The heroic striving for the Good
On Patriots' Day, an explosion awakened us from the torpor and complacency of everyday life. Once again, like on September 11 and the evening after the shootings in Newtown, we were silenced by the presence of evil in our midst, and once again before evil, every one of us refused to surrender to it.
Juliette Kayyem, a Boston Globe columnist and former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, encouraged Bostonians to "embrace the lessons of this week, study them, regroup, and adapt, in order to create a new baseline that then becomes the starting point for whatever might, one day again, happen to us." Certainly we have become better prepared, more competent than ever before and in the future we will be even more so. However, is this all that we have to learn? I dare say that there is more.
What has generated positivity have not been the manhunts for assassins or analyses of youth violence but a discovery of our true selves. Attempting to track chaos through perpetual news streams and then orchestrate swift justice has increased our involvement and vigilance as a society. However, none of our efforts resolve our uneasiness and fragility before evil, and none of our preparations have generated lasting hope.
Although stymied by our own fragility, we broke open our cynicism with a common thirst for love, happiness, and peace. In the face of senseless violence, we chose compassion not because of previous training, but naturally, almost by instinct. We didn't need to be told to be human. We rediscovered an urgency to answer evil with love. A powerful event reawakened our "heart."
In front of the multiple examples of gratuitous goodness, we have experienced the birth of a question: What could allow a person to live "heroically" every day? By nature we have heroic hearts, but they are buried by the complacency of daily distraction. We do not always live like we have in the past few days, ready to respond with compassion to the familiar suffering of another, yet there is nothing else that resonates more with the human spirit than giving oneself to another. What then allows us to not become accustomed to evil, and to incessantly oppose a force that feels stronger than us?
During these days, we have fluctuated between two possible responses:
Our first response has been to throw ourselves into sketches of what, how, and why the bombings happened, hoping that with intense analysis, as Juliette Kayyem states, we may be wiser. However, our incessant watching has failed to foster solace, and has only succeeded in thinly veiling our helplessness. In watching the true source of endurance in Americans these last few days, we question whether true resilience and wisdom "is a function of competence" or the "ability to learn from the past."
As we watched people pack into churches after the Newtown shootings and in these days derive strength from stories of Marathon heroes, we observe a second answer and a different source of nobility and strength. Foregoing our usual American individualism, we did not face these events alone. Instantly, we recognized in one another a brother and a sister, a travelling companion. No longer separated by allegiances or differences, but united around a common experience, we chose a common creed: in the face of cruelty and meaninglessness, yesterday and today, we chose life.
True resilience springs from belonging to a lived companionship that bears witness to the goodness and love for which we all thirst. This is the essential contribution of every communal experience of faith in our society.
From it, we can begin to build a society that reflects our deepest yearnings and, as Cardinal O'Malley mentioned in his homily, truly embrace "Monday's events as a challenge and an opportunity to work together with a renewed spirit of determination and solidarity with the firm conviction that love is stronger than death." We do not derive this conviction alone, through mere strength, self-discipline, or power. We derive resilience, this ceaseless and sanguine response, through a companionship that perceives daily life as the heroic striving for the Good.
We have learned much. Let us not forget.
Father Jose Medina is the National Leader of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation.