Easter: 50 days of unbounded joy. Easter, a time given to us to celebrate, to recall the many blessings God bestows upon us, most especially the gift of Jesus' resurrected life. The season ends with the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost — the Spirit of peace, of love, kindness and joy. Through the Spirit, God gifts us with peace unlike the peace the world gives. This peace is deeper, longer lasting, and rooted in the life of Jesus himself.
This year the need for this kind of peace seems much more urgent to me than in the Pentecosts of years past. With the political discord in our nation as factions rage against each other; with the divisions in our church as some judge others as less Catholic than themselves; with the bombings of places of worship while the faithful gather peacefully to pray; shootings that no longer grasp our attention; and social media filling with vitriol and bigotry, there is certainly a need for the lasting peace that the Holy Spirit brings into our hearts and our world.
This weekend in Dayton, Ohio, the city in which I live and minister, a Ku Klux Klan affiliated group from Indiana will gather downtown to rally, recruit and spread their message of hate. The city has been largely divided on how to respond. Some have advocated ignoring the group. Others are planning to protest. Still others are organizing events in other areas of the city to give witness to racial harmony and love. Regardless of where people stand on the question of how to respond, there seems to be a pervasive fear of consequences. Will the city remain at relative peace? Will violence break out? Will lives be lost?
This weekend, our Gospel reminds us not to be afraid. The Holy Spirit will teach and remind us of all we need:
"I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."
And what is it that Jesus has taught and about which we need to be reminded? Exactly that which we have heard in the Gospels for this week from John:
"Jesus said to his disciples:
'This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one's life for one's friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you. …
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.' "
Jesus has said to us that we are chosen to love and to bear fruit, to sacrifice our selfishness and pride for the benefit of others. This is the call and promise.
Often in recent months I have thought about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. praying that we might be gifted with a portion of his gifts for nonviolent action against hatred, bigotry and oppression. Lately I have reflected on a sermon he gave in 1957 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. In this particular sermon, based on the commandment to love one's enemies, Dr. King stated:
"Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies. …
"[H]ate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that's the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. And that is the tragedy of hate, that it doesn't cut it off. It only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.
Love will save our civilization. God is love and that love is made manifest most perfectly in Jesus. We, too, are called to manifest that love, however imperfectly. It is the only thing that will save us. And how are we to do that? By honoring Dr. King's teachings: Examine ourselves in humility and recognize our imperfections and faults; learn to see the good in those we label our enemy; do not seek revenge when given the opportunity to repay evil with evil.
As we look ahead to Pentecost, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will pour forth into our hearts the capacity to respond to hate with love and thus bring about the peace this world so desperately needs.
[Nicole Trahan, FMI, professed first vows as a member of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (Marianist Sisters) in June 2008 in San Antonio, Texas. Since then she has lived in Dayton, Ohio, where she professed perpetual vows in August 2013. She served as a campus minister at the University of Dayton for three years. Currently, she teaches sophomore religion at Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School, serves as the National Director of Vocations for the Marianist Sisters and is director of the pre-novitiate program for her province.]