‘Deranged Donald” and “Uncle Joe” were trending when I logged onto Twitter this Thursday. I was not surprised. Politics is nothing but a reality TV show these days, after all, and it sucks up more attention than “Survivor” did in its heyday. In fairness to Twitter, Sri Lanka was probably trending on Easter Sunday at some point after the terrorist attacks on churches there during the holiest day of the year for Christians. But those attacks should be top of mind for more than a day.
Among the victims in the Sri Lanka attacks were children waiting for their first Communion. Religious believers ought to be drawn into deeper prayer for those who put their lives in danger by choosing Christ, by simply going to church — aware that Christian persecution is, as Pope Francis has put it again and again, more prevalent in the world today than it was in the early Church. The lions may not be in the Colosseum anymore, but there are still martyrs being made.
There was some dust-up, by the way, about the Christians who died in the Sri Lanka attacks being described as “Easter worshippers” — some said it minimized the central place of the victims’ Christian faith. I understand the frustration at a time when Christian values and principles are being challenged across the nation — the latest challenge involving some city and state governments removing faith-based organizations from public-private partnerships involving adoption and foster care, putting arguments about marriage and sexuality ahead of the welfare of children. But instead of adding to the Twitter anger, let’s remember the Creator and live our lives in gratitude for the gifts we have been given.
Around this time of year, I lead discussions in a number of cities about gratitude as a civic virtue. Lately, I’ve been thinking about why we would ever bother with politics in the first place, especially now that they’ve gotten so ugly, stupid and depressing. But, like our lives, our democratic republic is a gift, and we owe it to our country and ourselves to strive to make it a better, more humane (and human!) place, rather than wasting time anesthetizing ourselves or adding to the indifference, anger and confusion. Some of the readings I’ve been discussing with people include the late William F. Buckley Jr. enthusing about Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion” and the Oxford English Dictionary — Buckley was in awe of the great things human culture has produced, and he tried to celebrate them whenever he could. High on his list were always the Beatitudes, which he believed “remain the essential statements of the Western code.”
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Modern martyrs, too, may be necessary for us to come to realize how blessed we are, and to draw us out of our complacency, our taking the riches of our lives for granted, if we even recognize them at all. As a priest reminded me in Confession the other day, we don’t know the hour of our death. It might not be something dramatic. “I might fall in this church today and that will be it. Death doesn’t always come in the hospital, after a long disease. It could be a simple accident. It doesn’t always come after decades of life.”
Those Christians who died in Sri Lanka on Easter were killed by people who had no respect for their lives, needless to say, but the terrorists also had no respect for the free will that God gives us to choose how or if we are going to believe.
Next time you pass a church, remember those who died this Easter and remember we live in a country to be grateful for, despite the challenges. And remember too, that the United States of America is more important than the latest show on Netflix; it has implications for the world. That’s not simply about who is in the White House, either, but how we all choose to live. Choose well, remembering our contemporaries who die professing gratitude to their Creator.