The title of this article may seem to beg the question: is there any good news to tell. Or, if there is good news, why is it so hard to find. Neither question is really relevant to the existence of good news. If it is there — and it most certainly is — then its existence cannot be denied just because it is not being told or because someone is not hearing it. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his disciples that they are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” I don’t know if they heard this as good news at the time or hard news, but it certainly gave them a big boost of affirmation as, I think, it was intended to. But he goes further and exhorts them not to hide it in a bushel basket, but place it on the table to give light to the whole house (cf. Mt 5: 13-16). It is key that this pep talk of Jesus, one might say, immediately follows the famed Beatitudes which, by the way, inspired Mahatma Gandhi, not a Christian believer, and, through Gandhi, Martin Luther King, to a very active and effective form of nonviolence which ultimately changed hearts and, therefore, the world.

Yes, I would submit that this is still good news which, if we heed it and practice it, will change us and the world. We have all heard the refrain, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me” written by a musician not of gospel faith, but announcing the good news at the core of the message of Jesus: that each of us bears a divine spark, which we understand to be an affirmation that we are, each and every one of us, created in the image and likeness of God and called to holiness, which is the state of those in heaven.

I have often wondered if God, with the occasionally quite disarming sense of humor and irony that we find in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, might assign us a place in heaven for all eternity — if, God willing, we get there — right next to the person we could least stand in this life. If God is generous in offering mercy to all who will trust in it, then we must assume that many with whom we have shared conflicts, rivalries, even disdain, may with a change of heart — ours and/or theirs — have reached that moment which enabled God’s own holiness to at least tolerate our far from unblemished past and welcome us into his eternal presence. Something to think about. Can we imagine a person or group of persons of whom we can find little redeeming value — the deplorables, the dregs, the riffraff or just the other party — united with us in peace in God’s love? Difficult maybe, but not impossible. And why can’t the healing start now, with you and me?

In the tangle of today’s — as probably yesterday’s and tomorrow’s — bad news of class conflict, often with disheartening and ominous racial undercurrents, one can easily be caught up in the moment’s memes and chyrons. The images are graphic and repeated viewings may more likely fuel emotions than provide new information to the mind. The killings and the violence shock and challenge our consciences, our systems of justice and our judgment on how to respond and, most importantly, act constructively so that repair, reform and restoration can heal the wounds they have caused to our civil order and social stability.

When we try to imagine what that healing might look like — as each of us is invited to do, that is to say, to bring our salt and light into the world — it is important to have confidence that we can personally make a difference. The most diabolical of all temptations is that of discouragement. So many of our sociopolitical, academic and even religious leaders have fallen short in inspiring us. Some look to history for guidance, remembering the old adage that who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it. Those who find history so painful to remember might take momentary comfort in dethroning effigies of the dead but may be surprised when their like returns under a different name. On the other hand, blaming the past exclusively for the present can entomb one in that past, and does not give one much of a future.

History had best be neither whitewashed nor wallowed in. Like any good teacher, it can be severe and demanding, not exactly your best friend, but a coach to help you and the team navigate. But each member must play a part. Many of the traditional healing therapies endlessly probe the patient’s history, seeking to uncover the genetic and generational roots around the trauma. Legal process also often rekindles and exacerbates the pain, leaving the person very much a wounded victim.

New approaches seek to involve the survivor in their own history, going forward. As one survivor told me, the hardest part is finding out that, even though you are not responsible for being abused — so you can let go of the shame — you are solely responsible for recovering from it. Tough love. Fortunately, our faith does not leave us alone in this, but offers a Savior and accompanying community to listen, learn and walk through together on that proverbial road to Emmaus.

So how do we do this? Together. The key to healing is co-responsibility. That starts on the bottom line: respect for persons, every person, without exception. It transcends age, class, race, sex, ethnicity or any kind of rank. James Joyce once described the Church as “here comes everyone.” Not every faith community may model this ideal, but each must strive to practice radical hospitality. It is the heart of the Gospel: a God who welcomes.
Search the gospels. The one thing Jesus was most excoriated for, even by his own disciples, was the people he hung out with: rich and poor alike, publicans and prostitutes, lepers and tax collectors. He saw no human being as beneath or beyond God’s love and care.

Neither quiet meditation nor flight from the conflict will build the bridges we need to in order to heal. Nor will battering and burning the means by which people earn a living help them rise from oppression. To begin the healing, we have to start with listening. That means an investment of time and patience, having difficult conversations. Parishes can facilitate this. The USCCB.org offers many models and resources for studying and implementing, for example, the U.S. bishops pastoral letter on racism (“Open Wide our Hearts”) or the encyclical of Pope Francis our common home (“Laudato Si’”), how to be good stewards of God’s creation and friends to our neighbor in need.

Such conversation helps create relationships of equal partners, where power, dominance and control give way to co-responsibility — radical responsibility for one’s actions. That also leads to setting and enforcing boundaries, such as respect for the bodily integrity and possessions of the other. Law and order flow not primarily from policing but self-control. It is a form of parenting, one might say, in which each person first becomes a good parent first to oneself. Revisiting the Sermon on the Mount, we hear the comforting words of Jesus assuring us that God will not gyp us out of anything, if we ourselves trust in God and are generous with our own time and possessions. Jesus ultimately has us himself. There is no greater gift to heal us than the indwelling of the Holy Trinity. Jesus asks of us only that we bring his heart to all we encounter. As we have been blessed with God’s presence, so we bring that blessing with us to others. That is the Good News that, as we live it, heals a broken world.

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