In view of Charlottesville, Christ calls us to genuine love of neighbor
April 18, 2019
Q: Many people are troubled by the recent events in Charlottesville. On Aug. 23, President Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said, "Marches by hate groups such as the KKK and neo-Nazis are outrageous to the sensible mind and directly challenge the dignity of human life. It is time for us to recommit ourselves to eradicating racism." How can we respond to this call without simply reacting emotionally?
It’s a very important question. We don’t just want to react to something that’s going on. At the same time, it demands a response from disciples of Jesus. I couldn’t agree more with Cardinal DiNardo that demonstrations by hate groups such as the KKK and neo-Nazis really are outrageous. They have no place in our society. They do touch on the issue of human life and dignity in a very important way.
The Gospel has a response that is not simply reaction, but it’s the response of the Gospel through the ages. It’s important in this particular moment in our country that we focus the truth of the Gospel on this particular challenge.
People have called on me since the events in Charlottesville to say something. I respect that request and I think it is my responsibility. It’s the responsibility of others in the community, too.
But, in our Christian heritage, we do have something very important to say besides, "Shut up and don’t use hate speech." That’s trying to stifle something, and – while it may be important in the moment to do that – it’s going to be said somewhere else or in another way if there isn’t also an invitation to conversion, to respect, to look again, to see things in a deeper way, to see the truth about other persons.
That’s imprinted there by God and isn’t something that’s given by the Constitution or by me or by a majority of people. People have a right to this human respect because they’re created by God.
Q: Would you say then that the challenge boils down to concretely living out the command to "love your neighbor"?
Exactly. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbor, first of all, he presents this to us in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Who’s the neighbor? There’s an expansive answer to that. We shouldn’t think of that too narrowly.
The neighbors that are close to us we should love in practical ways. That sometimes can be difficult, but our understanding of the biblical notion of love of neighbor means that we think of them in a loving way. We want good for them, and we’re willing to go out of our way for the good of the other person.
It’s not tolerance in a bland way or a celebration of diversity for its own sake. It’s a looking, as the pope says, at the face and the story of the person either close by or someone far away. It means being willing to pray for that person and wanting good for the person to the extent that I would do something good myself, so that he or she can experience the good.
I’m pretty far from that on many days, and I think most of us are. We have heard that commandment of Jesus so often and we think, "Yes, fine. I love my neighbor. I’m not doing anybody any harm."
But that’s not enough and that’s not what Jesus meant. That’s at a minimum where we should be when we get out of the bed in the morning. I don’t intend any harm to anybody. But if I really love my neighbor, that means there’s a decision to give of myself somehow for others. I think in many ways that’s really what’s being asked of us now in our country.
So often it seems we’re looking across a divide; the devil is at work tempting us to think that the divide is good. Whether the divide is racial or political, (we’re tempted to think) that person’s bad and not worthy of my respect.
The invitation of Jesus is to love our brothers and sisters and to do that in an active and an intentional way. And to do it in speech and in attitude, to do it in front of our children, to do it in front our colleagues at work.
We have many opportunities to show respect or love for someone or to be willing to stand up and challenge someone who is speaking or acting in a way that is demeaning to someone else. That’s a tough commandment.
Q: What is your prayer for us as we face these struggles?
I pray that we won’t back away from what’s clearly a challenge for us right now. It’s been a challenge in every generation. It’s a challenge for us now. We could easily as a society and as a country devolve into shouting matches and that won’t help.
My prayer is that our hearts are warmed to the reflection of God in our brothers and sisters, particularly in those who might, at first glance, seem so different from ourselves.
I pray that we’ll understand how to lead others to have warmer, bigger hearts. And that we might recognize what we have said and repeated since the beginning of our country: We have dignity and we have rights that are God-given and we want to preserve and enhance those not just for ourselves, but for our neighbors.