We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
(6214 N. Glenwood), beginning at 8:00 p.m. Folks are welcome to join us at anytime.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Releasing "Enemy"; Taking Hold of Love

My mind races in a myriad of directions as I consider the readings from Session Two of the JustFaith module on torture; as I look back over my notes, contemplate the words, the people behind the words, all that remains unspoken and unbearable. In an attempt to organize my thoughts, I will begin with the end – the stories – and work back to the start – the encyclicals, etc.

In, “Argentine Mothers of the Disappeared,” the author concludes writing, “There is no doubt that today many families…who have had their loved ones disappeared into clandestine detention through the extraordinary rendition processes in the post 9/11 war on terrorism must be looking at the example and struggle of the Argentine Madres. Their legacy therefore is vibrant and may have even more global relevance today than in Argentina 30 years ago.”

After so much reading about torture and disappearances occurring in other areas of the world, South and Central America, Asia, etc., I was grateful for (albeit saddened by) these words that offer a reminder that torture and disappearances are not an “out there in the world” issue. The U.S. not only covers for or sideways supports governments that do these things but is also directly responsible for disappearances, for torture. So what does this mean for us, as supposed agents of this “democratic-republic” (not to mention “agents of nonviolent change”)? How do we respond?

Penny Lernoux, in Cry of the People, recounts the words an interrogator spoke to Fr. Patrick Rice – who had been abused by electric shock, and by accounts of how his friend Fatima, whose screams he could hear, was being tortured all the more because of him – “I am also against violence and for that reason I won’t kill you.” How absurd and sickening those words sound in the context of this account. But it begs the question, what are we talking about when we talk about violence? How do we articulate the depth and breadth of it? When are we letting little things escalate; accommodating, adapting, until we don’t recognize our own culpability, our own evil. I know that Marie has already written of her, but I cannot help drawing on the clarity of Etty Hillesum’s reflections written during Nazi raids:

“We human beings cause monstrous conditions, but precisely because we cause them, we soon learn to adapt ourselves to them. Only if we become such that we can no longer adapt ourselves, only if, deep inside, we rebel against every kind of evil, will we be able to put a stop to it...while everything in us does not yet scream out in protest, so long will we find ways of adapting ourselves, and the horrors will continue.” (From An Interrupted Life.)

And this brings me to the readings from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These documents that summarize an abundance of theories and experiences of God and humanity and attempt to constrict them to almost comically, constrained words; words that will always be inadequate, but are nevertheless necessary tools to unite and direct our thoughts:

“The deepest element of God’s commandment to protect human life is the requirement to show reverence and love for every person and the life of every person.”

“All of society should ‘respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in every condition of that person’s life.”

“[We must endeavor] to rediscover the ability to revere and honor ever person.”

And it is this reverence, this respect, and above all this love that ought to always catch us in the moment; that ought to always beg the question of us, am I acting out as I would desire to be acted toward? Am I loving as I would desire to be loved? What does love require? “We are guided and sustained by the law of love.” John Paul II writes. He goes on to say, “[the height of love] is to pray for one’s enemy.” Is prayer the height? I can’t help but believe that it is more than words, more than prayer. Unless it is a prayer that infects and propels our bodies and minds and hearts toward healing, reconciliation, resistance; a prayer that directs our attention to our neighbor and teaches us to shy away even from the mentality of enemy (enemy of who? enemy why?) and to see not only Christ but oneself, one’s most beloved, in everyone.

Forgive me for ending with another Etty quote, I can’t help myself:

“All disasters stem from us. Why is there a war? Perhaps because now and then I might be inclined to snap at my neighbor. Because I and my neighbor and everyone else do not have enough love. Yet we could fight war and all its excrescences by releasing, each day, the love that is shackled inside us, and giving it a chance to live…In any case, we cannot be lax enough in what we demand of others and strict enough in what we demand of ourselves.”

May we always forgive, but never excuse ourselves when we fail to love our neighbors as ourselves. And with that, remembering always the lesson of the “good Samaritan,” that is, that it is not for us to decide who is and isn’t a neighbor, but to be a neighbor to whomever we may encounter.