By Fr. Glenn Jones
Ah, spring … flowers blooming, trees budding, birds nesting. Riots raging.
Kind of a perfect storm this year. Nerves were already on edge because of the coronavirus pandemic and people having to be cooped up for so long, the uncertainty of possible contagion, shortages of goods, so many persons losing their jobs because of the various quarantines and strictures put in place … not even to mention the families affected by the loss or illness of family members. Family separations, lack of funds, lack of essentials … and you have a kettle of frustration just below boiling point. Add some racial tension and injustice, and the pressure cooker blows the lid off and the contents flash into steam.
Yes, there are still racial tensions and inequities in our nation; there always will be. And our nation is hardly unique in this, except perhaps with even more due to its multiplicity of races and cultures which make up the “melting pot” of the U.S. In our human drive to compete and with our desire to stand out from the crowd, many will seize upon any difference or categorization to elevate themselves, and few things take less effort than despising another race, nationality, culture, or socio-economic class. “Oh, he looks different, therefore I and my group must be superior!” type of attitude. Just recently, in fact, I myself experienced a minor instance of this in an email from a person (ostensibly) despising me for being “white” and originally from Texas, yet now living/working in New Mexico. Well … alrighty then!
When it comes to argument, one great truth is that “You can’t expect to be rational with someone who’s irrational,” … at least if they’re not open to logical argument, and especially when they’re in a highly emotional state. This does not even touch upon deep-seated emotional or psychological issues which may be present, or long-ingrained—even from childhood—prejudices.
The recent events of rioting and unrest come at a particularly poignant time in our Church year, for this Sunday (May 31) most Christians are celebrating the feast of Pentecost—a time when we memorialize the coming of the Holy Spirit of God upon the apostles and other disciples of Jesus. The Spirit imbued them with the strength and fortitude to go out and “make disciples of all nations” in that great commission that Jesus gave in the penultimate verse of the Gospel of Matthew. Pentecost, therefore, is often called the “birthday of the Church”, as the disciples went forth from that day forward to preach to all nations this Gospel of Jesus which would eventually spread to the whole world. His gospel, if understood and followed, unites rather than divides, for St. Paul assures us that God wishes “…all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4), and thus Jesus is “…a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, recalling the descent of the Holy Spirit, states that thereafter the disciples’ previous timidity and fear is transformed into boldness of action. Tossing caution to the wind, they go out and preach to all peoples—native and foreign—in Jerusalem and the world, excluding none. As a sixth century African author wrote, “I do indeed speak in the tongues of all men, because I belong to the body of Christ, that is, the Church, and she speaks all languages. What else did the presence of the Holy Spirit indicate at Pentecost, except that God’s Church was to speak in the language of every people?” And if speaking to every people, then accepting every people … bar none.
Such God-desired inclusivity is glaringly apparent in the book of Revelation as St. John describes his vision of the Heavenly elders proclaiming of the Lamb (Jesus): “…thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10) And in another place, if I may quote somewhat at length because of its importance: “…behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes …Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb…the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:9-1)
And so, if members of every “tribe, tongue, people and nation” are part of the Heavenly host, dare any Christian believe that he can despise any of them? If Jesus loved each and every one enough to die for him/her, shall a Christian believe that he can hate or despise of them? Even if a Christian (erroneously) believe himself “better” than others, can he not remember one of Jesus’—his Lord’s—most stressed principles: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all…” (Mark 9:35), for Jesus—the divine Son—Himself “…for a little while was made lower than the angels…” (Hebrews 2:9) “…came not to be served but to serve…” (Matthew 20:28)
We hear a warning in 1 John: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) We may have instilled prejudices, have had negative experiences, etc., but the Christian is not allowed hatred of another. “Christian hatred” is self-contradictory, for hatred is the absence of love … and since God IS love, hate is the absence of God. Overcoming anger and hatred can be quite the chore, certainly, but never an impossible one, for we are ever heartened in the knowledge that: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.