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The Day After

As I write, it is the day after the execrable invasion at the capitol.  By the time you read this, there will undoubtedly have been hundreds of commentaries written from every perspective about every aspect of that event.  I have nothing especially wise or insightful to add.  And yet, it seems foolish to write about anything else since most people will likely not be talking about much else.  The article I intended to write on Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist might have seemed oddly out of place.

I view the event at the capitol the way I view stories about airplane crashes.  Although I want to know everything about what happened instantly, in my wiser moments, I know that we simply can’t know everything we want to know that quickly.  Better to be patient and wait for the full facts to come to light and for wiser, more considered judgments to prevail.

So I beg your indulgence for a moment to go off in a completely different direction. Early in the New Year, I attended a lovely wedding.  Nothing especially fancy or expensive, but as wonderful and loving an event as you could hope to enjoy.  Forswearing fear, two people in love chose to unite themselves in a sacramental union that is the closest analogy we have to God’s union with His Church.  And a bright light shone in the darkness.

Look around; there is love, beauty, and goodness everywhere shining in the darkness.  We have been given the gift of wonderful neighbors and fellow citizens.  They may like different things and think differently from us; they may disagree with us politically.  But that can make discussions more interesting and mutually correcting if we engage in them wisely.  Our neighbors are a gift from God.  They are the ones God has put into our lives, not some other “better” people. They may not be saints, but neither are we.  God loves them, and so must we.

After I heard about what had happened at the capitol building, I went home to have dinner my wife.  A friend sent a picture of her adorable puppy.  His name is Marty, but I call him Professor Waffles.  Another friend posted a picture of a beautiful winter sunset over the houses in Providence, Rhode Island.  Today, I got up, went to work, and then attended daily Mass at a beautiful local church.

*

Two things strike me about all of that.  The first is simply the obvious fact that we in this country are immensely blessed. We have food in abundance and a freedom to worship unknown to most people throughout the world.  But most of all, we have the love and care of a God so devoted to us He was willing to die for us despite our sinfulness – a sinfulness so great that we conspired to kill Him when He came to rescue us from ourselves.  Despite our unworthiness, we have been given gifts in abundance. We ought to recognize that fact, be grateful, and act in accord with the love bestowed upon us and the tremendous sacrifices made for us.

But the second reason I mentioned what would otherwise be trivial details is to remind us how many parts of our lives remain essentially untouched by the hysteria in Washington.  We talk to friends and family members.  We smile and say hello to the checkout person at the store.  We go to Mass, hear the Word of God, and receive the Eucharist. So many parts of our lives and so many of our relationships are simply untouched and untainted by whatever foolishness happens to be going on in the nation’s capital.  There is a wealth of goodness in the country and good will between neighbors that sustains us from day to day and that can, if we attend to it properly, draw us up out of the muck in which the news media and social media wish to bury us.  Peace must begin inside each one of us and then spread outward.

We could let the hatreds we see unleashed and stirred up by the press and social media destroy us.  But why would we?  It might be worth remembering something T.S. Eliot wrote years ago about the press.

To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits,
To report the behaviour of the sea monster,
Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry,
Observe disease in signatures, evoke
Biography from the wrinkles of the palm
And tragedy from fingers; release omens
By sortilege, or tea leaves, riddle the inevitable
With playing cards, fiddle with pentagrams
Or barbituric acids, or dissect
The recurrent image into pre-conscious terrors—
To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams; all these are usual
Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press:
And always will be, some of them especially
When there is distress of nations and perplexity
Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgware Road.

But, says Eliot:

. . . to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.

A lifetime’s death in love, ardor, selflessness, and self-surrender.  That is our occupation now, is it not?

And in this time of distress, may I suggest we remember the example of St. John Paul II and the difficult years he spent peacefully but firmly pushing back against the multiples evils of the day with profound understanding and strength of character.  Then that point of light shining in the darkness, though it may seem distant, should be for us like the star in Robert Frost’s poem “Choose Something Like a Star.” The saint, like the star

. . . asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a [saint]
To stay our minds on and be staid.

 

*Image: The Wolf of Gubbio [1] by Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni di Consolo), c. 1440 [National Gallery, London]. St. Francis of Assisi promised the wolf that, if it stopped terrorizing the city of Gubbio, the animal would be forgiven and be cared for, and Sassetta here shows them shaking on it. Below is Marty de Paws (after Martin de Porres) a.k.a. Professor Waffles:

Randall B. Smith is a Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas. His book Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Guidebook for Beginners is available from Emmaus Press. his latest book, Aquinas, Bonaventure, and the Scholastic Culture of Medieval Paris: Preaching, Prologues, and Biblical Commentary was published in 2019 by Cambridge University Press.