Monday, April 6, 2009

Day 5: Palm Sunday at Tech

We attended Palm Sunday Mass at the War Memorial Chapel on the campus of Virginia Tech, just a few hundred yards from another sobering memorial for the 32 students and faculty who were gunned down in their classrooms two years ago this month.

The emotional wounds from that massacre are still very fresh and raw in this town of 40,000, especially this time of year. And just as I did upon first seeing the Vietnam War Memorial in D.C. for the first time, I was overwhelmed by sadness and tears.

After reading the narrative of Christ's passion from Mark's gospel, which is customary on Palm Sunday, the priest started his fiery sermon by acknowledging the violence in Binghamton, New York, last week and how each of us has the capacity to be violent. He warned against lulling ourselves into believing that just because we are "good" or "law-abiding" or "church-going" we are somehow incapable of getting really nasty sometimes -- whether it's shouting at someone in traffic or feeling gleeful when someone else trips and falls. He likened himself and the rest of us to the folks in the readings. At the beginning, the people in Jerusalem are waving palms and shouting "Hosanna!!" to welcome Christ into town. But then a few days later they're shouting "Crucify him!" As soon as something or someone is perceived as a threat, we opt first for eliminating it rather than trying to understand it.

So now we are left with memorials for wars and massacres, not merely as a memory to those who fell or served, but as a stark reminder of our own darkness. Maybe some day we'll evolve beyond the need for memorials.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Thomas Merton:

"Instead of loving what you think is peace, love other people and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed --but hate these things in yourself, not in another."

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