by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
“The Mental Health Toll of Trump-era Politics: The Country is in an Awful Place Psychologically.” This was the title and sub-title of an opinion piece in The New York Times on Saturday, January 22, 2022.
The writer catalogued several current realities as evidence for her conclusions: rising rates of youth suicides, record overdoses, random acts of street violence, months-long waiting lists for children’s therapists, masks meltdowns, QAnon. She then makes the following chilling statement: “It is depressing to live in a dying empire whose sclerotic political institutions have largely ceased to function.”
This may sound overly pessimistic at first glance. After all the “American system” still works to a great extent. For a striking example the result of the 2021 presidential election was affirmed and implemented. Yet when one looks down the road ten or twenty years, prospects for the “great American experiment” do not appear at all hopeful.
On the other hand, for people of faith in the United States this can be a Kairos moment, not only a time of crisis, but one of opportunity and favor. St. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Romans: “It is the hour for you to wake from sleep, the night is far advanced … let us put on the armor of light.” (13:11)
Two recent reflections have looked with the eyes of faith at the present moment and a Christian/Pax Christi response to it. The first was offered by Ambassador of Peace, John Dear, in his homily at the recent monthly Pax Christi USA Eucharistic celebration. John directed our attention to that very human moment in the life of Jesus when he wept over the city of Jerusalem. It was devastating for the Lord to realize that the Chosen People were refusing to recognize him as the long-awaited messiah. John commented that we doubtlessly share a similar emotion when we look at the current situation of our beloved country, indeed of the entire world.
Yet Jesus’ tears were not those of desperation. He kept the course set out for him by his Father and fulfilled his mission, confronting the consequences of the very evil which so saddened him. He was the “light which the darkness could not overcome”.
The second reflection comes from a Pax Christi Teacher of Peace, Joan Chittister. She also points to the sicknesses that afflict our beloved country and indeed the whole world in these times. Then she goes on to remind us of a very normal, healthy and indeed necessary response: the mourning which Jesus called blessed.
And like Jesus’ tears our mourning is not a sentiment of hopelessness. It is akin to what we so often experience at the loss of a loved one. Our grief compels us to pledge ourselves to carry on in that person’s honor. We feel the need to respond, to “begin again”, to BE the flickering light which cannot be extinguished, and to know as Jesus promised that we will “be comforted”.
We return again to the apostle Paul and his uplifting encouragement directed to the early Gentile followers of Jesus living in the Greek city of Philippi. They no doubt experienced serious hardships as a “strange minority” in that pagan milieu. And the letter was likely written by the apostle while he languished in the darkness of a prison cell. He urges these new Christians to have a noble attitude worthy of their newfound faith in Jesus the Christ. It can well serve us as we bring to the darkness of our time the unique gift which Christians have to offer – Hope.
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, concentrate on these things.” (Phil 4:8)
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.