“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.”
It’s hard to believe this statement was written 2000 years ago, given what is happening in our world today. From the birthplaces of Christianity, to Africa, to European nations, to the cities of our own country, we are engulfed in violence. Not only is violence committed against religion but it is too often committed in the name of religion or by fanatics who distort the religion they claim to represent. Commonly, innocent people are targeted as they go about their daily lives, shopping, eating, seeing a movie, going to school, or just walking down the street. It seems that no one is safe anywhere.
In the midst of this violence, Pope Francis declares a Year of Mercy. How can we bring God’s Mercy to bear? How can we proclaim our faith in the face of senseless aggression, killing, and violence? Gandhi gave us a clue when he said, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.”
As a nation, I believe the worst thing we can do is over-react out of fear. Japanese-Americans have nightmarish memories of being confined to camps during World War II based solely on their cultural origin. Yet there are calls to figuratively or literally do the same to Muslims, based solely on their faith. Then go on to condemn desperate families fleeing from war, rape, and horrific treatment. We are told to cower in fear, judging anyone whose skin color, culture, or religious beliefs are different. Slam and lock the doors, forget about your neighbor, and refuse to help anyone but your own.
This may give the appearance of safety. But it does not give security. It breeds more fear, and generates more violence.
So on the national level, I send donations of money, clothing, and food to organizations that support and re-settle refugees in our county. I have also written to my senators and representatives to plead for reason and well-considered responses instead of gut reactions. With each move, I pray that hearts may change and our leaders will have the wisdom to know how to proceed.
On a personal level, often the most effective tool against fear is understanding and personal engagement. I was seated by a young female maître’d wearing a Muslim headscarf. I thanked her for having the courage to profess her faith in public and showed her the cross around my own neck. Tears welled up in her eyes. She told me she never goes a day without facing hateful stares, hand gestures, and even spitting, insults she endures as gracefully as she can. Then she said, “I wish people knew how much this violence breaks my heart, and how hard my Muslim community tries to bring peace and live out the real truths of our faith. It helps me to know there are good people in this world. Thank you so much.”
What can you do? Who can you reach out to? This Advent season, as we anticipate the incarnation of God into a refugee family whose rulers practiced a different faith from their own, may we live out the Mercy of our God and work to bring peace.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.