By Kelly Litt, Dominican Volunteer
Within two weeks, the world seemed to turn upside down. Tragedies, challenges, and controversies in the news and in communities around the country have filled our TV screens and our lives with both sadness and hope, and ultimately, with a call to love.
The country was devastated after the massacre at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. Nine innocent people who gathered in a church to pray were killed for no other reason than the color of their skin. This horrific tragedy, which was fueled by hate and prejudice, was met in response from the community with grace, faith, and forgiveness. At a time when racial tensions are high, especially in the wake of the many cases of police brutality, this response from the Emanuel A.M.E. Church and the greater community is an unbreakable sign of love. Rather than fighting hate with hate, these strong men and women found this tragedy as an opportunity to push for justice and to work toward a conversion of society as a whole.
President Obama delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church in Charleston. In this space, President Obama was able to speak with faith from his heart. He spoke of the grace and love that welcomed a stranger to join the prayer service at the church, and he spoke of the unimaginable words of forgiveness spoken to the killer in court by those who had just lost loved ones. This was nothing short of a miracle of love.
Following the shooting in Charleston, a call to take down Confederate Flags also became an issue of disagreement, but provided, yet again, an opportunity to love. This flag, often a symbol of slavery, racial difference, and even white dominance, was perpetuating a narrow ideal that was not helping to pave the way toward justice and equality. Taking down these flags that were prolonging and perpetuating painful ideas and values was another way to show love and solidarity to all regardless of skin color. President Obama mentioned the flag in his eulogy and explained that “for too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate Flag stirred in too many of our citizens.” He continued to explain that we must recognize “the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation… by taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.”
As we have been challenged with these issues of race and prejudice, we are also being challenged in our treatment of the environment. Pope Francis, known for his love and advocacy on behalf of the poor and marginalized, again explained the urgency of love in his encyclical Laudato Si. He calls for all humanity to love and care for the Earth. Through love of the planet, we can ensure that there are resources and energy to love the poor and marginalized around the globe. This document is not a scientific presentation and does not offer a list of ways we can help curb climate change, but it offers an invitation and a challenge to come together, in love, to care for our Earth.
This challenge will continue in December as governments leaders, UN representatives, business men and women, and civil society gather in Paris to work toward a large, globally reaching climate agreement. Our love, care, and protection of the planet must be at the forefront of our global agenda. If Earth is destroyed, we will be unable to love and work toward critical issues such as poverty eradication, peace and security, and end to human trafficking, and equality.
To add to an already challenging and intense atmosphere, the Supreme Court made a ruling on marriage that was received with joy from some and frustration from others. The Supreme Court ruling to the right to marriage for all has quickly become a hot topic of debate, especially among Catholics. Yet regardless of your view of homosexuality or opinion on whether or not our LGBT friends should have the right to marry, this has opened up another opportunity for us to love. Fr. James Martin, SJ posted a beautiful reflection on his Facebook page after the Supreme Court ruling:
“No issue brings out so much hatred from so many Catholics as homosexuality. Even after over 25 years as a Jesuit, the level of hatred around homosexuality is nearly unbelievable to me, especially when I think of all of the wonderful LGBT friends I have. The Catholic church must do a much better job of teaching what the Catechism says: that we should treat our LGBT brothers and sisters with “respect, sensitivity and compassion.” But God wants more. God wants us to love. And not a twisted, crabbed, narrow tolerance, which often comes in the guise of condemnations, instructions and admonitions that try to masquerade as love, but actual love.
Love means: getting to know LGBT men and women, spending time with them, listening to them, being challenged by them, hoping the best for them, and wanting them to be a part of your lives, every bit as much as straight friends are part of your lives.
Love first. Everything else later. In fact, everything else is meaningless without love.”
Underpinning all of these events and rulings, (the massacre in Charleston, the call to take down Confederate Flags, Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, and the Supreme Court ruling on marriage) is a simple call to love. We are called daily to love our neighbors regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or nationality. We are challenged to love and forgive our enemies. We are responsible to love and protect this planet we call home. Love has the ability to transcend time and space, prejudice and hatred, suffering and disagreement. Love will bring us together, and love will bring us closer to God. Isn’t this the ultimate goal?