Recent events in our nation’s history ought to make us pause and ask one convicting question: “What’s going on here in Ferguson, in Charlottesville?” As we scroll through social media feeds and listen to news reports and talk with our neighbors, we rationalize an understanding of how we got in this place. But how can this technological advancement and racial violence be compatible in the same heart of our country?
G. K. Chesterton, when asked what’s wrong with the world, is said to have penned the most poignant answer that could have been given: “I am.”
In a country that is in danger of losing its Judeo-Christian foundation, we are also in danger of losing the sense of personal complicity in the country’s crisis. We think it’s someone else’s problem to fix, not mine, because it’s easier to point blame rather than assume responsibility. Or we might think that a new program or initiative will do the job. Sure, we might not be marching for “racial purity” or lobbying for gender politics, but we probably walk on the other side of the sidewalk or keep our car windows rolled up when we come across a homeless person asking for assistance. Today’s psalm response mentions the hardness of heart, which we might describe as racial or ethnic hostility, religious animosity, social prejudices and injustices, gender inequality, corporate greed, political extremism, ecological indifference, relationship abuses, the mentality of entitlement, etc. To some extent, we all must admit we have it if there’s to be any hope of reclaiming true greatness. Greatness is found in the restoration of that “good crowned with brotherhood,” which can only be rediscovered through mutual repentance and bestowal of forgiveness by which reconciliation is the natural result. There’s a big difference between “I have a solution to the problem; let me try,” and “I’m sorry that I helped create the problem. Please forgive me.”
To really love one’s neighbor, of which today’s Gospel talks about, is not only to share in the memory-making around holidays or social gatherings, nor is it merely making a donation to a charitable cause. It also includes a genuine interpersonal exchange, often involving the admission of guilt and then pursuing the higher and nobler ideals of life together, despite and particularly through any struggle, turmoil, hostility, obstacle, and failure involved at the personal and at the societal levels. This kind of love is costly. It is not cheap, but also certainly not violent. It forces us out of that protective complacency towards the real issues. Frequent reconciliation keeps our path fresh with hope, not weighed down by presumptions, hostilities, negativity, or feigned control over people or situations. The term “excruciating vulnerability” describes that path towards the real encounter between persons without the illusory façades of reputation, wealth, accomplishment, class standing, or lack thereof.
Everyday Christians, like you and me, can undertake this kind of a love that requires an unwavering conviction that Jesus’ words in the Gospel are true: “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” Jesus does not say that these requests will be processed by committee in the order received and resources provided for qualified applicants. No! He says that they will be granted. There is a certainty of faith that, by putting the prayers of the heart into actionable charity, we help extend the boundaries of the kingdom among the fellowship of human beings, one person at a time, and not in the implementation of a new idealistic program that promises much, yet delivers little, and profits even fewer. In today’s America, the approach of reconciliation is the avenue left yet untried not because it is too difficult to undertake—it seems too simple to work!
And herein lies the secret of the potency of Jesus’ Gospel: it takes those people who are willing to be foolish in the eyes of the world in order to bring it about. Who will be the next one to win over your brother or sister?
Br. John Marmion Villa
All too often, Lord, we turn away from the world’s many problems,
which seem too big, too complex, or too far away.
Forgive us our indifference.
It is easier, Lord, to see only what is around us:
our lives, our homes, our challenges.
Forgive us our isolation.
Help us to see with your eyes:
eyes which notice one another
and help us understand.
Help us to dream your dream:
of communities that reach out and dialogue
and where diverse people creatively cooperate.
Help us to be people of solidarity and action,
so moved by prayer, encounter, and understanding
that peace can become a reality.
—Prayer from USCCB handout for World Day of Peace.