Jan 6, 2021: Reflection on the Storming of the Capitol

Good morning. Before we get started on today’s programming, it’s important to take a moment to acknowledge the events of the last 24 hours. We know that many of you are feeling anxious, angry, confused, or scared by what we all saw take place yesterday. You are not alone in that feeling. People of good faith can support different political ideologies and candidates, but there is no ground for reasonable disagreement on what took place yesterday. Still many of us are left wondering how this could happen and what comes next.

These are the questions on so many of our minds as we attempt to collect ourselves after  witnessing the chaos of yesterday. The People’s House, a citadel of democracy and representative government for the world, occupied, vandalized, and looted by armed demonstrators, many of whom wear the label of “insurrectionists” as a badge of honor. The thugs who engaged in this terrorizing event seemed neither to grasp the gravity of their actions, smiling as they walked off with memorabilia from their intrusion and posing for pictures as they sat comfortably in lawmakers’ seats, nor do they understand the hypocrisy of them: one cannot undermine democracy in the name of democracy. 

At Sacred Heart we have taken pains over the last four years to stress the importance of peaceful discourse, respectful dialogue, and the Christian call to behold the imago Dei – the image of God – and to honor the inherent, equal dignity of every human person. It is this staunch refusal to demonize one another that makes it possible for us to condemn actions without condemning people. To love ourselves, our neighbors, and our nation is not to ignore our individual and collective capacities for sin, but rather to seek deeper understanding as to the reasons behind why we have sinned and to move towards reconciliation. But there can be no reconciliation without truth, no healing without locating the wound. 

The truth is that what took place at the Capitol yesterday was a sinful expression of ignorance and anger, a fearful desire of many to cling to comfortable fiction rather than accept the troubling reality that one’s preferred candidate did not win, and it was fueled by baseless claims of fraud, a rejection of basic truths, and a contemptuous disregard for the most fundamental principle of our democracy. That the sitting President of our nation fueled these flames adds to the despair, embarrassment, and sense of loss that so many of us feel today. When we abandon the traditions and democratic institutions that bind us together, namely the basic agreement that we accept the results of elections even when we loathe their outcomes, we sin against one another and the common good for which we all bear responsibility. We acknowledge these truths not to condemn individuals – including President Trump – but rather to rightly condemn the actions that make our building of the Beloved Community the more difficult. 

To “admonish sinners” is among the Spiritual Works of Mercy, and we are prudent to consider the true meaning of admonish, “to warn, to urge strongly, to advise.” Done right, it’s an action taken from a place of concern and love for our neighbor that they may be restored to the fullness of our community. As a Catholic school seeking to “promote informed active citizenship and civic responsibility” (III.5) we have an obligation to both our students and our community to admonish this behavior and the rationale behind it, and “in humility… strive to create a culture that does not accept sin, while realizing that we all fall at times.” (1) As the Book of Proverbs puts it, “where there is humility there is also wisdom.”

There will be more elections. We’ll all support candidates that will lose and those that will win. Will we be humble enough to accept that just because something goes against our wishes doesn’t mean that it must be rigged, fake, or a conspiracy? If our answer is “no” then what’s the alternative? How will we move forward? It depends on whether we have the humility to acknowledge where we are, how we have been complicit in our arrival to this place, and what role we as teachers, as co-learners, as leaders – are called to play in moving us forward. 

In a bizarre way it’s perhaps appropriate that these events occurred on the Feast of the Epiphany, when the 3 Magi or “wise men” arrive in Bethlehem after a long, arduous journey. It was their refusal to cooperate with a worldly king who himself rejected the coming transition of power that safeguarded the Holy Family. I’m sure it’s comfortable in the court of a king, just as it’s comfortable in the court of our own dreams and desires, whether it be riches, popularity, or four more years. But to them, virtue – wisdom and justice, namely – mattered. They refused the temptation of the familiar and the trappings of comfort to do what was right. And no, Trump is not Herod nor is Biden Jesus, but the truth remains: even our greatest, idealistic, and most assured hopes are only as good as our willingness to respect and protect them.

So let us join today in hopeful prayer: That elected officials – including the President and President-Elect, uphold their oaths to defend the Constitution and the tenets of our democracy; for the health and safety of members of congress, that they may faithfully execute the duties of their offices with courage, wisdom, and humility; for the Capitol police and law enforcement charged with protecting congress and staffers; and for the demonstrators and rioters who took part in Wednesday’s actions, that the hardness of their hearts soften and damage that they’ve inflicted on their communities be healed; and finally for all of us, that we might act with generosity, faithfulness, and love.

(1) https://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/jubilee-of-mercy/the-spiritual-works-of-mercy

Image from Unsplash.com

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