unfortunately even by pro-life leaders if their words and actions do not reflect the spirit of Christ and the mind of the Church.

 

Discernment: Resisting the Devil’s Lies

How can we discern the true call of God in our lives? Archbishop Coakley, in his statement yesterday, offers some answers.

Quoting the words of Galatians 5 — “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” — he says that “St. Paul gave us a reliable test of what is from God and what is not.” He invites us to ask ourselves:

Are my intentions expressions of love for others, including those I may consider enemies? Are they reflections of joy? Will they lead to peace? Do they exhibit patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control? The violence of January 6, and the many voices that urged it on, including some political leaders, were the opposite of these things.

He goes on: 

St. Paul names what is opposed to the Spirit: “…hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions…” (Galatians 5:20). Do not listen to those sowing hatred, anger, and divisions! They lead you away from God.

A fuller answer is given by the successor to St. Peter, the rock in today’s Gospel, Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation on the call to holiness in the modern world, Gaudete et Exsultate. I’ll leave you with just the first paragraph on discernment, but you can easily read it online. The section on discernment is at the very end. The Pope writes:

How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. It is a gift which we must implore. If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift, and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment.

May the Lord grant us to seek and develop this gift, to hear his voice, and to do his will. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.