These are dark days, troubled times. Much has happened lately that has had me wondering how to even think about it. What to do.
I was at a meeting with colleagues from Catholic Relief Services, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of our brothers and sisters overseas, when we learned of what had happened in Paris that evening. And in California… what could prompt a mother and father to drop off their six month old daughter with her grandmother before proceeding with a devious plot? For so many, it is our children who give us a reason to live. How is someone so desperate, so hate-filled… that their own child is not enough reason to reconsider?
What to make of all of this? What to do? These are dark days, troubled times indeed.
A few nights ago, I was with a group of friends and this very topic came up. Within that group, there were many theories given about what caused this, who caused this… and many possible solutions offered. Some were incremental. Some were drastic. One person said these exact words: “These are dark days, troubled times.”
I would like to suggest to you that there is always darkness. Always trouble. Always a need for the light. Previous generations and others in places near and far have contended with genocide, holocaust, slavery, torture, war. As long as there is a civil society, there are those will will seek to disrupt and destroy it. It has happened before and it will always happen again… leaving those in that society with the fundamental questions: what to make of all of this? What exactly is there to do?
I have been reminded of Maximillian Kolbe, about whom I have written before. He was a Catholic priest who lived during the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany. He stood up to the government (and challenged our Church), leading to his arrest and imprisonment in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He personally ministered to the men in his prison block, bringing many to Christ, and eventually took the place of one sentenced to death. He brought light to where there was darkness… not by changing the government… not by changing the Church. But through his mercy.
In today’s Gospel (Luke 3: 10-18) the crowds, upon being told that the savior was coming, asked John the Baptist: “What should we do?” His response was to give clothes to those who lack them, to feed the hungry, for the tax collectors to only take the prescribed amounts and for soldiers not to falsely accuse anyone. In other words, he instructed them that they should show mercy.
The Holy Father has just ushered in a special Year of Mercy in our Church… opening a huge door that is normally closed at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is a very visually important symbol: opening a door and then stepping through it. It signifies action and intentionality. It makes us wonder about the doors that may be in front of ourselves and whether we should proceed through them… or whether to hold back.
When he opened the doors, Pope Francis said: “The time has come for the church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters.” This is our return to the basics.
In our Church, the jubilee year comes every 25 years. We’re not due to open those doors for a while but Francis has declared that right now is when we need to do this.
When a mother and father do not feel compelled to live for their daughter and who do not value human life, even their own, then that is darkness. We are called as Christians, as those who are preparing for Christ to come during this Advent season, to bring the light forward.
And if it is difficult for us to imagine how we can change our world… or our government… or our Church… or even our parish… then perhaps we should begin with ourselves. With our families. And with our friends.
What are we to make of all of this? What should we do? Perhaps we should begin with mercy.
Christ is the opposite of hatred. Christ is the meaning that matters.
And like Maximillian Kolbe, wherever we bring light, we bring Christ.