Breaking the Cycle – Pastor’s Reflection (September 3, 2017)
On Labor Day we honor laborers everywhere, but we also contemplate our own labor as we resume the ordinary rhythms of life. “Labor” here refers not only to the job we do but to the range of commitments that structure life.Hopefully summer’s reprieve shows us how much “ordinary time” fulfills us, even as it directs our life within a channel of discipline.
Of course, everyone else will be picking up the thread of their routine, and they will be in our face. Up-close living and dealing have returned to elicit a whole range of virtues from us. People make up a huge portion of our labor. Consider that UN week now hovers on the horizon, and naturally we will want to be the face of tolerance amid the traffic congestion and security tension. That week reveals New York City on steroids, and highlights the challenges that make the city very great and very difficult. What a crush of cultures and politics, events and anxieties. These elements combine to disclose a global city, which will provide a fruitful, very timely object of contemplation.
What makes such an assembly possible?
What makes such a city possible?
What makes our routine of life in this city possible?
What is the assiduous practice of tolerance?
But as we come back together over coffee or cocktails, on the corner, at intermission or after mass, we will speak of recent intolerance and we will rehearse that words and actions of hate that have shocked us. Yet if I chronicle the bigotry of another I do not get very far because I lack the ability to make another person become tolerant. What I can do is refuse to let the sights and sounds of intolerance form me. If I become intolerant of those I deem intolerant, then what has happened to me? I face rather the difficult paradox of virtue. As the climate of tolerance weakens I must pledge to become more tolerant, just as my only successful response to the secular age can be to become more Christian.
In my life as a confessor, as a brother in community, as a pastor in a parish, I have discerned that there is a “how” to tolerance. Some lives are not ruled by prejudice, and that freedom has roots in a clear spiritual practice.
First, tolerant people have appropriate self-esteem. The tolerant person accepts his or her own makeup as a coming together of gifts and deficits and so enters freely into the interdependence natural to human living. This positive self-regard means that competition and comparison no longer need be the source of validation. When tolerant people also possess the gift of faith they may also perceive themselves as a work of God, so that their validation lies in the fact of His creative artistry. If I may delight to be myself in all my incompleteness, then I have room in my life to be delighted by your gifts and recognize the ways in which they complete me.
The second prerequisite of tolerance flows from the first. Tolerant people recognize that they live in a personal and collective history, in which time is experienced as a movement. Culture, technology, taste, and social patterns develop with great blessings, but also at great cost. Persons of Faith recognize that in the mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation, God incorporated this aspect of human life into His plan, so that the Church herself develops in history, both happily and painfully. Thus, tolerant people recognize that they live within the movement of time, which belongs to God and is moving toward Him.
Where people grasp this they can transcend the instinct to blame. If I realize that things are in movement I can stop looking for someone to hold responsible when my history, or our history, causes me pain. The gifts of technology amaze me, but they also take me aback with the disruption they cause. I look at all the empty storefronts in our neighborhood and I am saddened by the unfurnished environment they create and I am more saddened by the loss of jobs they betoken. I am seeing the evidence of technological and market forces far beyond us, and yet I would like to find a person or group of persons to blame for changing so much of my world. If change has scrambled the local patterns of life, the political scene shows the same effect writ large.
I see individuals and groups trying to assign personal blame for systemic dislocation. The economic loss and sense of exclusion caused by swift change bring understandable anxiety and frustration. Nevertheless, people searching for a scapegoat are ugly, whether they are a crowd, or an individual manipulating that crowd. My own danger lies in making the scapegoaters, my scapegoats. If all I do is place my anxieties on their heads, I get nowhere. I become ugly, suspicious, and coarse.
Think of the Lord’s Passion. Christ placed himself on the receiving end of scapegoating and refused to look for someone to blame, “Father, forgive them…” He made Himself the scapegoat, so that in the light of His victory, His followers would no longer resort to scapegoating. You and I are equipped by His constant gift of sacraments to pass through great tension and frustration and not take it out on anyone. The Cross of Jesus broke the cycle of human violence because of his fidelity to His God and Himself. He positions us in the world as breakers of the same cycle. The power of the Crucified and Risen Lord now lodges in us so that we might face human complexity in light of our
destination in God.
If our end is real to us, then it will be real to others as we welcome them on the same blessed path.