In his homily for the papal inauguration Mass earlier this week, Pope Francis declared that the human vocation is to protect creation and one another. Evidence of our failure to live out this calling is not difficult to find. And it is easy to wallow in that failure.
All this week, I have struggled over what, if anything, to say about all that has unfolded in Steubenville, Ohio. Given the date of this post, I have not been very successful in coming up with coherent thoughts. It is such an unholy mess and I just want to ignore it, but there is something about that mess that keeps drawing me back.
We have failed to protect one another in a colossal way in this instance. It starts and ends with the evil done to a young woman by her peers. But in the middle of it all, we have created a circus. Our brave new world may provide us with the tools to enmesh ourselves into the lives of people we will never meet in person, but it cannot expand our willingness to actually listen to those people; that is up to us.
In trying to understand this mess, I continually return to the many voices speaking of a "rape culture" that they believe permeates our society. I can see the truth in what they see, and yet I still find myself uneasy with such attempts to package human behavior. Do these constructs help us to see one another as we truly are, or do they reinforce pre-conceived expectations? Are they a cure for what ails us, or just an aspirin to treat the symptoms? Would I see this differently if I were a woman?
And then into this mix steps Pope Francis, who will celebrate Mass on Holy Thursday at a juvenile prison. The man who told us to protect one another is going to wash the feet of boys and girls not all that different from the ones in Steubenville. We are being called to protect absolutely everyone, both the young woman who was violated and those who violated her, everyone. But will we be brave enough to even speak up for this kind of love, let alone live it out? More personally, will I?
But will it even make a difference if we do? Today is the anniversary of the murder of Oscar Romero. Last weekend, my wife and I watched the movie version of his three years as the Archbishop of San Salvador. What struck me, in a way that it never did before, is the reality of failure in Romero's life. He did not end the oppression and the killings. El Salvador's civil war continued for more than a decade after his death. What was the point of it all? What good did Romero's love do?
It is easy to look upon martyrdom as an act of futility. Who can the martyr protect after he is dead? But as I wrote two weeks ago, martyrs are meant to be confounding. They preach a truth with their lives that, in the end, our contribution of faith, hope, and love is the only measurement that counts. Is it a coincidence that Romero was assassinated while celebrating the Eucharist, or a sign of what our vocation should look like?
Perhaps that is where my unease with Steubenville lies. We want to fix it, but it cannot be fixed. We want to end violence, sexual or otherwise, but it cannot be eliminated. So we scream in holy rage. But does that rage draw us closer to love or does it simply fuel more rage? I keep thinking about the washing of feet and I see Monsignor Romero with a basin of water and a towel, kissing the foot of his killer.
"There is no ultimate triumph in creation, just more life and more love."