There is something about people rioting that I cannot fully make sense of. There’s nothing inside me that feels prepared to make sense of the way things spin out of control, the violence, the death of innocent human beings, the stories of heroism and self-sacrifice, the clash of beliefs and values. What can I say to myself—and to others, fearful of this happening in their hometown or of it affecting their family?
Since I’ve never been in the place where riots are happening, it is tempting to say a prayer and retreat into silence. For some people, it might seem too overwhelming to even think that one person’s contribution might make a difference. For others, the situation may be an intrusion on personal or business plans. For still others, it might put them emotionally on edge. For all of us, the reporting on the riots might tap into very strongly held beliefs or prejudices that haven’t been felt for a long time. It can be appealing to concentrate all our inner experience on what is happening with the riots. I believe Charlottesville is also an invitation to look within.
By Saturday evening I had to admit that I’d spent way too much time grazing for news and details of what was happening. It’s normal for our minds to want to understand. It’s important to know what is happening in the world. But there is something about the immediate reporting and commentary, peppered with unproven assumptions, that sensationalizes what should be a very serious and very sorrowful situation. In one video I watched on YouTube, I was taken aback by the number of people within and around the riot who were following the fighting catching everything on video with their phones. To me it was a moment to step back and ask myself if I engage in life as a “recorder” of events--events that I can later share, comment on and pronounce my beliefs about.
What does engaging in life look like in the wake of these violent clashes that I cannot grasp?
In the face of power and violence, we can seek security or eternity. In all humility, as I have reflected on the events of last Saturday, I have had to ask myself whether I act with prejudice, right here, in my own community, with my own sisters. Do I claim privilege? How do I handle the scary feelings when a difference of opinions gets out of hand? Has my need to have the last word lessened as the years have passed? To dialogue is to be open to change in front of another, before the discovery through them of what is true, good, and beautiful. Dialogue is hard work. My choice for eternity is first to recognize that this event makes me uncomfortable because it exposes the effects of “original sin” in myself. It’s one thing to say, “we need to stop fighting” (YouTube video of Christian LaCros). It’s another to say, “That person is me.”
The choice for eternity is a choice of truth combined with courage and care. It is neither courageous nor truthful to turn the situation to one’s personal or political advantage by taking cheap potshots at friends and followers on social media who don’t share your personal viewpoints. We can feel like we’re contributing “to the cause” by chiming in with the growing social media furor. But are we really? Does it seem like we’re doing something significant, just because we’ve posted about it? We’ve made our mark on history by telling people who’s who and what’s what? The prophet acts with courage in the service of the truth. He or she does so with care because the truth is something that demands a new way of seeing, a new vision of what weaves all of us together.
We must enter, every one of us, into the distress of the world, not to contribute to the strife, but to hold it to our hearts, in this darkness, in this social, economic, and political breakdown on a global scale, in the bubbling over of the racisim that still tears at the soul of America. None of us can remove themselves from this.
Saturday night I was up for night duty in our infirmary and read a life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, born in Turin in 1901. His father was one of the wealthiest and most influential men of Italy and founder and director of the newspaper La Stampa. Pier Giorgio preferred to spend his free moments visiting the poor of Turin, and considered it his privilege to be their servant. Pier Giorgio chose eternity over security in times very like our own. He offered himself as a bodyguard to priests who were afraid to go into the slums to bring the sacraments. Although he considered his studies his first duty, they did not keep him from social and political activism. In 1919, he joined the Catholic Student Foundation and the organization known as Catholic Action. He became a very active member of the People’s Party, which promoted the Catholic Church’s social teaching based on the principles of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical letter, Rerum Novarum. In 1921, he was a central figure in Ravenna, enthusiastically helping to organize the first convention of Pax Romana, an association whose purpose was the unification of all Catholic students throughout the world for the purpose of working together for universal peace.
Like his father, he was strongly anti-Fascist and did nothing to hide his political views. By 1920 Mussolini’s Blackshirts were attacking and destroying the organizations not only of socialists but also of communists, republicans, Catholics, trade unionists, killing hundreds of people. When the Blackshirts broke into the Frassati home to frighten them into silence, Pier Giorgio fought them off. Participating in a Church-organized demonstration in Rome on one occasion, he rallied the other young people by grabbing the group’s banner, which the royal guards had knocked out of another student’s hands. Pier Giorgio held it even higher, using the banner’s pole to fend off the guards’ blows.
Just before receiving his university degree, Pier Giorgio contracted poliomyelitis, which doctors later speculated he caught from the sick he tended. Neglecting his own health because his grandmother was dying, after six days of terrible suffering Pier Giorgio died at the age of 24 on July 4, 1925.
I think Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati shows us how to replace the compete and win, dominate and control mindset that permeates our culture, replacing it with an alternative set of values rooted in the Incarnation. In the book of Hebrews it is written that when Christ came he said to his Father: “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” The response of the virgin Mary to the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she was to be the Mother of the Messiah was also: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” Every prophet and every saint has stood with courage and vulnerability before the face of God and in the midst of the world and repeated these same words, “Here I am, Lord, what would you have me do?”
The choice for eternity has been on every occasion a choice for insecurity, even if only the personal vulnerability of conversion and transformation. For some few, it will involve the insecurity of laying down one’s life for another. God leads us through insecurity so that we discover that everything we trust in on this earth is insecure. The only security that will last is the security of trust, a security we discover when we throw everything to the wind and go where God has sent us, and do what God has commanded.
And so I invite you to close your eyes for a while today and to picture Jesus standing in the midst of the images of Charlottesville impressed on your imagination and memory. Watch him. Listen. Breathe silently the prayer: “Here I am, Lord. What would you have me do?” Picture Jesus in the midst of your family or a troubling situation and ask him to take over your life. Surrender it to him. “Lord, send me.”
I share this as my own journey, and invite each of you, in the way the Lord leads you, to join me along the way.
by Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes, fsp
54 Days to Lepanto-Like Victory for Our Nation
There are 54 days from August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, to October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary — 54 days that can bring change to the morality and healing to our country.
The way? Through the “Novena for Our Nation,” a 54 Day Rosary Novena that begins on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption. For the second year in a row, Father Richard Heilman is urging everyone to join with thousands of others concerned about the welfare of America in praying this novena. Continue reading >