Reconciliation – John Robert Lewis
When I think of the word “reconciliation” which is the charism or the gift of the message of Our Lady of La Salette, I cannot help but think of a prophetic person that embodies that Gospel value. I am referring to John Lewis, the congressman from Atlanta, Georgia, who died of cancer so recently.
As a young man he was the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He kept up that non-violent approach as a solution to the systemic racism and violence which sadly has been a part of our Country’s history for hundreds of years. When so many insisted that only violence could overcome embedded violence, John Lewis instead chose to practice the radical teaching of Jesus, to: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you.” He put those words into bold action by being beaten several times for his Gospel beliefs and often going to jail simply for defending the dignity of the people around him.
There are so many people who call themselves Christians and yet are not faithful to this core teaching of Jesus. John Lewis was an authentic disciple of Jesus’ unconditional love, as were Martin Luther King and Father Thomas Merton. That is why John Lewis was called the “Conscience of Congress” – all of Congress, both the Republicans and the Democrats. But that took such courage and perseverance in following his ideals. I love the quote that was often attributed to him: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
I want to quote Dianna Ortiz OSU, Director of Pax Christi USA, on her reflections on the life of John Lewis in her statement of gratitude: “I will forever remember him as someone who took the time to listen to the sufferings of the tortured. ……With few words, he calmly urged those of us who knew suffering firsthand to replace our fears with courage, our hopelessness with hope and our bottled -up rage with non-violent action. John Lewis stood for truth, compassion and love – – – everything that we yearn not just for ourselves, our families, our communities and our world, but for yesterday’s and today’s oppressors. John Lewis was Jesus in our midst.”
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
Lately it seems like a day cannot go by without a new crisis that strikes us on the local scene as well as the national scene. However, in the midst of these upsetting circumstances, I notice signs of great hope and renewal. It reminds me of the opening lines from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of two Cities
On the negative side it appears that we are up against the perfect storm. So many factors are coming together that, like a tornado, it can do a great deal of damage. I am speaking about the spread of the corona virus, the loss of employment for millions of Americans as an economic result, as well as the ugly surge of racism that has appeared in so many parts of our Country. The sad example of prejudice against African Americans has been part of our American history for hundreds of years: but it seems like it has never been so visible or out in the open as this year of 2020, especially in the example of the killing of George Floyd.
That is why I am so grateful to also point out the positive side of all these circumstances that are happening so quickly. As people of faith and commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, we certainly need a sense of hope and courage that we can get through this and be stronger and more united as a result.
We cannot say the pandemic is coming to an end because there are still thousands of people sick, many of them dying as a consequence. But progress is being made in the discovery of a remedy. The Government has provided financial support for millions of families and individuals that needed support. The “Black Lives Matter” movement has awakened us as never before in our history to the brutal mistreatment we have given to our African American sisters and brothers.
It seems we are changing from a very individualistic approach to one that is more community centered. Both outlooks have value, but we are growing in what some call a “culture of encounter.” As one person observed in a June magazine article of Living City: “What I have learned the most from this is that we are more like the aspen trees that are connected underground through their root systems than the palm trees that grow by themselves. Considering that 38 percent of Americans live alone, what this crisis has taught me more than anything is that it is up to me to start connecting with others who might be alone. Our communities need to evolve, more like aspen trees than palm trees.”
Father John Sullivan, M.S.
The Mystery of Forgiveness
(24th Ordinary Sunday: Sirach 27:30—28:7; Rom. 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35)
Today we begin with statistics. How often, I wondered, did God forgive his people, as compared to the times he punished them. It took little research to show that, in the vast majority of cases, forgiveness is either given or promised.
One of the classic texts is found in today’s Psalm: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.”
In the first reading and the Gospel, it is clear that our starting point or, if you prefer, our default position, ought to be a readiness—dare we say eagerness?—to forgive.
During my research, however, I was struck also by the number of times forgiveness is paired with atonement. A typical example is in Leviticus 5:13: “The priest shall make atonement on the person’s behalf for the wrong committed, so that the individual may be forgiven.”
Herein lies the connection to the reading from Romans. Paul writes: “For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living,” The context for this saying is made clear in the very next sentence: “Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
We are not lords of one another. That title belongs exclusively to Jesus. It was bestowed on him when he offered himself on the cross as atonement for our sins. As his disciples, we do not have the option to withhold forgiveness.
Part of the submission to which the Beautiful Lady of La Salette calls us is that we accept the mercy won for us by her Son. Once we do so, it will be a joy for us to honor him as he deserves.
Novelist Terry Goodkind writes, “There is magic in sincere forgiveness; in the forgiveness you give, but more so in the forgiveness you receive” (Temple of the Winds, p. 318).
Substitute the word “grace” for “magic,” and see how the text is transformed: no longer words of wisdom, but an invitation to enter into one of the great mysteries of our faith.
Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.
(23rd Ordinary Sunday: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus foresees that conflicts will inevitably arise between members of his Church.
His first concern is that the matter be resolved peacefully. It must not be allowed to fester, leading to serious divisions that might spread into the community.
It is equally important, however, that the issue be kept within the Church. In 1 Corinthians 6, St. Paul complains about believers bringing cases to civil courts: “Can it be that there is not one among you wise enough to be able to settle a case between brothers? But rather brother goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers?”
Many religious communities have (or had) an exercise called “fraternal admonition.” In pairs or small groups, members point out one an others failings. Ideally, each would take the comments to heart with gratitude and strive to improve oneself.
Some might even be called to a more prophetic stance, especially if they believe that the community itself is in danger of going astray. Like Ezekiel, they feel a personal responsibility to challenge others.
The hard thing in all this is to be faithful to the commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We ought to behave towards one another without giving or taking offense, and with no hardening of the heart. Then the issue of reconciliation does not arise.
However, since the Church is made up of real persons, occasional conflict will arise, ranging anywhere from strong differences of opinion to serious accusations of wrongdoing. The first condition for reconciliation that it be genuinely desired by both parties.
What does any of this have to do with La Salette, one might ask? A great deal. Mary addressed herself to a people absorbed with their own troubles and blaming God. They had so lost sight of Christ, that reconciliation did not even occur to them.
It took a Beautiful Lady, speaking in prophetic terms, to make them see that reconciliation was desirable and achievable. Through her tears, she offered a maternal admonition, giving us a model of the truly reconciling heart.
Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.