Sadly, the incivility and lack of respect both for persons and the common good has continued…

Publisher’s note: “The elections are behind us and those elected have now assumed office. Sadly the incivility and lack of respect both for persons and the common good has continued unabated to the dismay of us all which in fact could undermine our belief that we are One Nation Under God.

Campaigns come and go, governing however is serious business because it directly affects lives and futures. Below is the article I wrote during the campaign which in many ways is more applicable to how we as Catholics and citizens respond to issues before our country and state with prayer, clear understanding and living Gospel values well.”

Recent events at home and abroad have left many bewildered and dispirited. The bold acts of violence, division among peoples, harsh rhetoric and lack of respect for one another seems overwhelming. How are we to cope and live with hope in the midst of such tragedy and uncertainty?

Much is beyond our personal control of course. Thus we pray that our leaders will be granted the wisdom, patience and perseverance that will lead to more peaceful ways to resolve differences using just, fair and respectful means. That is what our system of law is charged to do. Yet this constant churning affects us all.

There are three sources of consolation that can help us during such stressful times. They include prayer, understanding today’s reality as it truly is, and living Gospel values in our daily lives whatever is swirling around us.
The Prayer of Saint Francis offers us guidance and mission.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

“O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

For some this plea seems simplistic or impossible to achieve so grave are the times and the impact of our fallen human nature. The most important word in this prayer is the first one: “Lord”. We need to strengthen our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord, to even begin to become his instrument of peace. When we are separated from Jesus even unintentionally the evil one plays to our weaknesses, raises doubts and seeks for us to despair.

What this prayer offers is turning the negative into positive: hatred to love, injury to forgiveness and mercy, doubt into trust in God’s will and God’s way, despair of the future into a hopeful one, darkness into light, and sadness into joy. None of this can we achieve on our own. However as Sacred Scripture notes: with God everything is possible. We need to pray: come Lord Jesus more deeply into our lives and be our rock in the midst of the world.

Secondly we need to understand the circumstances, the actual facts and not the incomplete or false conclusions some direct us to. This includes considering the source of the information to which we react.

With the new technology, most of what we know comes from brief headlines written by anonymous authors. Headlines or subject titles by their limited nature are unable to provide the fullness of the facts. Most of the blogs, e-mails, and TV “breaking news” offer an introduction of a subject but not its fullness. They are a rich field for gossip, slander and detraction. We ought not to accept as conclusive what the brief headline suggests but rather go beyond the simplistic to discover the often more complicated truth.

We also ought to be skeptical of polls which seem to drive news coverage these days. Polls are taken on a wide range of subjects including politics, health issues, even the popularity of the Pope and adherence to Church teaching. Many are reputable but they can be skewered by the questions asked and the interpretations offered by those who may profit from them. In any case they are what some call a “snap shot” (an ancient term in our digital age), a picture even if accurate which is true only for that moment. Thus polls, though they can offer valuable insight, ought to be taken with a “grain of salt.” Again we need to look beyond the surface.

The development of social media has brought forth new and instantaneous ways to share information with family, friends and others who “like” us or who we choose to “like”. It has many benefits and can be a source of shared information and even recreation. However, government officials regularly warn of scams that seek to take advantage of well-meaning users of this technology. Explaining complicated subjects in 140 characters is not possible; they can only be brief introductions which require further investigation. So we should use technology in appropriate ways but also with careful eyes.

And we ought to be students of history, sadly lacking these days. For us today is the most important time in history because it is the time in which we are living. But that can be prideful and misleading. Much of the churning in our society is not new; it is only expressed in modern day ways. Thus we can learn from the lessons of the past and allow them to bring perspective to what may seem to us a new phenomenon.

Among my daily spiritual reading is “Sisterhood of Saints.” (Rigney) Each day women saints are raised up. Recently the story of two family sisters, Justa and Rufina, was highlighted. They created earthenware pottery but were concerned about how it would be used. When some wanted to purchase their pottery for use in pagan ceremonies, they refused. As a result all their pottery was destroyed in retaliation. Eventually they were martyred. Sound familiar? This occurred in the 3rd century. Study world, US and church history for insights and additional perspective.

Finally we might seek to live more fully lives of virtue in our personal relationships and internal thoughts. Knowing the time honored teachings of Christ expressed through his Church and why they are so can also bring perspective. One of the challenges of our day is the rejection of God and the effort to isolate faith from faith lived in its fullness. We must reject that threat and stand up for our rights and for truth regardless of reactions of others and even personal consequences. To thyself be true can be seen as a mantra to be true to what we believe in order to be true to the one in whom we believe, Jesus Christ.

All this comes together for me by contemplating the crucifix, Our Lord on the cross. This prayer form reminds me of His loving and merciful sacrifice and how small are my concerns and crosses in comparison. It also reminds me that the cross was not the last word, the empty tomb followed which gives me hope for the future.

Yes, these are troubled times that can discourage us. Yet prayer, informed understanding and living Gospel values will offer us perspective and the strength to cope because our hope is in the name of the Lord.

Bishop Swain's Column, February 2017