Last month, I was sent an article from The Jesuit Post that has changed the way I read the news. In it, Jason Downer, SJ suggests seeking ways to respond to violence creatively and prayerfully, resisting the temptation to tune out tragedy as a sort of coping mechanism, or as he puts it, turning towards rather than away. He adds, “It can be something as simple as when reading articles about the violence, to go over them slowly, prayerfully. If a name is mentioned, either victim or perpetrator, pray for that person by name.”
I thought about this as I came across the particularly harrowing story of a Yazidi teenager who survived a mass execution. Indeed, I could only think of one way to respond. Inspired by the Divine Mercy chaplet, which I’ve lately been praying on my daily walk to work, and by the prayer I’ve taken up – “turn the hearts of those who do evil” – I wept as I prayed:
Have mercy on Khidir, and on the whole world…
I prayed this way for his neighbors and family members, named and unnamed, as their stories surfaced.
And on his would-be murderer whose eyes appeared to be smiling, have mercy and turn his heart.
We’ve heard an echo of this plea from the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading:
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy…
A plea for repentance, for turning to a divine mercy so far above the human impulse toward endless spirals of revenge.After praying through that grim story – evil news if anything is – I happened to read a couple of reflections by my friend Abbey, who embodies the lay apostolate and writes about it beautifully on her poignantly-named blog Surviving Our Blessings. Her reflection at Blessed is She on last Friday’s lectionary readings, especially St. Paul’s hard-hitting reminder of the importance of the resurrection, was exactly what I needed. She writes, like Jason Downer, of the temptation to shut out the darkness, to turn away in helplessness. But then there is the reorientation of the resurrection:
By calling ourselves Christians, we accept the resurrection not just as truth but as our identity. Christ risen is not just what we believe – it is who we are. We proclaim it not just with our words, but with our whole lives. Resurrection defines us and claims us for the Light. With the light of the resurrection at our core, we can see suffering and death as temporary, because we know that Christ has claimed victory over them.
What does this mean for us?
It means we should carry the light inside us out into the world.
It means we cannot afford to be overcome by evil.
It means we must not sit down and let suffering have the last word.
Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV). When we proclaim the risen Christ, we are charged with the vocation of hope. Let us find ways to remind ourselves and those around us that darkness doesn’t win.
This is why we need to keep returning to word and sacrament and prayer, to be reoriented again and again to that new reality that forms our ancient identity – in Abbey’s words, to “the outrageous claim we all make every week when we say that Jesus rose from the dead.”
Once again it is hymnody that speaks this to me so powerfully.
This is my Father’s world.
Oh let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
Paradoxically, the times I can sing and hear lines like these with deepest conviction are when the wrong seems so, so strong. That’s when I feel most forcefully that this outrageous claim of ours just has to be true.