The Feast of St. Francis is tomorrow and for us, his life and legacy are still relevant today. I write this as I reflect on the past week's events with the shooting in Oregon. It is my opinion that to blame this massacre on guns or mentally ill is too easy. These ideas do not even begin to scratch the surface of what is a deeper problem in our society. Not all people who own guns are mass killers and neither are people who are mentally ill. We insult both groups of people when we agree with comments such as these. We in essence let ourselves off the hook, because it is their problem not ours. We are in a crisis in this country and it is not guns or mental illness, it is the way we think about what is a meaningful life.
We have a problem with our insatiable need to have our fifteen minutes of fame. How many "likes" we get on our Facebook page makes for a quality existence. The shooter wanted to be famous and felt that his life was a failure because he was lonely and couldn't get a date. Somehow he would make his mark on the world, and killing innocent people, who were working on creating a better life, was his sick, twisted answer. He felt he was a failure-at 26! There is something inherently wrong with us as a culture when we work so hard to create for the world a false image of ourselves. Where nothing is ever wrong and life seems to be some giant party. I know people who are going through terrible personal problems posting on Facebook how great their life is, when in reality it's falling apart. We have set up a false sense of reality for ourselves and others when we fail to be honest with ourselves and one another. Even I get depressed reading how fabulous someone else's life is, and mine is pretty fantastic.
This summer I read the book "Ghettoside," the author explores the culture of violence in our inner cities and the toll it takes on us all. She writes that appearing vulnerable is akin to a death sentence in some neighborhoods. The idea of being tough and cruel is one that permeates the neighborhoods in so many cities and towns across our country. It is a necessary but heart-breaking read and to say I was depressed thinking about the lives wasted because of machismo is an understatement. The book has deeply affected my thinking on this issue. This is why I believe people resort to violence as a way of life: it is easier to be cruel and unfeeling than it is to be kind and caring. Kind and caring means I have to constantly be thinking of others instead of myself. How do my actions impact those around me? That is the question to be constantly asked. Something, that is not always easy to do.
What our country needs to do instead of focusing on the symptoms of these mass killings-guns and mental health-is to spend time thinking how we arrived at this place. One of the reasons I believe, is the culture we have created for ourselves and our young people, everyone is a winner. A few months ago I read an article in which the author stated what a great disservice has been done to our young people by telling them they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. "Not so", wrote the author, "a person who is 5"3" is not going to be a basketball player no matter how hard they try or how much they want it." When we consistently tell young people everyone is a winner, we set up a false illusion of what the world is going to be like. As we know, not everyone is a winner, and what counts is recovering from loss to try again or to set a different goal. Everyone has the ability to contribute something to our world, no matter how seemingly small it may be.
St. Francis is someone who gave up riotous living to beg with the poor at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Francis' father, a successful silk merchant, demanded he return home through threats and even beatings. But, Francis renounced his father by removing all of his fine clothing and taking up the simple garments of a beggar. Francis' work was to restore churches that had fallen into ruin as a penance for the life he had once lead. He went on to form the Order of St. Francis and whose rule of life was, "to follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps." We too wish to follow our Lord's example of compassion for others and care for the poor and lonely. In the Gospel of Mark, when the crowd wants to make Jesus their king, he escapes. Kingship was not what he was here for but rather to show us to the way of the Father.
As we reflect on the life of St. Francis may he continue to be an example of putting the needs of others first and realizing we can contribute more to the life of others when we worry less about ourselves. I do believe this is the first step to overcoming this horrific epidemic which continues to sweep our country. Instead of creating a life that is fiction, we would do well to create a life that has meaning and purpose.
"Ridin' along in my pope mobile, the Holy Spirit behind the wheel." OK so I made that up because as many of you know I drive a Fiat and was tickled to see the pope in his; albeit a higher end version. Reflecting on those words, I challenge myself to really allow the Holy Spirit to navigate my life. What I find is too often I want to be in charge be in the driver's seat. Control is one of those things we find so difficult to give up and it is only when I let the Holy Spirit take control, life seems easier. As always, onus is on me and indeed all of us to make the decision to allow the Holy Spirit to us move along on our journey with God to a deeper spiritual life. It is a challenge for those of us who want control and work so hard to retain it. All I can do is keep giving it all up to God and to let the Holy Spirit work with me and through me.
I have just finished reading "The Boys in the Boat" and if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. The main character Joe Rantz is abandoned by his father not once but twice. Forced at the age of 10 to move out of the house and fend for himself and again as a high school student left by his father at a their half built house during the Depression. Understandably Joe promised himself he would never allow himself to feel hurt or abandoned again. He joins the crew team at Washington University and has a difficult time fitting in with the other boys. It is only when the boat builder George Pocock tells him the only way to be a success at rowing is to trust the others in the boat. For someone like Joe it seemed almost impossible but he realized standing on the dock gazing out over the lake, it was something he needed to do. It was only after he began to trust, did he feel like part of the team and have friendships with them.
How many times have each of us in our own lives tried to row our own boats? It is in the DNA of our country to be rugged survivalists and learn self-reliance. Having the ability to be independent is obviously a wonderful thing but fierce independence like Joe had leads only to misery and despair. We need one another and we need those gentle voices, the George Pocock's, of the world to prod us when need be to take a chance on our fellow passengers in life. The journey is so much richer when we journey together.