Monday, March 5, 2018

Marianist Monday

Image result for parkland florida shooting

March, 2018

My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

On Thursday, February 15, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both featured the same gut-wrenching, heart-breaking photograph on their front pages. The scene was Parkland, Florida, on the grounds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as two anguished parents awaited information about their children in the wake of a school shooting that claimed the lives of seventeen innocent victims. The sun glints off their hair – a woman with blonde hair and a woman with red hair, both looking to be in their late thirties or early forties, both wearing floral-print blouses, in what would have been a picture-perfect South Florida day.

But this was hardly a picture-perfect day. The taller of the two women fights back tears, her face contorted with dread. The second woman collapses in the arms of the first, sobbing uncontrollably, or, to use the words of the prophet Isaiah, “crying out full-throated and unsparingly.” (Isaiah 58: 1)

And on the forehead of the taller woman, in plain sight for all to see, is the Cross of Christ, traced in Lenten Ashes, a powerful reminder of the sufferings that Our Lord endured at the crucifixion and of the agony of Our Blessed Mother, an agony that only a parent – dare I say, only a mother – can know.

The photograph is a powerful reminder that the Cross of Christ – the crucified and suffering Christ – stands in the midst of the most profound human suffering and grief. As we bear our crosses, as those poor parents and family members bear their crosses – frankly, unimaginable, unfathomable crosses – Christ stands beside us, carrying His Cross.

The question that keeps haunting me, however, is “Will we?” Will we Christians – we who call ourselves followers of Christ – stand beside Christ as he stands beside those who suffer? Or will we keep at a safe distance?

America stands at a crossroads. So does American Christianity. Too many of us, for far too long, have said far too little about matters that cry out, “full-throated and unsparingly” to the Lord. Tragedies that cry out for compassion. Injustices that cry out for courage, for a courageous voice. Crises – like gun violence and mental health – that cry out to be addressed but that are instead mired in partisan politics.
For close to fifty years now, we Christians, and, in particular, we Catholics, have cried out against the injustice of abortion and, in more recent years, against the encroachment upon religious liberty. And well we should. It is estimated that 58 million innocent children have been killed by abortion since the procedure was legalized by the Roe v. Wade decision in January of 1973.

I would submit to you, however, that we have done less, said less, and been considerably less unified in our response to gun violence in this country. After Sandy Hook, 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings, according to a February 15th article in The New York Times. By purely mathematical metrics, that number pales in comparison to the 58 million who have been killed by abortion. But by the metrics of mercy and compassion, neither number is acceptable. It is not acceptable that innocent lives are snuffed out as they are killed in their mothers’ wombs. And it is not acceptable that innocent lives are gunned down in classrooms, in hallways, and in school libraries. All these lives cry out, full-throated and unsparingly, that this gaping wound on the American soul be healed.
We are often dismayed when Catholic legislators support measures that protect abortion “rights,” even in the third trimester, even in the ninth month, of pregnancy. And well we should be. I am equally disheartened when Catholic and Christian public officials will not yield any ground whatsoever to reasonable gun-control efforts – mandatory background checks, bans on assault weapons and semi-automatic firearms, and bump-stock bans.
Regrettably, it’s a rare public official who opposes abortion and favors some restriction of gun-ownership. Or, who makes impassioned pleas for gun control and stands up courageously for the rights of unborn children. Regrettably, too few of us are willing to hold our public officials to that standard of consistency – consistency on all pro-life issues. Regrettably, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s vision of a “seamless garment,” of a consistent ethic of life, still seems quite far off.

A consistent ethic of life. Beyond the Gates, the film that we are showing to our seniors on their day-retreat program, asks audiences to consider what lies beyond our own gates – beyond the comfortable confines of our homes, our neighborhoods, and our schools. Specifically, the film casts light on the unspeakable crimes of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, but it directs our gaze as well to hunger and starvation; to poverty and illiteracy; to the plight of the homeless, migrants, and refugees.

So does the well-known Lenten reading from the prophet Isaiah: “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall be quickly healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then shall you call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and He will say: Here I am.” (Isaiah 58: 6 – 9)
Will our own Lenten fasting, our voluntary deprivations, open our hearts to the sufferings of others – those who suffer in far-off Rwanda or in our own inner cities, which, psychically, are often a world away from us as well? Will our Lenten prayer fine-tune our hearts to the unvoiced suffering – to the yoke – of our family and friends? Will our Lenten practices draw us closer to Christ and to the people He loves – not just people like us, but also people quite unlike us, whom we might find difficult to tolerate, let alone love, but who are loved by Christ with all the love He showed the lame and the lepers, Samaritans and sinners, the woman caught in adultery and the Prodigal son, the repentant thief, and even those who crucified Him?

Seventeenth-century English poet and Anglican minister John Donne wrote in his often quoted “Meditation 17,” “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Every man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind; and therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Think, once more, about that photograph of the two mothers, gripped in grief and fear, awaiting news about their children.
The crucified and suffering Christ stands in the midst of the most profound human suffering and grief. The question is “Will we?”

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,

Bro. Stephen