Before Weeping, a Pause and a Prayer
Peace in the Middle East will be the work of justice
Even in her nineties Rena Poulos, Inglewood’s restauranteur of renown, would ask paper-reading patrons, “Any good news yet?” These days would she even bother to ask? For my part, as a mid-septuagenarian, I’m attuned to the folly of youth. My own daughter hasn’t registered to vote, even though she could have voted for me twice, thereby giving some oomph to my gubernatorial campaigns.
To be sure, the youth have long noted the misdeeds of their age cohort. In 1721, Jonathan Edwards, then a student at Yale, reported to his father that his classmates were engaging in “unseasonable night-walking, breaking people’s windows…and using all manner of ill language.” Oh, my.
I begin with these anecdotes, gentle reader, because if we are to weep we had best pause for a bit before doing so. Perhaps now I can turn from the mercifully mundane to a few reflections on the shattering news from Gaza and Israel.
The first reflection is literary. The free thinker George Elliot published her last novel, Daniel Deronda, in 1876. In it Deronda turns away Victorian society to labor for the establishment of a Jewish state. In her final essay, “The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!,” Elliot again argues for a Jewish state to affirm and safeguard Jewish identity. Why the essay’s title? When some fifty years earlier anti-Jewish riots swept Europe, mobs chanted “Hep, hep” in a dehumanizing imitation of the cry that was then used to herd goats.
Today we realize afresh that powerful forces want to destroy the Jewish state; they have nothing but contempt for the Jewish identity. In their contempt for that identity, they show in equal measure their ignorance of, and their contempt for, the historical source of Christianity.
The second reflection is philosophical. Rather late in life, Jacques Maritain presented the “law of the two-fold contrasting progress.” On the one hand, there is real moral progress. Consider, for example, the now widespread public rejection of slavery. Even so, on the other hand, there is the rapid growth of trafficking in human beings, especially women and children.
St. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae, underscores this pattern of contradiction. Indeed, he points out that “Declarations of human rights, and the many initiatives inspired by these declarations, show that at the global level there is a growing moral sensitivity, more alert to acknowledging the value and dignity of every individual as a human being.” And yet, he continues, “these noble proclamations are unfortunately contradicted by a tragic repudiation of them in practice. This denial…is occurring in a society which makes the affirmation and protection of human rights its primary objective and its boast.”
The third reflection asks a question. Are we not, as believers, to always move forward and to do so informed by clear judgment? We believe that we have no lasting home here. Nonetheless we pray for the Kingdom to come even on this troubled earth. Yet there remains the harrowing interplay of good and evil. Recall the parable of the noxious weeds that contend with the wheat that awaits harvest.
Peace in the Middle East, like peace in our own homes, is the work of justice. The wages of those who engage in such work are modest at best. But the work, often perilous, is steady. We know, too, that terrorism, whether of sects or of states, is always the enemy of both justice and peace. Let us insist on always calling things by their proper names. Let us pray, as well, that however evil the times are, there will be room for at least a snatch of music and a slight smile at our own pretensions.
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