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(Sunday Homily) "Citizenfour": Keeping God's Law through Civil Disobedience

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Readings for 5 th Sunday of Lent: JER 31: 31-34; PS 51: 3-4, 12-15; JN 12: 20-33

I saw "Citizenfour" today. You can see it too. For your own good, please do. The film is live-streamed free here: https://thoughtmaybe.com/citizenfour/

"Citizenfour" won this year's Academy Award for best documentary. Its director is Laura Poitras. The film is about whistleblower, Edward Snowden-- the 31 year old CIA employee who two years ago leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA).

The information revealed "America's" massive world-wide spy system that Snowden saw as absolutely eviscerating U.S. constitutional protections against "unreasonable search and seizure."

In case you've forgotten, the 4 th Amendment of the Constitution reads as follows:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

In contradiction to those words, Snowden's revelations show that indeed "Big Brother" is watching us at all times. We are under constant surveillance. None of our e-mails or phone calls is secure. Telephones normally found in hotel rooms are routinely used as listening devices. All of our e-mail searches are monitored and recorded.

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This means that citizens expressing disapproval of government policies are easily identified. So are our constitutionally protected efforts to organize against such policies. All of us are subject to blackmail and prosecution based on stories manufactured from "metadata" and texts gathered by our watchers.

Knowing full well that he would be hunted down and prosecuted (and possibly executed) for his leaks, Edward Snowden shared his information with Laura Poitras and with Guardian reporter, Glen Greenwald. Snowden fled to Russia where he was given temporary political asylum. "Citizenfour" is the upshot.

Of course, Snowden's opponents say his revelations have endangered national security and that he is guilty of treasonous acts of espionage. In response, the former CIA contractor says the whole matter of government secrecy and surveillance needs full debate. So do extra-judicial killings in the world-wide drone assassination program. Security, Snowden implies, is less important than freedom, privacy, and the lives of innocents arbitrarily killed on mere suspicion of possibly one day harming U.S. citizens. Then there are those disturbing words in the Fourth Amendment. . . .

All of that made me think about today's liturgy of the word. It's all about obeying conscience rather than the written law. It's all about another 30 something law-breaker who rejected absolute security in favor of opposing the authorities of his time. Think about the readings one-by-one.

The first (from the prophet Jeremiah) reminds us that God's law is not primarily found on tablets of stone. It is inscribed on our hearts. Without invoking "God," Edward Snowden claims to follow that law -- a mandate much higher than the 1917 Espionage Act invoked against him.

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According to today's responsorial psalm, a heart shaped by God's law is good and merciful; it is compassionate, forgiving, and guilt-free. Laura Poitras' film shows Snowden exhibiting all of those qualities. There is not a trace of self-seeking in any of his actions or statements -- only concern for others victimized by the state.

It is that heart sensitive to God's internal law that Jesus manifested. But, like Ed Snowden, it took him great pain to get to that place. Today's second reading specifically mentions Jesus' "loud cries and tears," his anguished prayers and supplications.

Finally, today's selection from the Gospel of John reiterates the call to follow Jesus, even as Snowden has without any specific reference to Jesus. Our reading has the Master say that "serving" him means walking the way of the cross. In other words, we must learn his same lessons about rejection that always follows hard upon adoption of Jesus' counter-cultural "Way."

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Recently retired, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 36 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs (more...)

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