Sermon delivered at the Requiem Mass for the victims of the Orlando Massacre
Sunday, June 19th, 2016
The early Christian author and apologist Tertullian once wrote that the Blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the church. He was making an argument to the Roman authorities that it was futile to keep persecuting the Christians because it only caused them to grow and become stronger.
The valor, the strength and the witness showed by those who were being put to death only served to strengthen the resolve of the living. Furthermore those that were unconverted, witnessed how these Christians would willingly accept death, rather than deny the Christ they knew, and they marveled at it. This must be some God these Christians are worshipping if they are so convinced of his love for them, that they are content to die rather than betray their God.
What these Christians knew, and what made them so resilient, was that their Lord had conquered death. They had the hope and the promise that because they were united to Christ in his life and death, so too would they be united to him in his resurrection. They knew that those Romans could kill their bodies, but that they could never kill their souls. It was by holding on to Jesus, it was by holding on to a God which they knew to be a God of love and forgiveness that those early martyrs claimed the victory. They had victory over death.
So I have been thinking this week about what it means to be a martyr. Christian martyrs are those who have died or been put to death specifically because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but there are other types of martyrs that deserve to be honored as well. I know very little about the faiths of most of the individuals that were killed last week in Orlando. I know that one young man was a gospel singer in his church, only when they found out through this tragedy that he was gay, declined to do his funeral. I know of another young man, a friend of a friend of mine actually, who was there at the club with his fiancé, both of whom were killed and now their love is being celebrated at a funeral service instead of a wedding. I know of a young man who was there with his girlfriend who was killed trying to save her. I know of a woman who was there with her son who died saving him. I don’t know much about what kind of faith each of those people had, or what their beliefs were, but I do know something about what brought them together that night.
You see I grew up gay in Central Florida, not very far from Orlando. Despite what people think about Disney World being there, Central Florida is a very conservative area. I can honestly tell you that I did not know one person who was openly gay, until I went off to college. There weren’t really any support groups or community organizations back then, at least not around where I lived. People still very much lived their lives in secret. Showing affection in public was very dangerous, you could never know how someone was going to react. I know what it feels like to grow up threatened with violence on a daily basis, just because I was different.
When you live in an environment like that you look for places that are safe. You look for places where you can be yourself, perhaps find love, and hopefully be able to express that love for a few moments before going back out into a world, that despite all of the advances that have been made in recent years, can still be very hostile. Now you might think that a nightclub is just a place for drinking and dancing and debauchery, but when you grow up gay in a conservative area, a nightclub can be one of the few places where you feel safe to express your love. I have been to the Pulse nightclub in Orlando with my friends and we went there to relax, enjoy our lives, enjoy each others company, and maybe, just maybe meet someone special. I have no doubt that that it is the same reason that all of those clubgoers were gathered together last Sunday: to celebrate love, to enjoy love or maybe even find love. It was love that motivated those people to gather at Pulse last Sunday, and it was love that motivated many of their actions to the very end.
To all of those who were killed in last week’s attack, and I believe you can hear me, you have the victory in all of this. You have the victory, not some evil man with a gun. You have the victory, because it was love that motivated you that night not hate. Our Lord was put to death because of the hatred and intolerance of others, he was put to death because he loved when others hated. To the souls of those killed last week, you were put to death because you loved when someone else hated. And it doesn’t really matter in whose name he hated in. I honestly don’t care about what that one man believed, because I know what I believe.
I believe that like the old gospel song says: “Jesus loved me ere I knew him and all my love is due him.” I believe that Jesus loves us before we know him. I believe that love and the act of loving draws us closer to the heart of Christ and of our God. I believe that Christ has won the victory over sin and death and that he offers those of us who unite ourselves to him in love that same victory.
We are here tonight to commend the souls of these 49 individuals to God. An evil man might have taken their bodies from us, but their souls belong to God. Death has no more dominion over them. Those of us who are still on our journey must keep on loving and showing love to others, not just to honor those that were killed for love, but for our sake too. So to build on what the Apostle Paul said, we must be steadfast in love, unmoveable in love, always abounding in the work of the Lord, which is love, foreasmuch as we know that our labour of love is not in vain in the Lord.
So I say this to the forces of evil out there that think that killing us or spilling blood is going to give them some kind of victory: if you think that hatred is ever going to win over love, let me tell you a story about a man I know named Jesus.