The Spirit that Heals Division and Unites What is Broken
Sunday of Pentecost
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
Our country is so bitterly divided. We all face the common danger of a pandemic. This past week we have been confronted with the greater and more insidious virus of racism and hatred, whose historic wounds have once again reopened. Our protests for justice and change have been met by chaos and confusion. And through it all, we choose to remain divided. Bitterly divided.
We choose to ignore the common danger that confronts all of us, and we see little effort – from our national leaders to ourselves - to sincerely listen to one another, comfort one another, and unite with one another. We are choosing to forget about empathy, and to not even try to listen compassionately to those who are hurting and in pain. And this is true for all sides! For those who face racism daily in their lives. For those who have suffered from the riots and looting, including both the protesters and the police who have been injured and even killed. Too many are choosing to ignore the pains of others, especially the pains of the past, and some will even deny the prejudice and injustice that people still face, It seems like too many of us are surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, who reinforce what we already believe. Such stubborn attitudes will do little to unite our country.
Even within the church, I’m deeply saddened when I see these bitter divisions poison our Church Family. Here, we know each other. We love each other. We have a beautiful, blessed family in this church. Yet, sometimes even we give in to the temptations to allow our political views to take precedence over the love that Christ has instilled in our hearts. We give in to the temptation that our political views are more important than our religious beliefs. Let me repeat that again for all of us to consider. We give in to the temptation that our political views are more important than our religious beliefs.
Jesus said to His followers, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) These are also words to be repeated again: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This love for one another should take precedent over any political views. This love for God, and seeking first His Kingdom above all else, living under His reign, should take precedent over everything else in our lives!!!
And yet, the sad reality is that many of us spend much more time reading and being influenced by social media, and then getting aggravated and irritated by what we see, becoming angry and bitter towards others, instead of spending more time with God in prayer, in reading Holy Scripture, and in allowing God’s peace to reign in our hearts! I don’t mean to say by seeking God’s peace, we won’t speak up for justice and act to heal the wounds of our society. Yet, we need to speak up and act only when God’s peace dwells in our hearts and guides our speech and conduct. Anger can too quickly turn against us, as we see with the violence and hatred abounding.
One dear parishioner, who has two biracial grandchildren, told me that she had to delete facebook because she was actually becoming sick over all the hatred and the negative posts that she was reading. And some of those negative posts are coming from our own parishioners!!! Let’s all think about that for a moment! Are we showing the love Christ called us to when we post negative or hate filled posts?!? And when I say this, don’t think of others who have done this. Ask yourself, “Have I posted things that are filled with hate, filled with anger, filled with negativity?”
“By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Is our love for one another clearly evident in our lives? Is our love for one another clearly evident in what we post on facebook? Is our love clearly evident in the way we speak to one another, especially how we speak to those who have different opinions or political views than ourselves?!?
In the midst of our country’s deep turmoil, how can each one of us become instruments of God bringing His peace? How can we show that our lives are dominated by God’s divine love – love which transcends all boundaries, love which won’t allow earthly divisions and opposing opinions to hinder it.
Saint Paul gave one of the most beautiful descriptions of this divine agape love we are to possess – “love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13:4-7)
Let’s reflect for a moment on this type of agape love and apply it to our own behavior, especially over these past weeks. Love is kind. Love is not rude. Love is not irritable. Love is not resentful. Love bears all things. Love endures all things. How many of us can describe our own behavior and our own attitude towards others with such love? Are we responding to others with kindness, without rudeness, not in an irritable or resentful manner?
When we are confronted with those who disagree with us, with those who hold a different political view, with those who see what is happening around us from a different perspective, are we acting toward them in love, trying to listen and understand their fears. And if they are legitimate fears, can we relieve those fears? And if they are irrational fears, will we patiently try to listen and comfort them, helping them see their irrationality. Or if our own fears are irrational, will we humbly take a careful look at ourselves, and turn such fears over to God?!? For ultimately, remember, He is in control, no matter which political party or political leader rules!
Such divine love is also seen in how we listen to one another with empathy, truly trying to hear what others say. Right now in our country, we need to listen more than ever to the pain and hurt of one another, we need to listen to the fear that people hold on to, we need to understand and then try to comfort others.
Remember whom Christ called “the children of God.” Peacemakers! “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” This blessing Jesus announced is surely not easy to fulfill. Peacemakers are often misunderstood at best, and even persecuted at worse. Yet, here is our call – to find the courage to act as peacemakers in a broken and bitterly divided country!!!
Where can we find such courage to become peacemakers? Where will we find the strength to act daily as peacemakers, living out the divine love that the Apostle Paul describes so beautifully? Well, this is where today’s feast of Pentecost comes in! Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world in a dynamic and healing manner. Our Lord promised His disciples, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witness!” Christ gave His Holy Spirit to fill and empower His followers. It is this Holy Spirit that gives us the boldness and the strength to proclaim and live out Christ sacrificial divine love in the world around us. It is this Holy Spirit that unites us to one another, healing the bitter divisions of our brokenness. It is this Holy Spirit that gives life, new life to everything that is touches! It is this Holy Spirit that gives hope in the midst of our ongoing, dark, uncertain days of despair!
Pentecost is the feast that proclaims loudly in word and in action – “You are NOT alone. I am with you. And I will fill you with MY SPIRIT to empower, to encourage, to inspire, to guide you in living out my love to the world!”
Yes, we are facing extremely dark and uncertain days with the global pandemic and with the chaos of our societal upheaval. We are facing bitter division and deep-rooted anger. We are confronted with people who are hurting and in much pain. We are experiencing deep sadness and despair.
In the midst of all of this, we who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, have a task ahead of us. We must fulfill our divine calling. The world will know we are His disciples by the love we show to one another. We can help heal our broken society by sharing concretely the divine love which St. Paul so beautifully describes – love that is patient, kind, not rude, not resentful, not irritable. Love that endures all. And we all must strive to become peacemakers, people who bring God’s peace, people who help those divided reconcile with one another, people who show others the path to ultimate, lasting peace in the midst of the world’s chaos.
This is an extremely difficult and challenging calling, yet today on Pentecost, we remember that we are not alone. May the Spirit of God come upon each one of us, empower us, encourage us, inspire us, and guide us in our path of peace with God!