Dear Fr. Joe: I am deeply troubled by all the violence around us. Why is this happening?
I write this article with a heavy heart.
We live in violent times. Some will say that things have always been this violent, and that may or may not be true. What is objectively true is that we’ve never been able to observe and process the present violence in the way we can now. Social media have, for better or worse, revealed our interconnectedness in a way that has never been possible before.
If you are like me, each event of great violence prompts feelings of sadness, fear and powerlessness.
Sadness, because people were killed.
Fear, because we seemed to be heading to a dark place as a country.
Powerlessness, because no matter how much we want this all to stop, nothing seems to help.
In this moment, I invite us all to remember that within our hearts is God’s very Spirit: that Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.
Our problem is not a lack of power, it’s that we use our power badly.
Each act of violence, I see people storm social media in order to comfort themselves.
We see these horrid events as evidence that we are right and others are wrong. We hear of a tragedy; we learn of great injustice or horrors, and we immediately respond by wrapping ourselves in the warm blanket of our opinions. We pile on social media and fill public places with our opinions and politics. We seemingly can’t wait to tell everyone how these horrible events and those like them are the fault of this person, that person, those people or their politics.
We respond with our voices, and those voices become shrill. We respond with our opinions. and those opinions become doctrine that we wield to crush those who disagree with us.
And this is why it is getting worse. We have made this about what those people need to do.
But those people are not the problem that you are to address. Others exist for you to serve, not fix. To solve the problems of violence in our country, we need to address the core of the issue. And, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, I am the core of the issue. I am the problem.
I am the problem because I give way too much credence to ideological comfort and I give way too much room to sin in my heart.
I am comfortable with what I think. I like my politics. I’ve spent years dividing the world into good guys and bad guys. I have my team. How about you? When bad things happen, I know whose fault it is. This way, I am never challenged. I never have to reevaluate what I think or believe.
Sin? I tragically am much too comfortable with it in my heart. I’ve made friends with some of my sin. I’ve not been vigilant to what I let live and breathe in this beautiful heart that God gave me.
If enough of us embrace these ideas, and clearly we have, society becomes a loud, rage-filled and divided reality.
But today, I invite you to join me in saying, “Enough is enough.”
Today, I invite you to join me as I declare war on sin: not the sin in society or the Church or in this group or that group, I declare war on the only sin that I truly have control over: the sin in me.
Today, I invite you to join me in saying “I was made to be a saint” and to quit pretending that being one is impossible.
And we must pray. I’ve seen something in the last year that looks like this: A tragedy happens and someone posts that they are going to pray. Inevitably, someone responds by telling the person some form of, “Prayer is nice, but we have to act”.
The complete and utter lack of self-awareness implicit in a statement like that is simultaneously horrifying and comical. Of course we have to act. Our problem isn’t that we lack the conviction to act, the problem is we don’t pray first, we simply look for the quickest and most convenient solution.
Has anyone ever looked at us as a group and thought, “Gosh, those people just pray too much.”? Our problem tends to be precipitous and knee jerk reactions that don’t solve the problem and I suggest to you that prayer is the answer to that.
We will find that this internal war and this dedication to prayer begin to alter the way we act and live. We will push ourselves to be more loving, more helpful, more understanding and more forgiving.
You and I are to be holy. We are to purge our hearts and minds of the vile spirit of divisiveness and anger. We are to purge from our hearts and minds the hunger to appear to be right. We need to become obsessed, not with being right, but with being made right by God.
By becoming obsessed with holiness, we make God’s law a visible thing. God’s command to love becomes something others can touch when they touch us. God’s directive to love with all we have answers the prayers of the multitude who cry out and ask God to “do something.”
And so we will be saints. We will forgive. We will love. We will reconcile. We will challenge our thoughts and preconceptions. We will fight the darkness in our own hearts with the very power that raised Jesus from the dead.
We will be saints.