November 12, 2016
Several weeks ago, Sister Raya who ministers at the Santa Sabina Retreat Center in San Rafael, California, asked me to send her a theme and description for the day of reflection I was scheduled to give there on November 9th. Noting it was the day after the United States went to the polls to elect a new president and vote on several other offices and issues, I sent the title, “The Day After: Discovering Hope in Difficult Times.” In my email to Sister Raya, I explained that regardless of the election results, this was the most contentious, even vicious, campaign in recent memory and the country is so polarized that whoever won, we would need to draw upon the deep resources of our hope to bring some healing.
Most of the people who came to the day of reflection were in a state of shock, sadness, and even fear because of the election results. But we followed the prescription offered by Anne Frank in Diary of a Young Girl: “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy, is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God.” The quiet beauty of the surroundings and the silence that guided and guarded the day were certainly helpful. But also, the collective wisdom, insight, and courage of those who gathered that day gave me great hope. We told stories, broke bread, and passed the chalice of the blood of Christ at the Eucharist to conclude our day together. We offered each other peace, and then turned out toward the world to offer the peace we shared with our country and our world.
The next day as I was walking on the campus of the University of California in Berkeley, I came upon a gathering sponsored by the faculty of the university. At one point, the leader asked each person to put his or her hand on the shoulder of the person next to them and in silence offer encouragement, solidarity, and prayer.
It is easier to hope when your candidates are elected and causes are embraced. It is easier to hope when the world tells us stories of love and inclusion, compassion and hospitality rather than anecdotes of hate and fear, exclusion and discrimination, apathy and hostility. It is easier to hope when the scan is clean and there’s no evidence of a life-threatening illness, when the cancer is in remission, when the prognosis looks good. It is easier to hope when your voice is being heard.
Regardless of how we voted, whether our candidate won or lost, our causes were embraced or defeated, as Precious Blood people our work of reconciliation begins again in earnest. Our nation is deeply divided. We can either build walls that keep others, especially those with whom we disagree, out of our circle of care and concern; or we can build bridges of reconciliation by taking the first steps toward creating a space for those we find most difficult to love. Of course, this is not easy to do. But as Jean Vanier wrote, “To enter the path of forgiveness, we have to lose our feelings of both superiority and inferiority.”
As a province, if our corporate stances mean anything, we must recommit ourselves to work for a just immigration policy, for prevention of gun violence, and for an end to the death penalty. As people of faith, we must always protect and promote the dignity of all human life. Jesus sought to draw all peoples near through his precious blood—even those who pounded the nails into his hands and hung him on a tree. As Martin Luther King reminded us, the reason Jesus taught us to “love your enemies” is “that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. There is something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive.”
In my homily at the Mass to conclude our reflection at Santa Sabina on the day after the election, I related the story Ram Dass tells about how during the Reagan administration, he could not tolerate Caspar Weinberger who was the Secretary of Defense. Whenever he saw the secretary’s face on television or in a magazine, he could feel his chest tighten and acid churn in his stomach. As a spiritual seeker, Ram Dass knew this was not only destructive to his own soul but that he was only sending negative thoughts and energy to Caspar Weinberger to reinforce the policies he deplored.
So, he decided to place a picture of the Secretary of Defense that he cut out of a magazine on his prayer table, along with the pictures of his parents and grandparents, his guru, Jesus, and other people whose holiness he drew inspiration. Every morning he would begin his prayer by greeting each of these pictures, including the picture of Caspar Weinberger. At first, he noticed how his voice was filled with love when he mentioned the names of his mentors but was filled with disgust when he mentioned the name of Caspar Weinberger. But over time, as he continued to hold the secretary in his heart in prayer, he noticed his voice soften when he said his name. Hard hearts crush compassion but prayer for those we find difficult to love softens the soul—and may even tenderize the hearts of those with whom we disagree.
My friends, as our nation faces an uncertain future, may we stand as a lamp in the darkness that will help others find the path toward understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and peace. Pray for those with whom you disagree. If you use social media, please encourage thoughtful dialogue and respect. As Mary DeMuth reminds, “We cannot love our enemies until we see those twin truths: God loves me. God loves them.”
With peace in the blood of Christ,
Fr. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.