I’ve been in “contemplative-mode” these last few days. It seems like everywhere I look social media, news media, and politics across the globe are all a-buzz with commentary, actions & petitions, and legal battles on everything from gay marriage, & the environment to sequestration, & gun violence. Some of what I’ve read is very good; some of it, not so much. As someone who advocates for peace & justice, I cannot approach any of these issues from my initial feelings of anger & frustration, or from a position of self-righteous indignation. I must take time to reflect or my action degrades into nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction.
In a recent Lenten reflection on the example of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Fr. John Dear, S.J. writes about many examples of Archbishop Romero’s actions and includes stories from the new book Monsenor Romero: Memories in Mosaic by Maria Lopez Vigil (Orbis, 2013). I have not read the book yet, but I was struck more by one of Fr. Dear’s thoughts:
“It’s important not to love ourselves so much that we’re not willing to take the risks that history demands of us,” Romero said in his last homily, one minute before he was assassinated at the altar. That’s an important lesson for all of us — laypeople, priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes included. History, and the Christ of history, demand we take risks on behalf of suffering humanity and creation itself. Romero shows us we do not have to be afraid. We, too, can go forward, do what we can, speak out as best we can, and try to make a difference.
When I consider what is taking place inside the Supreme Court this week, or in the Oval Office, or the “back rooms” of Congress with the lobbyists from Monsanto, or what is happening in war-torn places like Aleppo, Syria, or in ordinary places like the kitchens & living rooms of activists, I am overwhelmed with humanity and a sense of humility. I can read one article and feel angry that such things could happen or that such people could act this way or that. Then I read another article about something else and I am filled with joy, delight, or a feeling of hope in the basic goodness to be found in people here in the US & around the world. But then I read yet another article, tweet or news report about more acts of violence involving drones or a handgun and I am filled with despair again. I either have to stop reading all of this, cut myself off from the world, or I have to adopt a healthier way of responding to it; without fear as Archbishop Romero’s example suggests.
Burying my head in the sand is not an option if I am to “move forward, and try to make a difference”, so I must develop a healthy alternative to riding this emotional roller-coaster. As an activist & advocate for peace & justice there are many amazing examples of men & women who can inspire me; Archbishop Romero, Ghandi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Fr. Thomas Merton, Fr. Richard Rohr, those I marched with during the CIW march last week, Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, and countless others who make headlines only as “protestors”, “occupiers”, or “insurgents”. I believe it is necessary to feel angry, hopeless, or frustrated at first when faced with injustice, but then I have to reflect, contemplate, and/or pray about how to respond to it in a positive way. If I don’t reflect and pray first, then I am no better in my reaction than those who perpetuate the injustices that outrage me.
Words are important. Activists take action against injustices, they do not just react. There is considerable thought behind their actions so that their efforts do make a difference and affect a positive & just change. That, I believe, is why non-violence is the key to successful activism. When we react to injustice without thinking, our words & actions can appear or sound aggressive or violent.
Simplicity is important, too; it is also sometimes the most challenging thing to put into practice. I like reading Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily reflections (the Center for Action & Contemplation). His insights are often simple and obvious, but always rooted in love, contemplation, & non-violence. Fr. Dear’s reflections are also a call to fearless contemplation, non-violence, and action (Pax Christi).
As Christians around the world enter into the Triduum of Holy Week my prayer is that we all reflect on the Passion of Christ, the injustices and pain present in our world today, and how we can respond to God’s call to action on behalf of the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized of our societies. I hope I don’t ever have to be as fearless as Archbishop Romero or a Syrian freedom fighter, but if I am called to take a great risk, I trust that God will be in it with me.