Jesus has answers, if we listen. He directs our attention always to the essential matter: loving one another.
The night after the presidential election, my sister and I attended Mass at St. Bernardine of Siena Church in Woodland Hills. Every November, in the month of All Souls, this vibrant parish community invites all those who buried a loved one from their church during the past year to an evening Mass for the souls of those beloved dead. Our mother’s funeral was in March, so we were there. We families brought photos of the people we missed, and we were given a candle labeled with the name of our deceased.
Each year, St. Bernardine’s pastor and ministers and choir open their hearts to those of us still grieving, offering a Mass that is tender and soulful and beautiful. Since I was still feeling blurry from the devastating election results, and freshly mourning the loss of my mother, I very much needed to hear the first words of the Gospel that evening: “Jesus said, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’” (Jn 14:1)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Easier said than done, I thought, because all that day my troubled heart had wondered: What are we to do? What is our way going forward? How are we to cope with this backward lurch in the country’s progress?
It was a relief to surrender my thoughts to the Gospel. Because Jesus has answers, if we listen. He directs our attention always to the essential matter: loving one another. Jesus, after all, did not call his people to fight Rome, but to fight the hate and indifference among themselves. Some of his followers were disappointed — They wanted to revolt! They wanted to defeat the Roman dogs! — but Jesus was leading them in a different kind of revolutionary direction. As we are still led today. Rather than fighting Rome, we are to stand against the hatred lurking among ourselves. We are to embody love.
Jesus understood the transitory politics of this world. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he said, gently showing us the divine way of love. A friend of my generation mentioned that we have lived through bad presidents and constitutional crises before, and have emerged wiser, if not unscathed. Our troubled hearts have been soothed. Serenity has been regained. The best of America historically outshines the worst of America, and sunlight is still the best disinfectant. We will move through the turbulent times ahead. We will endure. Our hearts are surely troubled when it seems that our better angels have been silenced, of course. We can mope, but as President Obama recently said, only for a week or two. Then we brush ourselves off and get back to work.
So as people of faith, we must discern the work to which we are personally called. Our work is likely to be small and local. We are boots on holy ground. We will not change the whole world. We may not even change our neighborhood in any appreciable way. We possibly won’t live to see any growth in the seeds we plant. But plant we must. Plant, speak up, set an example, act with conscience, be the change, love God and neighbor and stranger. Faith doesn’t do much good if it is held in private. If we persist in standing up for our beliefs, perhaps our hearts will be less troubled. I imagine Jesus’ heart was troubled when he faced the enormity of his sacrifice. He did it anyway. He is, as always, a model of love for us.
The Mass for my mother and the loved ones who died this past year was a salve to the wounded and troubled hearts of all those present. Sometimes a plunge into the depths of sadness is the way we most closely encounter Jesus, who is ever-present in our temporal world, who never abandons us in our suffering. As our candles burned and cast light around the church, our shared sorrow seemed to lift a bit. We came together in faith, and our hearts were less troubled.
Now, the work of love awaits us.