Today has an optional memorial: St, Martin de Porres, he is the patron saint of mixed-race people, barbers, innkeepers, public health workers, and all those seeking racial harmony. From the readings of the memorial:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:8-9)
Good advice for these last days of the election season. One of the advantages of being reassigned to a parish in Virginia is that Virginia is not considered a “swing state.” Florida on the other hand (my previous assignment)… my goodness, the political ads never stop. The pour into our lives in television and cable adds, social media channels, pop-ups, robo calls, unwanted text messages and a massive proliferation of lawn signs.
For the better part of four years now we have endured the grating sounds of politicians and would-be candidates breathlessly pouring out facts, alternative facts, and charges and counter charges. We have listened to them criticize each other’s worst flaws and those of their supporters. Week after week we have been told that America has lost its greatness, is heading in the wrong direction, and foundations of our great institutions are being eroded, corroded, invaded and weakened to the point of collapse. Each side offers they are the only solution. Each side proclaims that all we hold dear is under attack from within and without, and that its citizens are in imminent danger of unemployment, financial ruin, cyber hacking, and now pandemic virus. Families have been divided and we sigh over the fraying of our relationships with friends and family members of differing political views. But at least it’s almost over….or maybe not.
True enough, this campaign season has reached its end. Today is the final casting of ballots, the counting will begin, the lawsuits will be launched (I suspect), but soon enough one candidate will eventually obtain the necessary 270 electoral votes. And it will be over at a technical level.
But will the conclusion of this presidential election resolve the political and social tensions that flared over the past four years? Did President Obama’s tenure end racism? Prejudices linger in communities and individual hearts even after society as a whole seems to have declared them unacceptable. Indeed, we have seen the ugly persistence of racism in this election season even as we have surging fears about terrorism, immigration, job security, police brutality, and the pandemic as the oft-predicted autumn wave of infections and deaths rise.
Soon we will no longer see candidates debating these issues in the national spotlight, and the receding of the election-year furor might make it seem that these problems have abated – save the pandemic. But that will be an illusion. Although some politicians have stoked Americans’ fears in order to serve their personal advancement, for the most part the presidential candidates merely embodied and amplified the tensions present within our communities and within each of us. We groan at the candidates’ quibbling and the ceaseless parade of attack ads, but really they put our differences and frustrations constantly before our eyes. We should lament that these divisions exist at all. And we should be very conscious of the fact that, after the spotlights and microphones have been rolled away and the echoes of all the campaign speeches have faded, those tensions will continue to fester in the darkened corners of town halls and American homes.
Although thoughtful legislation can bring about significant improvements to society, wounds of the sort afflicting our nation cannot be healed by civil laws and government programs. Likewise, no president, for all his power, can mandate the things that beget real social progress, namely, mutual trust, justice, and compassion.
Rather, these virtues and values and the social transformation they catalyze arise from a converted heart. In the not-so-distant past, Martin Luther King and those who stood with him began their crusade for justice by searching their own hearts and purifying their intentions. They did this so as to prepare for when they encountered opposition—even violent opposition—they would be able to respond to their antagonists with the love and respect they demanded for themselves.
The fears and prejudices that marred the last several presidential election are still with us, and they will remain with us unless we, the citizens of this country, are willing to recognize the wounds of others and to bare our own wounds in turn.
If we are to grow stronger and more unified as a nation, we must shed light on our wounds rather than papering them over with scapegoating and political conquests. In order to acknowledge the wounds of others we must be in contact with them. Speaking concretely, that means re-friending the person you unfriended on Facebook when you couldn’t stand their posts anymore. Better yet, it means spending time together to rediscover why your friendship once blossomed If the discord is ever to reach a definitive end and not merely slip back below the surface, we need to spend time in each other’s presence, talk to one another, and break bread with one another. Otherwise the next election will be just as ugly as the last.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.