Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Violence, Vengeance and Virtue

In his document announcing the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis invites us to reflect on the "Works of Mercy," traditionally listed in two categories: the "Corporal Works of Mercy" (like feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned and so on--read Matthew 25) and the "Spiritual Works of Mercy" which include "instructing the ignorant" and the less popular "bear wrongs patiently."

That's what came to mind this morning in the light of yesterday's news from Baltimore. People have been wronged and some, seeing no resolution in sight, went on a rampage of destruction. Clearly, they've had enough of "bearing wrongs patiently."

chuckbauman.com/real-flames-photos.htmBut what does that really mean: to "bear wrongs patiently"? Is it a spiritual work of mercy to offer oneself as a doormat? Or does it simply mean to refrain from outwardly violent expressions of grievance? Aren't there sophisticated forms of destruction of property that make use of legal forms to achieve the same ends: presenting oneself as a victim of injustice by way of a lawsuit against another party that must pay the price even if it leads to their financial ruin? Is that really any less violent than what we saw in Baltimore last night?

What if "bearing wrongs patiently" is nothing other than the flip side of " 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay,' says the Lord" (Dt 32:35)? "Do not avenge yourselves; leave that to God's wrath," Paul advised (Rom 12:19). Is Paul saying "Let God hurl those thunderbolts for you"? Or rather, "allow things to play out to their naturally destructive conclusion; your adversaries will not be victorious in the end."

That takes faith! It also takes a long time. But that was the advice of the wise Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 5:34) when the Apostles were brought to trial for teaching the inflammatory message of the Risen Jesus: "Let them alone. If this cause is merely human in origin, it will destroy itself." God's "wrath" as God's non-intervention is decidedly harder to accept than God's thunderbolts.

"Bearing wrongs patiently" is the work of mercy proper to the meek, who, Jesus (quoting Psalm 37) assures us, "will inherit the earth"--an earth that will not be ravaged by retaliatory violence. It is also fundamentally connected to two of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: fortitude and fear of the Lord, neither of which come naturally to people who are accustomed to taking justice into their own capable hands.

I see the a deep connection between the outward violence in Baltimore and the subtle violence of so many litigations related to the cause that is today being argued before the Supreme Court. No matter how the Court decides, people will need the ability to bear wrongs patiently; they will need fortitude; they will need fear of the Lord. They will need the Spirit's gift of wisdom.

We are just four weeks away from Pentecost. Will you join me in praying a daily "Come Holy Spirit" for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit to "fill the hearts of the faithful with the fire of divine love"? Here's a familiar enough version of the "Sequence" we will pray at Mass on Pentecost:

Holy Spirit, Lord of Light,
From the clear celestial height.
Thy pure beaming radiance give. 
Come, thou Father of the poor,
Come, with treasures which endure;
Come, thou Light of all that live! 
Thou, of all consolers best,
Thou, the soul's delightful guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow. 
Thou in toil art comfort sweet;
Pleasant coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe. 
Light immortal, Light divine,
Visit thou these hearts of thine,
And our inmost being fill. 
If thou take thy grace away,
Nothing pure in man will stay;
All his good is turned to ill. 
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour thy dew,
Wash the stains of guilt away. 
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray. 
Thou, on us who evermore
Thee confess and thee adore,
With thy sevenfold gifts descend. 
Give us comfort when we die;
Give us life with thee on high;
Give us joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.

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