By: Father Pat Travers Diocesan Administrator
During the past month, a variety of events have caused suffering and fear to many people in our Nation and throughout the world. The sudden outburst of organized racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulted in three deaths, many more physical injuries, and a sense of division and powerlessness among many of our people that caused widespread fear of more such violence to come. The testing of increasingly powerful atomic weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles by the oppressive regime of North Korea was accompanied by the specific threats of its dictator to unleash them against our Nation, including our own State of Alaska, as he also threatened the people of South Korea with military aggression that could result in the death of millions. The suffering, death, and destruction caused by hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana were rapidly succeeded by the most powerful earthquake experienced by Mexico in a century and now, as I write this, the catastrophic impact of hurricane Irma in the Caribbean and Florida. And these are just some of the more noteworthy events of violence and devastation during a month in which the longstanding wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; the prolonged confrontation between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land; the harsh oppression of their people by many tyrannical governments throughout the world; the suffering of millions of refugees trying to find lives of peace and security; and the often invisible but unspeakably violent holocaust of unborn children have continued unabated.
The most powerful leaders of the world and of our nation have tried, with limited success but largely in vain, to resolve these appalling situations, despite the access they have to instruments of unimaginable power; to highly trained and dedicated military, diplomatic, and scientific experts; and to means of influencing the perceptions and opinions of millions of people. For the rest of us, who lack these resources of worldly power and all that they make possible, the failure of our leaders to alleviate such tremendous suffering and violence can lead to a sense of hopelessness and despair. Indeed, it presents us with an all too attractive temptation: to conclude there is nothing that we can do about these evil situations, and to try to avoid the distress that this causes us by ignoring them. Of course, it is much more pleasant to focus our attention on other matters, such as the latest feud between young, beautiful, fabulously wealthy divas; this week’s developments in our carefully scripted, so-called “reality” shows; the ever-changing fortunes of our favorite athletes and sports teams; and the superficial wealth of entertainment opportunities that constantly beckons on our computers, tablets, and smart phones. According to this temptation, we would waste our time and energy engaging with the situations of suffering and violence in the world, because there is nothing we can do about them. How much better to spend that time and energy engaged with matters that might be equally beyond our control, but can avoid or mask the discomfort and frustration we might feel if we thought very seriously about those dark situations of misery.
When we, as Christians, succumb to this temptation—as I think we all do from time to time—we are denying our vocation as disciples of the Lord and instruments of his grace. For those of us who have received the Holy Spirit and have been empowered to make Christ present in the world, there is no situation in which we are truly helpless, or in which our intervention—however seemingly small—will be in vain. This is because there is no situation of violence, death, destruction, oppression, or misery that is not subject to the power of God, the power that works in us through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection and the indwelling we have received of his Holy Spirit. Like Mary, the Apostles, and courageous Christian men, women, and children throughout the centuries, we might lack the instruments and resources of worldly power that most consider necessary to combat the darkness and death of our world. Indeed, we have witnessed the frequent futility of such worldly power, as it fails to produce true justice, peace, and happiness in its confrontations with the world’s evil. Because we are instruments of God’s power, the visibility and magnitude of what we do is relatively unimportant. What really matters is how we open ourselves—often in ways that are hidden and interior—to that divine power which alone can bring light into darkness and life from death. What are these ways, and how can they help us respond in God’s power to the evils of our world?
The first is prayer—opening our emptiness and powerlessness to the divine power that fulfills all needs and overcomes all evil. Through the celebration of the Eucharist and of the other Sacraments, and through the rosary, contemplation, and our other forms of prayer as individuals and as communities, we bring the invincible power of Christ to bear on the darkness and death of our world. What so often confuses and discourages us is that the power unleashed by our prayer is not usually manifested in ways that we can immediately feel and see. It is a power that works beyond the limits of space and time, the effects of which might not occur in our lifetimes, and might become known to us only in the world to come. In this, as in all aspects of our lives as Christians, it is critical that we constantly reaffirm our faith and hope in that eternal life that Christ has won for us, and in which all things will be made new. Consumed as we so often are by the concerns of this present world, it is all too easy for us to neglect the eternal dimension of our existence, and to fall prey to hopelessness and bitterness. In our struggle against abortion, for example, it is so important for us to remember that the violent death of millions of little ones is not the last word in their lives: that they continue to live as saints in God’s heavenly kingdom, who intercede for all of us—especially for their parents and those who brought about their deaths—and will rise again in glory on the last day.
There are also, however, many things, however small they might seem, that we can do in this world to combat the forces of death and darkness. Most of us were inspired to hear about the works of loving generosity that were carried out by many of those who found themselves in the catastrophe brought about by hurricane Harvey. The willingness of “ordinary” people to rescue others from the flooding and other dangers caused by that storm were a source of hope that the violence of Charlottesville and the threats and ravings of Kim Jong Un do not represent our true selves. It showed that we are all called to do extraordinary things in loving service to one another—not spectacular things, not demonstrations of worldly might, but the small acts of solidarity and friendship that work such wonders in the face of tragedy.
There are those among us who spend—and sometimes give—their lives in offering this loving service. Two of those who died in Charlottesville and one who died in hurricane Harvey were police officers, carrying out the duties to which they had devoted themselves. As we commemorate another anniversary of the terrible events of September 11, 2001, we remember once again the selfless courage of the police, firefighters, and other first responders who risked and gave their lives on that day; and the thousands of men and women of the Armed Forces who have served, suffered, and died since then in the hope of bringing justice and peace. We also remember the families of those who serve in this way, whose love, support, and silent sacrifice make that service possible. As we each follow the vocation we have received from the Lord, whatever it might be, may we follow the example of their dedication, and look forward to an eternity with them of love, peace, and joy that will destroy the darkness and death of this world.