‘Uncle Joe” and “DerangedDonald” were trending when I logged on to Twitter this past Thursday morning. Well, of course, I thought. Since politics is nothing but a reality-TV show that everyone is addicted to, and the recurring character who is loved and hated has just returned for a plot twist. In fairness to Twitter, Sri Lanka was probably trending on Easter Sunday at some point after the terrorist attacks on churches during Masses on the holiest day of the year for Christians.
But for every “DerangedDonald” and “Uncle Joe,” it might be a good thing to take a moment and think about those whose lives ended for the most important things.
Sri Lankan Christians on Easter Sunday this year. Egyptian Coptic Christians on Palm Sunday another year. As a priest reminded me in Confession the other day, for most of us, 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.” Some of the children on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, among the over 300, were in line for First Communion. Not only can we not afford to look away, because they are people living in the world at the same time as we are — but for Christians, they are our brothers and sisters in the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. Religious believers ought to be drawn into deeper prayer for those who do 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 for show anymore, but the hatred still exists.
There was some dust-up, by the way, about the Christians who died in the Sri Lanka attacks being described as “Easter worshippers.” I understand the frustration, given the ongoing court cases over the narrowing of religious liberty. The latest involves the needless insistence on removing faith-based organizations from public-private partnerships for adoption and foster care — an area where no child can afford to wait for adults to come to agreement on some fundamentals about marriage and natural law that aren’t going to get sorted out any day soon. But instead of adding to the Twitter anger, let’s remember the Creator and live out of 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. The conversations are related to “DerangedDonald,” “Uncle Joe,” and the slaughter of Christians on Easter Sunday because they draw us back to why we would ever bother with politics in the first place. In our short lives, we can be stewards of what we’ve been given in terms of faith and culture and mediating institutions and a democratic republic, or we can waste the time anesthetizing ourselves or adding to the indifference, anger, and confusion.
Some of the readings include William F. Buckley Jr.’s geeking out about Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion and the Oxford English Dictionary. He was in awe of the things he could have as a part of his life while he tried to make a contribution by paying tribute to and passing along “the patrimony,” as he often referred to all that came before. High on his list were always the Beatitudes: He believed that they “remain the essential statements of the Western code.” He once noted that “the idiom of life is always changing,” and so “modern formulations are necessary even in defense of very ancient truths.”
Modern martyrs, too, may be necessary for us to realize how blessed we are and to draw us out of our complacency about some of what we have called the “permanent things.” It’s not a given that they are permanent, at least in terms of being honored and protected. 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 killers also lacked respect for the free will God gives us to choose how or whether 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 isn’t the latest 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.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.