We live in a “knee-jerk” culture. Just as a doctor can make a patient's leg jump by tapping the tendon below the knee, our media can (intentionally or unintentionally) elicit automatic responses. Rather than seriously discuss an issue, people will often simply react emotionally to some word or phrase. I saw an example of that kind of reaction in response to the Holy Father's September 11 statement regarding terrorism:
The spread of terrorism across the world “calls for firmness and decision, in fighting the workers of death,” the Pope said. But he quickly added that the decisive action against terrorism should not take the form of a military campaign…He argued that world leaders should seek to root out the primary causes of terrorism, "especially misery, desperation and the emptiness in hearts."
The Holy Father then made this impassioned appeal:
“Violence begets violence. That is why war should always be considered a defeat: the defeat of reason and of humanity. May a new spiritual and cultural thrust soon lead humankind to banish war. War never again!”
A young man – who normally seems fairly sensible – reacted: “I’m sorry, but that sounds awfully naïve.”
Though somewhat predictable, the young man's reaction - when you think about it - was almost comical. Here you have someone reared in a comfortable U.S. surburb saying that the pope is naïve. Think about it. The pope was an adolescent during the depression years. As a clandestine seminarian during World War II, he saw classmates arrested and murdered by the Nazis who occupied his country. After the War he served first as a priest, then as a bishop during the years of communist oppression. He forged a policy based not on direct confrontation (as for example in Hungary) but on finding the weak spot in the communist system and driving in a wedge at that point. From discussions with university students, he surmised that the debility of communism was its understanding of the human person.* Once he identified that weakness he inserted the wedge and used every opportunity to stike it – until eventually the entire structure crumbled.
Far from being naïve, the pope illustrates a virtue Jesus praises in today’s Gospel: prudence. It is a virtue we need today as we face the great threat of global terrorists. To combat them simply with an application of force will not work in the long run – or, as we are discovering, even in the short run. The Holy Father is challenging us to embrace a more in-depth response, one which involves responding to the “misery, desperation and the emptiness in hearts.” Will the “children of light” listen to his voice?
*The orthodox communist understanding is that each human is a mere machine. The best we can do is minimize pain and maximize enjoyment (which they felt they could achieve by building a utopian society). That view of the human person follows logically from their materialistic philosophy. While materialism seems to explain everything, it does so only by leaving out everything that matters. The pope - and many others who saw the weakness of communism - succeeded by continually reminding people of what really mattered.
From Archives (25th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Scripture Study, Sin of not voting, CBS - Catholic Bashing System)
Les Femmes (check out their website!)
Atheist Sociologist Puzzles Over Whether Christianity is Authoritarian or Libertarian
Catholic Workers review The Passion of the Christ:
"The Jesus in The Passion certainly is more true to the Gospels than the Jesus as a playground supervisor that has emerged in catechetics since Vatican II."
Pictures of Dalmatics, Chasubles & Stoles
Some links and reflections on "Rathergate"
Preaching Schedule (revised)