Sitting in the pew at daily Mass yesterday morning, I felt a chill while the lector proclaimed the reading, taken from the First Letter of John: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).
Even as I listened to those words, images of the previous day’s attack at the Capitol flashed in my mind. Like millions, I was stunned as media outlets broadcast footage of protesters storming the building to challenge the presidential election certification. Lawmakers donned gas masks and huddled on the floor of the chamber, while officers drew their guns against the intruders. A shirtless man wearing horns preened for pictures on the Senate dais; a fellow agitator propped his feet up on an office desk. During a failed attempt to breach the Speaker’s Lobby, a woman was gunned down.
Here in Philadelphia, we’ve been under another kind of siege, with close to 500 homicides and more than 2,240 people shot last year, all amid the pandemic and waves of social unrest. Several of the victims have been children; one was a pregnant woman (who along with her baby survived after an emergency caesarean section).
The battlefield extends to cyberspace, where strife, mockery and misinformation have warped social media channels, including those of Catholics. Along with “polarized,” the term “divisive” is now a common descriptor for our society, and for the church itself.
And it’s more accurate than we may realize, since division is a defining feature of wounds. When our bodily tissues are torn, infection and scarring are the result. With proper medical care, such injuries can be treated. Healing the deep rifts in our communities and our nation, however, will require a far more radical and comprehensive intervention.
In the end, there is one medicine for our sickness: Love, divinely revealed in its fullness through Jesus Christ.
In our pride and arrogance, we stumble over the simplicity of the prescription, thereby lacking the humility to obtain it. Simeon’s prophecy, still echoing in our ears from the Christmas Scriptures, haunts us: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many … and to be a sign that will be contradicted … so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34, 35).
As our souls are laid bare in this dark hour, we must embrace God’s love, which will lead us out from our digital barricades on Twitter and Facebook, and give us the courage to discern the image and likeness of God even in our enemies — whether they are across the world, the political aisle, the street or the dinner table.
We must surrender to this love that created and saved us, and that calls us to care for our sisters and brothers, feeding and sustaining both body and soul, from conception to natural death.
We must submit to this love’s ordained rule of law, while praying for the enlightenment and correction of our leaders when they err.
Only in this love do we truly know ourselves, others and reality itself; as the psalmist reminds us, “in (the Lord’s) light we see light” (Ps 36:10).
To this love, in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), we will one day give an account. And as followers of Christ, our reckoning will be greater, for “much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Lk 12:48).
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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