The Only Answer I Have

Why, Lord, do you stand afar and pay no heed in times of trouble?

Psalm 10:1 
Into the uncertainty of a pandemic comes the uncertainty of injustice and its aftermath. I write to you, our Catholic students at Duke, to simply say I am with you in the wide range of emotions that can come in these days.

I wish I could explain the expressions of senseless violence rooted in the unjust abuse of power. The fear of being treated inhumanely (let alone unjustly) that so many people of color in our country live with on a daily basis needs our active attention. The cry of those whose property and personal safety has been impacted by mob violence also requires an urgent response. Our reaction need not be about who is more wrong—that only diverts our engagement from what is at the heart of the sin that divides us. In order for the most vulnerable among us to be safe, it is not simply the most powerful who need to act. All of us can use this moment to bring about the justice and peace that only God can give.

I write to encourage each of us (myself included) not to simply be frightened or disgusted or outraged or ashamed. All of these emotions, and many more, are an appropriate response to the events of the last week, but it is not enough. While we may feel that our God is far off, the Pentecost that we just celebrated this past Sunday reminds us of the omnipresence of the Holy Spirit of love who can overcome even the most contentious of situations and the realities of greatest despair. That truth of faith must be at the beginning, the middle and the end of all that we think, say and do in response to injustice and violence. Any human endeavor is ultimately doomed to failure without the Holy Spirit.

G.K. Chesterton once noted that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and not tried.” It is difficult to live the Holy Spirit of love in all areas of our lives, and therefore it is usually not tried. The life of St. Francis of Assisi is especially poignant in these days as he rejected the power structures of his day to embrace a radical living of the Gospel of love, especially of the marginalized. It was difficult, but 800 years later we still invoke his memory as we pray for peace.

I was tempted to write “I don’t have any answers to these seemingly insurmountable obstacles”, but I do have an answer. I share these challenges not to discourage, but rather to offer hope of the only truth, the only answer I know: the Gospel truth of Jesus Christ as the waythe truth and the life.

Now more than ever may we recommit to the vows of our Baptism and the grace of our Confirmation to allow the Holy Spirit to live fully in us the very love that God has for all of God’s people and all of creation. Protest peacefully if you are called to change the social order. Pray that appropriate security measures can be carried out daily by law enforcement who regularly risk their own lives for our safety. But above all, do not fear that the Lord stands afar off. “You listen, Lord, to the needs of the poor; you strengthen their heart and incline your ear. You win justice for the orphaned and oppressed; no one on earth will cause terror again.” Psalm 10: 17-18

Peace,
Fr. Mike

fr.mike@duke.edu  c. 919-316-8763 / w. 919-684-1882
Follow me on Twitter @TheDukePriest