Spiritual Counsel in the Wake of George Floyd’s Death
June 10, 2020
People feel overwhelmed by the evil before us. The pervasiveness of hatred, whether racism or otherwise, seems total. How do we cope with this threat spiritually?
Healing our Hearts
We must start with ourselves, allowing God to heal and transform our hearts. If we will not allow God to heal and transform ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to change, much less our whole society? Additionally, as individuals we have almost no control over all our society. We must begin with what is within our power – ourselves.
At this moment two great dangers threaten our hearts: anger and despair. Anger in itself is good – anger is a natural human passion whose purpose is to provide us the strength to overcome injustice. Anger can be the spur pushing us to work for justice. However, when anger works against justice it becomes corrupted and a vice. Anger that leads one to act unjustly has contradicted its very purpose. In our fallen state anger easily exceeds its warrant to seek what is just and we must be careful not to use anger to justify injustice.
When anger becomes corrupted it narrows us within ourselves; our inner life becomes focused on the object of our anger, and we start to make bad decisions. How many times in hindsight have we regretted what anger drove us to do? Anger that leaves us trapped within ourselves, narrowly focused on an event, becomes a form of inner slavery. We become bound to the injustice that caused our anger. We do not act for justice but become obsessed with anger itself. Our minds become consumed with what happened, and our passions lead us to act in ways we otherwise would find unacceptable. Anger then becomes toxic and controls our minds and hearts.
The only antidote to toxic anger is forgiveness. To forgive is to regain our own inner freedom and to heal. When we forgive, we step out of a cycle of injustice and regain our freedom to love. In our thirst for justice we should never forget love and mercy. In the end, none of us can stand before the bar of perfect justice, we all seek mercy as well as justice.
The other threat to our hearts is despair. What can we do when faced with centuries of injustice – indeed, injustice stretching all the way back to Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel? First, do not look too long into the Palantir. The Palantir is an object from the Lord of the Rings used to see what is happening far away. One of the characters in that story, a leader of a nation, looks into it and sees the evil surrounding and besieging his nation. He sees only the evil, not the good, and amidst that darkness he falls into despair. His despair cripples him spiritually and prevents him from fighting for the good. The same can happen to us. Through the Internet, we can see what’s happening all over the world at any moment, and the sheer volume of evil and darkness can spiritually cripple us too. Despair is stalking us and we must make sure that we grasp for hope instead. Do not focus solely on the darkness! Do not let it fill your mind and sow despair within you. Stay focused on Christ and His victory over sin and death. He is our hope.
Hope is not simple optimism – sometimes the pessimists are right. Christian hope does not believe that we are immune from suffering or evil in this life, but that because of Christ’s victory suffering and evil never have the last word. No matter what crosses we may endure, the promise of resurrection stands before us. To possess this hope is to trust in God, even when events appear hopeless in human terms. When Christ was dead upon the cross the disciples could not imagine the resurrection, but it was coming. We must fix our hope on Christ our savior, rather than submerging our minds into the darkness of this fallen world. Do not look too long into the Palantir! Look instead to Christ.
Hoping in God also relieves us from having to be the savior of the world ourselves. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the immensity of evil and feel powerless. But as an individual it is not our place to heal the entire world. We are not the savior of this world; Jesus is. If we place the burden of the whole world on our shoulders, we will be crushed. Instead, we must focus on what is before us, what is within our sphere of influence. That starts with ourselves and then extends to those with whom we share our lives and then to the duties we have in the world. That is where we should focus our efforts. To go beyond that is to invite despair because we are holding ourselves responsible for something vastly beyond our power or ability. Focus on what God places before us, seek holiness ourselves, and love those whom God has placed in our lives. Trust that God will take care of the rest, for He is our savior.
Healing our Minds
We, unfortunately, live in a time when truth has become a casualty to power. Our culture has relativized truth to power – what is true is what is useful to me. That is why we see so much naked hypocrisy in politics.
We who follow the God who is Truth must be different. We must be people of integrity, people dedicated to the truth. Do not make political expedience the standard of truth. We must resist allowing the ideological blinders of our age to blind us. Do not be cowed by what social media demands we believe this minute. Instead, look to what we know to be true in our own lives and experience. Place trust in what you yourself see in the real world before trusting the creations of virtual reality and the media. Resist pat explanations that paint a complex issue in an overly simplistic light; resist political spin that demonizes those with whom we disagree, ignoring their dignity and denying any goodwill on their part; resist believing simply whatever makes life easier, going along to get along. Honoring the truth is not easy, but we as disciples of the God of Truth are called to a high standard.
Take as a model St. Thomas Aquinas. He asked hard and uncomfortable questions even about his own beliefs. St. Thomas’s greatest work consisted of thousands of pages of probing and difficult questions about the faith, and only through a similar process can we know not only what we believe but also why. Always look for what’s true in the positions of those with whom we disagree because they often see truths we are overlooking. Venerable Bede said that we need to learn to pluck roses even from the thorns of erroneous beliefs. It is far easier to simply brand those with whom we disagree as wicked people, but that leads us to neither truth nor love.
We must be a people conformed to Jesus – people who seek love through truth rather than power through hate. To change a culture of hate, a culture that fetishizes power and death, we must change our hearts to love in truth. There is no short cut or simple political solution. Sin and death were not overcome through raw power and violence, nor through political skill, but through Jesus Christ giving His life for us out of love. We are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps – giving ourselves in love as He did. That is how evil is defeated.
Let us recognize the fundamental truths about who we are. We are a people possessing human dignity because we are made in the image of God and called to share in His divine love. Let God transform our hearts to live that truth. Christ tells us the way: love God before all else and our neighbors as ourselves. Everything depends on that.
Fr. Boniface Endorf, O.P., is the pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village, New York.
These words originally appeared as part of a letter written to the St. Joseph’s Parish. You can read the entire letter here.