By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, commentary | Published February 6, 2014
We are all familiar with stories that tell of what the human heart can do in times of crisis. When life is threatened, the need to preserve it from loss overrides the many divisions that usually blind us to each other. A crisis throws us into an immediate and demanding stance that moves us to see what is essential to the needs of the moment—even if it means risking our own lives to preserve the lives of others.
In recent memory, the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers was the catalyst for thousands of people who did whatever was possible to save life. The usual and deadening prejudices of everyday life fell as quickly as the Towers. And in their place rose countless stories of heroism, fearlessness, courage.
As time passed, life gradually resumed its normal posture. Retaliations were planned and carried out. Security measures were developed and implemented that have heightened the awareness that there are constant threats of more bombings, more terrorist attacks, more death. What may seem normal in our country is in truth far from the norm. Terrorism, in its blatant and sanitized versions, has as its aim to shatter the norm beyond recovery. This is the world we live in and this is the world that we have made. It is not the world that God had in mind.
Advent is yet a near memory for us. We were called to awaken, to rouse from our slumber, wipe the sleep out of our eyes and see. A sense of immediacy moved us to wonder how to go about seeing life as it really is and responding accordingly. And perhaps we did, for a brief while. But then we slipped back into ordinary time—normal time—and the temptation is to wait again, wait for the Lord to come, the Lord who will give us sight and heart and courage.
There are consequences when we turn a deaf ear and hardened heart to the words of Jesus. Unless we live with and love each other as brothers and sisters—as one family—the consequences are lethal. In the media every day there are stories of those who take the life of others.
Killings take place within families, between strangers, between supposed friends. The news is grim. The poet William Carlos Williams wrote, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” A poem, a few words on a scrap of paper, has the capacity to open our hearts to the possibility of a new alternative for life. It is a very different kind of news.
And so is the Gospel.
The Gospel offers a key to the door that opens to life. Jesus claims as his brothers and sisters those who do the will of God. And those words usher us into a very different kind of crisis. For Jesus, the norm is human solidarity. The norm is to live from the awareness that there are no strangers among us. Our common life is from God and in God. Those whose life and words are rooted in such a conviction stand opposed to any power on earth that threatens, divides, kills, banishes. God does not prevent crisis—God invites us into the throes of crisis. And those who enter that place do so knowing that real life can never be lost, or taken, or destroyed. For the norm is that life is a gift, a gift for all, that can only be shared, given away—and given especially to those who seek to take it.