By Fr. Glenn Jones
As we read of the protests arising out of the outrage of the George Floyd death, we cannot help but to remember the 1960s and the demonstrations during the civil rights movement. There were riots then, too, of course, but what really got things moving (albeit slowly) were the peaceful mass protests, very often led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and people moved by his unmatched powerful oratory.
Who among those who have watched videos of them can forget his “I have a dream” speech, or how he proclaimed his hope that persons would one day be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character? We might add to his statement the need not to judge by many factors—religion, employment, financial condition, etc. For instance, some of the poorest are the most generous to others, and some rich the least so. In the Gospels, both Jesus and John the Baptist likewise excoriated ostensibly holy but hypocritical religious leaders of the time as “whitewashed tombs” and “brood of vipers”, proclaiming that people “will know them by their fruits”.
Alas, Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 after having done so much for the cause of good and promoting the recognition of the equality of all men and women.
By happenstance, the current protests and riots are occurring during this 76th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe by the Allied Forces in World War II. We remember the tremendous sacrifices of those who stormed the beaches, the vast majority of them in their late teens and early twenties with their whole lives ahead—many of whom destined never to return to hearth and home. No “safe space” for them except through a hail of bullets and other gunfire to eventual victory over the tyranny which had laid claim over a vast majority of Europe and North Africa. Had they not had the courage to move forward despite the danger—to sacrifice—we might likely be living in a much different world today.
The willingness to put one’s life or livelihood on the line for the good of others is hands down the most honorable of actions. An often-remembered line from the Declaration of Independence indicates the men of the Continental Congress’s willingness to “…pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” in the pursuit of freedom. We Christians often recall Jesus’s declarations … that He “…came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Matthew 20:28), and “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13)—a sacrifice of self He would fulfill. Even children realize this, and play at being firefighters or police officers or some defender of good over evil. After all, regardless of the vitriol which is aimed at police in the current situation, it is they upon whom we depend when dangers arise, and the vast majority of officers knowingly seek to serve, and they put themselves in harm’s way for the protection of the public.
And thus we remember the sacrifices of so many for the good of others, and seek to emulate those who are truly worthy of admiration. Christians often remember the lives of the saints, such as the early martyrs who gave their lives testifying to the faith, or the likes of Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Martin de Porres and Mother Teresa who gave all in charity in order to assist the poor and helpless. We think of uncounted numbers of religious sisters who worked day and night in schools and hospitals for no other reward except which comes from love of God and neighbor.
Yes, we “will know them by their fruits.” If those fruits are selfishness and self-interest alone, the fruit will be rotten. And so, like so many before us, let us seek always to bear those good fruits of sacrifice for others when needed, and so emulate Jesus Himself, who sacrificed even His life for us—the very model of charity for the world.
“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
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.