Special prayers were said for the victims, loved ones, and families of the 12 June Orlando massacre, at the evening Mass at Farm Street in Mayfair on Sunday - marking the end of Pride weekend. Music was provided by the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir. There was an exhibition of photographs of the 49 young people who lost their lives. (See the full list of names in the ICN Prayer Request section).
Father Tony Nye SJ gave the following homily, reflecting on the day's readings:
1 Kings (19: 16,19-21); Galatians (5: 1, 13-18); Luke (9: 51-62)
My grandmother used to like oatmeal stout. She claimed it was for her health. One day, when she was staying with us, she left a large glass of stout on the sitting room table. My brother, who was about six at the time, came out of the room with the glass empty and pulling a face: "I don't like that, Nanna." He was put to bed straight away. He has grown to like it since!
When you heard some of those incidents in today's Gospel, and Jesus wouldn't let the possible disciples bury their father or mother, or say good bye to their people at home, to be honest, you probably pulled a face and said: 'I don't like that!'
Why did Jesus give such stern, uncompromising replies? Why did Luke, who speaks so much about the merciful, gentle Jesus, think that those incidents should be recorded? Well, one of our Lord's functions is to be a prophet and prophets can be stern and single-minded. We have seen that in the Old Testament first reading, Elijah calling Elisha as his disciple.
Following Jesus requires freedom, as St Paul says in the second reading, freedom to be totally open and available to his call. So the call can be challenging, to make people think about their priorities if they are really to follow him. From what we know of family life in Israel in those days there could be a great lack of freedom to choose; the family was so dominant and restrictive, demanding such obedience that people could not be free to their true selves. Our Lord had to show that being a disciple would cost, just as the mission of Jesus to save humankind cost him the Cross.
That is a message written very clearly in the Gospels. It is a message that challenges us to put God and God's justice first, whatever the cost. So Martin Luther King was challenged by Gospel values in his constant pursuit of justice, whatever the cost. So Archbishop Oscar Romero was challenged and stood firm for that prophetic call for justice, despite the lack of support of his fellow-bishops, indeed despite their determined opposition. That is why he is now on his way to sainthood, because the Church sees his death as a martyrdom, a witness to justice. So many saints down the ages faced challenges that led to martyrdom. They are given to us as examples of how to follow Christ, whatever the cost.
As we offer this Mass for all those who were killed in the massacre at Orlando we are called to consider our priorities. Do we put God and God's justice first in our thinking? That may mean controlling our anger and discovering any prejudice that lingers in our thinking. That may mean being ready for the cost that following our Lord may entail, the cost of standing up and being counted on behalf of justice, of respect for our neighbour whoever he or she may be, of truly seeking God's will in our attempt to follow Christ's call.
St Ignatius Loyola gave a reflection to help us think about all this. It is at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises, prayer and reflection to help us to be free of any obstacles that stand in the way, inner freedom in our decision-making. There is a sort of spiritual logic in the way he begins. I shall give it in a contemporary version to make it clearer: "God freely created us so that we might know, love, and serve him in this life and be happy with him forever."
Everything else is a gift of God, a means to serve this purpose. So we should stand back and be as free as we can to use them, or not use them, according to how they serve this purpose. Our only desire and our one choice should be that option which better leads us to the goal for which God created us.
It takes a lifetime, of course. We start with praying and thinking carefully about it, and learning from our mistakes.
For more information about Farm Street Church see: www.farmstreet.org.uk/default.php