May we all be One

Feast of Christ the King (B)

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” [John 18:37c] These are the words that Jesus spoke to Pontius Pilate at his trial, the night before his crucifixion. These are the words that conclude the Sunday readings for Year B on the Feast of Christ the King, which Christians celebrate this weekend.

Do we listen?

The truth is love. Love for God, and love for neighbor. Do unto others, and so forth.  Christians know this, but there are times when we struggle mightily to hear Jesus’ voice over the cacophony of our own.

These are pretty tough times for those who listen.

On Friday, November 13th ISIS suicide bombers attacked six densely populated locations in Paris, killing 126 people and injuring more than 300, leading French President Francois Hollande to declare war and commence bombing ISIS targets in Syria. This came one day after two suicide bombings, also the work of ISIS, killed 43 people and injured more than 230 in southern Beirut.

Both incidents were the continuation of a succession of unspeakable and violent attacks on civilians by the terrorist organization, ISIS, but the attack on Paris hit many Americans as if it had occurred on American soil.

Almost immediately an outpouring of heartfelt support blossomed on the internet. And, almost as quickly, social media sites were polluted with the hate-filled opinions, memes, and videos of armchair “experts” on ISIS, Islam, the Syrian refugee crisis, immigration, and Muslim American citizens.

By Monday, I was stunned into silence. The hateful rhetoric worsened with the added voices of “news” personalities and certain politicians. I had no words of my own to describe the depth of shame I felt. This growing pile of garbage—racism disguised as patriotism—exuded a stench that was shockingly similar to what it purported to reject. It did nothing if not to foment more fear and increase divisions between neighbors. If one of the goals of terrorism is to polarize its victims, we are effectively handing ISIS its success on a platter.

I write about Christian discipleship: what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I write about the need to press on, to remain focused and hopeful and unafraid, even, and especially in times of extreme hardship. But this week I felt as if my senses were being crushed by the sight, sound and smell of the world’s flesh being torn and mutilated on social media sites.

My struggle to form a single, hope-filled thought in response to so much hate speech, ignorance and fear-driven rhetoric left me dry. I believe I belong to the truth as lived by Jesus, but I also know that before these truths can be heard, ears need to be able to hear. And it seems to me that everyone is currently cutting off their opponent’s ears.

After 9/11 I wrote to my grandmother, who was 86 at the time and who lived another ten years, and asked her, in light of all that she had seen and experienced since her birth in 1915, to tell me how people managed to remain hopeful through such difficult times. What did people do to keep their hearts filled so that fear could not overcome them? In response to my question, she wrote, “We pulled together and supported one another,  because we were all suffering the same. We helped our neighbors, and we stuck together. And those hard times passed.”

My grandmother’s words consoled and assured me that as dark as those days were, hope remained alive. What she told me was that despite having good cause to be frightened, her generation learned to cope not by pushing away from one another, but by drawing closer together.

Jesus prayed on the night before he died that all might be one [Jn 17:21]. Facing his own death, Jesus prayed for us. In a speech on Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper said, “When Jesus uttered the words “may they all be one”, they by no means represented a vision or a dream. Jesus said these words on the eve of his death. This was not the time for triumphal utopias. The Galilean spring, when the enthusiastic crowds overwhelmed him, was over. They no longer cried “Hosanna!” but ” Crucify him!” Jesus was well aware of this, and predicted also that his disciples would not be one, and that they would be dispersed. What else could he do in this situation than to leave the future of his work in the hands of his Father? Thus, the words “may they all be one” are a prayer, a prayer in a humanly perceived hopeless situation.”[1]

We live in frightening times; it is true. And it is all too easy to succumb to fear and circle our wagons to keep others out. Turning against one another out of fear creates lies and leads to hatred; it separates us, and empties our hearts of hope.

Instead, let us turn towards one another and fill our hearts with the truth. Listen for Jesus’ voice, and may we all be one.

Today’s readings can be found here.

___________________

[1] Cardinal Walter Kasper, May They All Be One? But How? A Vision of Christian Unity for the Next Generation, Keynote speech given to the Conference of the Society for Ecumenical Studies, the St Albans Christian Study Centre and the Hertfordshire Newman Association at St Alban’s Abbey, Hertfordshire, England on May 17, 2003

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