Engaging the Challenges of Our Landscape — By Fr. Rich, OP

FrRichWebSomeone asked me if I knew why presidential inaugurations occur on January 20. So, of course, I went hunting and found a wealth of information about events that occurred on that day. Here is a sample.

On January 20, 250CE, Saint Fabian ended his reign as Pope. Then apparently nothing of significance happened on that day until 1045 when Giovanni di Sabina was elected on January 20, taking the name Pope Sylvester III. In 1783, hostilities ceased in the Revolutionary War, effectively ending the conflict. And in 1937, a presidential inauguration was held for the 1st time on January 20, when FDR was installed as president for the second time. And so it has been ever since, every four years, our country celebrates a peaceful transition of power.

The 45th president of our country has been sworn in; the 48th vice president has been sworn in. The governance of our country continues unabated. And for most of us, so too, do our lives continue to flow with relatively minor detour or distraction. Careers, relationships, education, health, our faith lives — we engage the many facets of our lives as we have energy to commit. So it has been since 250 CE and before, so it will be into our future.

Something else remains unchanged; our ability to choose how we enter into those facets. It would be difficult to argue that the landscapes that we face are not challenging, complex and divisive. Engaging them requires attentiveness, intentionality, and sometimes a willingness to move from our “sacred” tried and true methods. We are invited to ask different questions and listen to those who operate in different parts of the landscapes before us; to listen and truly hear.

These challenges are not unlike the challenges that Jesus Christ faced when He walked our earth. He was born into a world that was subject to violence and uncertainty, a member of a religious group that strove for independence from persecution and found itself divided theologically and politically. His mission placed Him squarely in confrontation with the status quo as He strove to bring a new paradigm to bear on the world.

The Church today finds herself surrounded by a culture grounded in moral ambivalence, violence, and a cold disregard for life. She finds herself divided theologically in many areas, striving to navigate a dangerous political landscape that demands firm, unequivocal responses to questions of the value of life, economics, and personal and religious freedoms. 

We opened our year with Pope Francis’ prayer and action plan for peace. Clearly that peace needs to start in our own hearts, minds and bodies. If you remember,

“Jesus himself offers a “manual” for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount. The eight Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-10) provide a portrait of the person we could describe as blessed, good and authentic. Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice.”

If we can make peace within our own hearts and come to an acceptance of who we are, who we are called to become, then we can face the chaotic world well-armed. We don’t operate in a vacuum. We have the opportunity as a faith community to bring our hearts together to create a peaceful space — a place, a state of mind that can show our larger community of Mizzou, of Columbia, that we as Catholics stand united in God’s love.

Last week, the closing lines of Pope Francis’ letter were offered as an opportunity to commit; I offer it again:

In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. “Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace”