After a recent daily Mass at my parish, several worshippers (myself included) remained in the pews to pray the rosary. Annie, an older woman who was a church regular, led the decades, her tone clear and measured; the beads slipped through her fingers steadily as our responses followed in rhythm.
But once she’d finished the final sign of the cross, her voice broke, and she burst out, “What is happening in this world?”
Turning to a woman nearby, she pleaded, “Why is Russia invading Ukraine? And why aren’t we doing more to stop it?”
Wiping her eyes, she continued, “What about all these shootings in Buffalo and Texas and all around this city?”
And then, lowering her head, she almost sobbed: “And why don’t more people seem to care?”
Without waiting for an answer, she gathered her things, fled to a statue of Mary and knelt in sorrowful silence.
The rest of us were also mute, partly from shock over the uncharacteristic display of emotion, and – perhaps even more so – from a recognition that Annie had put into words what many of us were actually feeling. The nave rang with her unexpected but not entirely unwelcome mix of psalm-like lament and prophetic rebuke.
In my own heart, Annie’s last question echoed for quite a long time afterward; in fact, it still does. With tragedy after tragedy filling the headlines, and with more ink spilled as more blood is shed, why do we seem on balance to be – well, if not entirely indifferent, at least far less concerned than might reasonably be expected?
Why are we willing to send “thoughts and prayers” after lives have been lost, but not before?
Why are we resigned to bullets and bombs flying throughout our world, as long as they don’t cross our own doorstep?
Rather than seeking the Lord in this dark and violent hour, we instead seem to collectively shrug and focus on that which lulls and distracts us.
Just over a month after Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine – an assault that horrifically accelerated attacks initiated in 2014 – our nation was transfixed not by the brutality of a war that has violated the 1948 Genocide Convention and threatened global peace, but by a far more insignificant conflict: a boorish face-slap actor Will Smith delivered onstage to Academy Awards presenter Chris Rock.
One media headline even offered readers a “deep dive” on the March 27 incident – as if the tired trope of celebrity misbehavior merited such so-called analysis, especially as Ukrainians were being shelled and slaughtered, and as gunfire ricocheted through any number of American neighborhoods.
Reflecting on the Genesis account of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-16), in which the Lord questions Cain on the whereabouts of his murdered brother, Pope Francis reminds us that “even today … God’s voice asks not only each of us, but all humanity: ‘Where is your brother, where is your sister?’”
Like Cain, who dared to ask in return if he were his brother’s keeper, our response is damning, said the pope: “We reply, ‘I know where these people who were bombed are, where those who were driven away from there are, but they are not my brothers; I have destroyed the bond.’”
Having severed that communion, said the pope, “many of the world’s powerful people can say, ‘I am interested in this territory; I am interested in this piece of land … if a bomb falls and kills 200 children, it is not my fault; it is the bomb’s fault; it is the territory that interests me.’”
No matter the battleground, hostilities first break out in the heart, said Pope Francis: “Everything begins with that feeling which leads you to pull away, to say to the other person … ‘he is not my brother.’”
Ironically, that distancing ultimately brings us face-to-face with the very ones we scorn, “(ending) in a war that kills,” said the pope.
Our planet is too small for us to delude ourselves that the anguish of others – the sufferings of “those people over there,” whether “there” is thousands of miles or a few feet away – has nothing to do with us. Just as Abel’s blood “cried out to (God) from the ground” (Gen 4:10), so the blood of millions wails even now.
The Lord hears those cries.
And if we do, are we ready to answer, as love commands us?
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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