By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published November 26, 2015
“It will do us well to ask the grace of tears for ourselves, for this world that does not recognize the path of peace, this world that lives for war, and cynically says not to make it. Let us pray for conversion of heart. Here before the door of this Jubilee of Mercy, let us ask that our joy, our jubilation, be this grace: that the world discover the ability to weep for its crimes, for what the world does with war.”
My friend Donnie took me on a tour of Little Italy in Greenwich Village, New York City. We drove along, found a place to park and went to a small Italian restaurant, and I ordered a plate of linguini and a Coke.
Donnie knows almost every Italian restaurant in Little Italy (along with many in New Jersey). He is very cosmopolitan in his embrace of all the differences and wonders in this world. Music, photography, history, art, sports—he is a living source for much that is best about being human.
We finished our meal and got back into the van, and I asked him where the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire took place. I knew we were not far from where it happened. The fire took place on March 21, 1911, and took the lives of 146 people, most of them young women, who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. It was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York City. The owners had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. I remembered reading articles in the paper on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.
Donnie was talking about the fire as we drove and suddenly said, “I am going to cry.” And he did. Talking about the horror of that day moved him deeply, and in a few moments he settled down. He must have decided not to drive past the site, and I did not mention it again. So we headed back home to New Jersey through the Holland Tunnel and on into New Jersey.
Looking back and thinking about his tears, I thought about how human pain lies within the heart of each of us. And how something like the atrocity of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire can make a sensitive man cry. Even though the fire happened long before we were born, the lives that were lost on that day still seem to live, breaking the hearts of those of us who live and pause to remember.
The massacre of 129 innocent people by ISIS terrorists in Paris has drawn the hearts of people from all over the world to Paris, a city far away yet intimately close these days. Not unlike the factory fire, innocent people lost their lives, victims of those who slaughtered them to advance the creation of a new world according to their own fanatical designs.
Media commentaries, politicians, government leaders, religious figures and political activists are all looking for answers, solutions and directions to take—all in the hope of ridding the world of ISIS and any other group that resorts to terrorism to advance a cause.
I listen to them and feel drawn into the conversations. I look within myself and wonder if there is such a thing as an answer that will be born from a rejection of revenge, violence and exacting retribution. I am not confident that an answer along those lines will come from us.
The human race has never known peace—the kind of peace that only God can give. And yet there are those who have struggled to live lives of peace, to write about peace, to preach peace, offer peace, hope for peace. They live from a Light not of their own making.
These bearers of light. When I ponder their lives, something seems clear to me. The life and teachings of Jesus teach us that unless we follow his way of peace, unless we learn to love each other as brothers and sisters, we will kill each other. We will perish.
The pope’s words (at the beginning) encourage conversion of heart. He asks that we not be afraid to weep for what we have done—our wars, our negligence and greed that inflict death, our locked doors, closed-off exits, hardened hearts. Our despair at not being able to find lasting solutions to human misery, human conflict.
I believe that God suffers in us. God weeps for human losses. God weeps over the rejection of his way of life for us, a life that can only come from God and the only life that is lastingly good. And I believe a day will come when humanity will, after so much sorrow, arrive at a place where God’s goodness will be sought as a last resort. God’s ways are more lasting than our own.
When in our desperation and hunger we turn to him in the hope that he will save us, bless us, take us to himself—it will be the day all the prophets and people of good will have longed for. That day will come. And until that day, we must bear the weakness of this world and the frailty of human life and human plans—and, at times, weep.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at www.HolySpiritMonasteryGifts.com.