A Savior in Our Midst

It is no secret that the world around us is seemingly falling apart at the seams. Our communities are as bitterly divided as they have ever been, as evidenced by the almost daily headlines depicting protests, civil unrest and riots. Politically, our nation appears to be rapidly approaching a dangerous tipping point, as battle lines are being drawn everywhere we look. One need look no further than basic comment sections of social media posts to see just how vitriolic and combative we are becoming as a people. I fear that this anger is beginning to seep into the very fabric of who we are as a nation. Working in a faith-based facility, it would be logical to assume that I am sheltered from this type of behavior, but such assumptions would be incorrect.

What has happened to us? Why have so many of us embraced such a hard, indifferent and cruel worldview? Even as Catholics, so many of us have taken a warped sense of pride in wielding our unkind and uncharitable words like swords. Christ tasked us with being the salt of the earth and yet all too often, we appear willing and eager to partake in the poisoning of our social compact. We, as Americans are a political lot; we always have been. In and of itself, this is neither wholly good nor wholly evil. But when it becomes evident that Jesus is being forced to take a back seat to our political allegiances, we’ve gone way off course. To make things worse, too many of us have tried to convince ourselves that Jesus was something that he wasn’t in order to serve our own political agenda. We employ “alternative facts” in an effort to redefine who Jesus was so that he fits neatly into our politically-biased box of convenience. This is dangerous because it has the potential to turn people away from Christ, what we Catholics refer to as “giving scandal.”

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul stated, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”(Romans 12:2) I write this not as an advocate for one political party or the other, but as a Catholic and as a servant of Jesus Christ who is concerned that too many Catholics have elevated their political loyalties to a status that takes precedence over their loyalty and fidelity to God. Some would even go so far as to claim that their political loyalty is a result of their loyalty to God, to which I must humbly cry out: “rubbish!” Our Lord implored us to carry his torch, to effectively be His light in the world to others. We cannot serve as a light when our words and actions reek of darkness and surliness. If our demeanor does not emanate love and compassion, then we are not accurately representing He who is the very essence of love and compassion, Jesus Christ.

Our world is clearly in peril. This should certainly give us pause and open our hearts to more frequent occasions of prayer and meditation. But it should also instill in us the wisdom and motivation to accept our collective vocational role in all of this as Christians. We have an opportunity, perhaps greater than any generation has had before us, to shine as the light of Christ in a world that is hellbent on sowing the seeds of its own demise. We have an obligation to carry His torch and to rise above the pettiness, the vulgarity and the ugliness of our modern world. Failure, quite simply, is not an option. Our Savior is with us; we must let the world see Him.

…what reward will you have?

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There seems to be a disturbing trend plaguing our society that instills in me a fear far greater than any fear that I might derive from the thought of terrorists or active shooters or any other kind of boogeymen that the talking heads on TV might try to force feed our already-weary psyches. Charlotte Bronte wrote that “conventionality is not morality.” Our society, however seems to be embracing the most dangerous aspects of conventionality and conformity. Pack mentality, particularly retributive populism has become something of a new religion in the United States and it is manifesting itself in a collective sadistic indifference towards death.

Too many of us jump at the opportunity to boast about the United States being a “Christian nation” and yet when push truly comes to shove, we do nothing to back up that claim. We applaud the incoherent, saber-rattling rantings of our political leaders; we wave flags and cheer at the notion of our warships launching missiles at other human beings; we vilify victims of legitimate police brutality; and perhaps worst of all, we seize the opportunity to dance on the graves of recently deceased individuals who have been labeled as “evil” by the court of public opinion.  As Catholics, we are taught from a young age that actions, not people, are evil. Especially in our modern age of advanced scientific and medical wisdom, it would be irresponsible and vacuous to dismiss a person as being evil without fully understanding the emotional and psychological background of that individual. Yet in the aftermath of the deaths-by-suicide of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez and “Facebook killer” Steve Stephens, we didn’t miss a beat in jumping all over their respective demises. The commentary I saw on social media this morning was shameful. Have we really become a people who relish and rejoice in the deaths of other human beings?

Hernandez was convicted of murder and the evidence in his case was fairly convincing. Stephens never saw the inside of a courtroom, but his own video evidence would indicate that his guilt for the crime of murder was self-evident.  As someone who works in mental health, I cannot emphasize enough how surprised most people would be to know how little we really know about mental illness in the broad sense; it might not seem likely or plausible to the average person that a seemingly stable individual would suddenly snap and turn into Mr. Hyde, but it is not unprecedented.  Could Hernandez, like so many other football players, have been suffering from some type of CTE-related brain damage? We are only uncovering the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding just how damaging the sport of football is to the human brain. As for Stephens, we know very little about him at this point, other than the fact that he has had no previous legal troubles or manifestations of violent behavior.

For those of us who call ourselves Catholics, it is only natural to pray for Hernandez’ victim Odin Lloyd and Stephens’ victim, Robert Goodwin; the harder part, and I would say the obligatory part that truly makes us Christians is the fact that we must pray for the souls of Mr. Hernandez and Mr. Stephens, even if–and especially if–it hurts to do so. Jesus made this painfully clear. Praying for those who are nice is easy; praying for those who appear to embrace evil is much harder, and yet Jesus does not make this optional. Those who choose to exhibit such a blatant and boastful disregard for human life by essentially celebrating death—regardless of the acts committed by the recently deceased—are a source of deep concern to me because they have chosen to essentially play God by either judging the souls of others or by failing to even recognize the fact that the individuals had souls to begin with. Please understand that in no way am I expressing any condonation of the terrible acts committed by both of these men and my heart certainly goes out to the families of the victims. But we cannot combat evil with evil. Romans 12:21 makes it plain that we must fight evil with good. To actively ignore the very real fact that the lives of the perpetrators were no more or less sacred in the eyes of God than their victims’ is to miss the entire point of what makes us Christians. A society that is so willing to turn a blind eye to what is right promotes a moral bereftness that is far more frightening to me that any damage that can be inflicted by a man with a bomb or a gun.