This is an editorial published online Oct. 31 on the website of the Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia. It was written by Mary Hood Hart, a columnist for the paper.
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20)
I once considered the metaphor of the mustard seed an exaggeration. Of course, I have that much faith. Mustard seeds are smaller than ants. My life suggests I have faith. I work for the Catholic Church. I regularly attend Mass. I teach others about the faith. I write a column for a Catholic paper.
Surely, Jesus was using hyperbole to express how much we could accomplish with more faith than we now have.
But, I don’t believe that. I know now that my faith is minuscule. On good days, I can barely find it, a mere speck. On bad days, I am consumed by the darkness. I continue to do what I’ve always done, but I am not faith-filled, not now. The only time my faith grows to something beyond a speck is when I am in community.
I thought of the mustard seed because I felt called to write a column about the massacre of the Jewish worshippers at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Before this atrocity, this seed of faith had blossomed into a healthy, strong community, a community rooted in the suffering and displacement of its ancestors. A community of people who knew what it meant to welcome the stranger, because many had themselves been strangers and found welcome there. A community that, on the day of bloodshed, was welcoming its newest member through a bris, the ancient ceremony celebrating a covenant, establishing an identity, blessing the child, giving God’s child a name.
What does it mean for us as a country that this massacre happened to God’s people as they observed Shabbat?
What does it mean for us as a country that one of us, filled with rage and terror, felt it was his duty to “his people” to gun down those he despised?
It means we are in the depths of darkness, and we must stop what we are doing and consider what we have done.
Acts of hate have risen in this country dramatically over the last two years, with a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 (www.adl.org). We cannot tell ourselves that the bloodshed in Pittsburgh was the act of one deranged man. This man was radicalized, just as much as any Islamic State warrior. He made it his personal jihad to kill people whom he saw as threats. He murdered a 97-year-old woman, a revered fixture in her congregation. He slaughtered brothers who were distributing prayer books, welcoming congregants. He gunned down people who had so much love and life to give. And he did it because he saw them as his enemies, not his tribe.
This was not an “isolated act” of hate. This was an act of hate that culminated from the hatred being spewed in this country. The hatred of Jews, yes, but also the hatred of immigrants, refugees, Muslims and any group deemed a threat because they are “the other,” even including transgender and homosexual people.
This hatred has been stoked by those who would divide us by manufacturing terror. Scapegoats are created to increase the fear so that the American people sense threats looming on every corner. These are the lies: A caravan funded by rich Jews. Gang members. Rapists. Drug dealers. Pedophiles. Thugs. Mobs. All manufactured fears to keep us from following Christ’s teaching to love one another. Authoritarianism depends upon its subjects being divided and fearful.
This fear mongering is deliberate. It is exploitative. It is wrong. We must condemn it and those who falsely promulgate it to their own gain.
The killer in Pennsylvania appears to have been motivated by his fear of a caravan, a group of refugees fleeing violence, poverty and persecution. He didn’t see them as refugees; he saw them as “invaders.” He was encouraged to see them that way because of the vitriol poisoning our public discourse.
I heard a congregant from Tree of Life interviewed after the massacre. He said that after their “shiva” period of mourning has ended, his community will return to doing what they have been taught to do, what is ingrained in them from childhood: “tikkun olam.” He defined this phrase as “repairing the world.”
The people of Tree of Life Synagogue will not allow this act of terror to prevent them pursuing God’s work. In goodwill and solidarity, the Muslim community has raised money for the synagogue so that they can continue their good work. Two scorned tribes are coming together in this promised land because they are both seen as “the other.”
How will we Christians respond?
Will we seek to repair the world? Or will we allow ourselves to be manipulated by fear?
Will we have faith the size of a mustard seed? Or will we give in to isolation and despair?
Will we welcome the stranger? Or will we harden our hearts and slam our doors?
Will we live the precepts of charity and love that Christ taught us?
If we do not see what’s being done to dehumanize groups of people in our midst, we will be swept in a current of hatred from which, as a democratic republic, we may never recover.
Jesus also said of the mustard seed: “To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” (Mk 4: 30-32)
The Tree of Life reflects the kingdom of God. Once planted it will not be destroyed. Its roots are deep.
If we all plant such seeds, our roots will be strong and we will not close our hearts and minds to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, even those being demonized by people who want to make us afraid.
The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicPhilly.com, Catholic News Service or of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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