What’s Next?

Nov 1, 2023 | Faith in Action

The Sunday after the Lewiston shootings I shared some thoughts at Mass. They seemed to be helpful to many who heard them. They told me so. I share with you, now, a version of those thoughts. – Fr Paul SJ

Where do we go from here?

Such senseless violence causes us to be sad. It has broken our illusion that such things don’t happen here in Maine. We can ask, “where do we go from here?”

I believe that the teachings of Jesus (and the prophets) do offer us a path forward. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. And remember, he told a story about who our neighbor is; our neighbor is the person, any person, anywhere, who is in need. The one who offers help and compassion is doing the desire of God.

The prophets and Jesus (in the Beatitudes and in Mathew 25) teach us that there are direct obligations in our care of others:
– feed the hungry
– treat the prisoner as a fellow human being with dignity
– make sure your neighbor has shelter for the night

We can “smooth out these words” to make them more bearable to us, but then we end up turning Jesus’ words and ministry into a call just to be “nice people.” I fear that can happen in the calls after violent events that we “be strong” or “be caring” without spelling out what that means.

I once read some words written by a man who said, “someone once said they were not worried about the parts of the Bible they did not
understand. What did bother him was the parts he did understand…the parts that are so clear that it is not possible to misunderstand them, such as the Beatitudes or the story of the sheep and goats where Jesus says exactly what will happen to nations who allow the peoples of other nations to starve…The only way to avoid the challenge of such passages is to pretend that Jesus meant something else or that,
for some reason, what he says does not apply to us.”

The way forward is to make as clear and direct as possible what it means to love our neighbor.

It cannot be healthy that so many of our people are living on drugs, that more and more are living on our streets, that good, honest people are not getting by or are only one illness from disaster. How are we loving these neighbors? We can easily feel “well, what can I do? I am old” or “I am just an ordinary person, what can I do.”

That feeling of helplessness, that there is nothing you can do – that does not come from God. That feeling comes from the Evil One. It leads to death.

Each of us CAN do something.

Perhaps some direct action on our part. We can also hold accountable the people whom we elect to office. We can ask, “What are you doing to help the homeless, to break the cycle of drug addiction? To take guns out of the hands of people who should not have them? To take weapons designed for military combat out of the hands of civilians altogether? What are you doing – or I won’t vote for you.”

Likewise with the businesses we patronize. “What are you doing? What causes are you supporting – are they life-giving? Or I won’t spend my money with you.”

This is doable.

What leaders are we listening to? Are they promoting life – or the Big Lie that guns are not a problem, and blame the drug issue on immigration? To whom do we give our loyalty (and maybe money)?

We can make a difference. We can support those who are working to make a difference. The writer Carol Dempsey states, “the ‘litmus test’ for people of any faith and spirituality today is the measure of how deep their active compassion is for the ‘other’ among them…Active compassion entails changing harmful structures, systems, and ways of thinking.”

We can extend active compassion. We can work toward changing structures. When we do, we will be moving toward God. It takes more than “thoughts and prayers”.

Fr. Paul Sullivan, SJ

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