I recently encountered a stranger who spontaneously proclaimed to me that she was a “peace, love, and Nelson Mandela” kind of person. She briefly bemoaned the recent strife in the world and the problem of religion. She shared her belief that people need to be “more connected” to others’ feelings. Then we parted company in a rush, politely. It was one of those chance encounters you pray about.
Go and Make Disciples
It is true. We are often disconnected from one another’s experiences. Whereas freedom of religion and public discourse are vital to principles of American democracy, the disconnectedness we suffer is often due to the failure to recognize the common good. The lack of subsidiarity and solidarity in our communities is troubling. The violence in Charlottesville, Virginia was as much a demonstration of indifference as it is was a display of irrational, intolerable behavior. Accordingly, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced racism and the violence, and called for “calm”. But one question is asked of our nation time and time again: How do we end human injustice?
The Catholic bishops offer this insight:
In Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States, the Catholic bishops of the United States have expressed a sincere desire to invite all of God’s children to their place in the Church: “We want to let our inactive brothers and sisters know that they always have a place in the Church and that we are hurt by their absence—as they are. . . . we want to help them see that, however they feel about the Church, we want to talk with them, share with them, and accept them as brothers and sisters. (Disciples Called to Witness – The New Evangelization, USCCB document)
Alveda King on Racism, Abortion and Nelson Mandela
By encouraging others toward the true good and embracing ongoing conversion within our own hearts, we are strengthened and converted, day-to-day; to go out and meet others who long for the good news of the Gospel. Alveda King’s thoughtful perspective on transformation and the importance of learning from one another reminds us that the enemy of the soul exploits a “divided battleground”:
What is happening now in the battle to end human injustice, to stop man’s inhumanity to man, whether we are women, men, or little children, is occurring on a divided battleground. Some battle against racism, based upon skin color, or class, or rank. Some battle against reproductive genocide and that is certainly appropriate as well wherein we fight for the lives of the little babies in the womb, their mothers, the sick, and the elderly and demand that they be treated with equality, justice, mercy, and agape love. And then some battle against sexual perversion. That in itself also is a very important fight.
Now, if we can see that we are battling a three headed hydra monster; racism, reproductive genocide, and sexual perversion; and get to the heart of those matters and fight them all together with the understanding that we can overcome evil with good, then, at the death of someone like a Nelson Mandela, some of us would not feel as though he should just be totally lambasted, ostracized, cast out of history and considered to be one of the most terrible people that ever lived.
King’s words remind us that abortion is an injustice. She also wrote about Mandela, who held a pro-abortion view, “I feel that I failed him by not reaching out to him and trying to get with him and sit down and have a talk about my transformation.” Her words emphasize the importance of sharing our struggles of personal transformation and our hope in Christ.
The Courage to Speak Against Indifference
The reality of racial discrimination and racist rhetoric, and its ties to abortion, are urgently apparent in the words spoken by Margaret Sanger. Sanger’s eugenicist and racist mentality has been denied by her supporters but her words still speak to the lie that the value of human life is determined by others. It is not. It takes courage to confront a culture that denies the truth. The fifth annual day for the Remembrance of Aborted Children is a special day to stand against indifference and to honor the humanity of the lives lost to abortion. A disproportionate number of them were black babies as Alveda King came to realize. On this day, and every day, the faithful can witness to the power of real love–love that is humanizing.
Faith is not for the faint of heart. Neither is friendship or politics. How does one navigate on a pilgrimage amid conflict, unrest and profound injustice without growing disheartened? At a time when many people find it difficult to share their faith and to engage reason in contemporary American life, the challenge is to remain in peace. But not just any “bumper sticker” peace which fades and frays—but the peace of Jesus Christ who overcomes the spirit of fear and conquers the perversion of truth with His love.
The “Politics of Feeling”
The legal, political and social imperatives in the public square are often influenced by feelings. But right and wrong can still be reasoned. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said in a recent commentary, “Today’s conflicts over sexual freedom and identity involve an almost perfect inversion of what we once meant by right and wrong.”
He also said,
Catholics are called to treat all persons with charity and justice. That includes those who hate what we believe. It demands a conversion of heart. It demands patience, courage and humility. We need to shed any self-righteousness. But charity and justice can’t be severed from truth. For Christians, Scripture is the Word of God, the revelation of God’s truth – and there’s no way to soften or detour around the substance of Romans 1:18-32, or any of the other biblical calls to sexual integrity and virtuous conduct.
It might look strange, after all, to the post-modern world that reason and charity are ordered to the common good and the universal experience of the primacy of human dignity. It might also sound strange to some people that racism, abortion, and contraceptive imperialism, although distinct moral and social problems, find their origins in indifference to truth and the tyranny of feelings. But they do.
The problem of an emotional response absent reason is something Charles U. Zug addressed in his post on the Politics of Feeling,
We are increasingly persuaded that the world resonates with and sustains our petulant political feelings—and we are appalled when our experience with real life human beings undercuts this view.
Ugly displays like these are not the cause of our anxiety and frustration; they are merely the effects of our own most damaging pathologies.
At its root, the Politics of Feeling has ascended because more and more we preface our political opinions with “I feel.” This habit, benign enough on the surface, reveals that we conceive of political disagreements as based not on arguments of contradictory logic, but on moods or dispositions constituted by differing feelings.
The Moral Life: Governed By Faith and Reason
Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs the faithful on the “passions” and the necessity of the engagement of reason and will:
1767 In themselves passions are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will. Passions are said to be voluntary, “either because they are commanded by the will or because the will does not place obstacles in their way.”44 It belongs to the perfection of the moral or human good that the passions be governed by reason.45
The moral life is not defined by strong feelings; but rather, what we do and whether we choose to act on good or evil, or increase vice or virtue.
1768 Strong feelings are not decisive for the morality or the holiness of persons; they are simply the inexhaustible reservoir of images and affections in which the moral life is expressed. Passions are morally good when they contribute to a good action, evil in the opposite case. The upright will orders the movements of the senses it appropriates to the good and to beatitude; an evil will succumbs to disordered passions and exacerbates them. Emotions and feelings can be taken up into the virtues or perverted by the vices.
The heart of Christian life is friendship with Christ. Moreover, depriving a person of their rational nature by nurturing ignorance or sin in another’s heart is not charitable, merciful or just. Friends enjoy walking together, imperfectly, on the way to beatitude along the path of conversion. A conversion of heart requires an examination of conscience every evening and many prayers. If we are to be a better friend to ourselves and our neighbor, then we should strive to be faithful to Christ.
Encouraging friends and enemies to love of God, in a spirit of peace, is to support others in a journey toward beatitude; the supreme happiness of God’s infinite love for his creatures. Christ teaches us to reject indifference because it is poison to the soul. Christ’s love is the antidote to the poison of indifference. Thus, we are all in need of the divine medicine. The Lord will always supply it and we should hope to obtain more from Him, so that we may share it in every encounter.
Pray about it.