by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

There is a common experience in human life that in psychological terms is called “holding the tension of opposites”. It is the ability to live with contradictory realities. One commentator spoke of it as “a more emotionally intelligent way of operating in the world”. Examples of this are all around us and most of us cope well with them.

For example, we know ourselves to be loved/sinners; or we know that there are opposing inclinations in us – to do good and at times to do wrong; or that a loved one has faults, even glaring ones. Emotionally healthy people deal well with these “tensions of opposites”. Many do not, and some even insist on either-or rather than both-and, with an inability to dialogue, and too often cause disturbances, sometimes serious ones. Our country is presently threatened by such unhealthy mindsets which are leading to actions and movements undermining even our national way of life.

This situation in our country could be the subject of another and more informed essay. These few lines will deal with the healthy ability to “hold the tensions of opposites” exemplified by Pope Francis in these Easter days.

Several times he called this “An Easter of War”. In his homilies the Pope spoke from what seemed like a breaking heart.

“After two years of a global health crisis – where people have come together pooling our strengths and resources… we are showing that we still have within us the spirit of Cain, who saw Abel not as a brother but as a rival and thought about how to eliminate him.” Francis placed great emphasis on the tragedy of Ukraine, which, he said, “has been dragged into a cruel and senseless war and if the conflict escalates, it could lead to the destruction of humanity.”

Then the Pope went on to list in some detail other places in the world where this Easter of War prevails: the Middle East, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Nigeria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mexico, Canada (the open wound of historic racism toward indigenous populations in that country).

Interwoven among Pope Francis’ dire reflections on the current state of humanity are challenging and uplifting Easter messages. They are vivid examples of his joining prophetic analyses with hope-filled insights from our Catholic tradition – his remarkable ability to “hold the tensions of opposites”.

“Easter”, he said, “begins by upsetting our expectations. It comes with the gift of hope that surprises and amazes us. Yet it is not easy to welcome that gift. At times – we must admit – this hope does not find a place in our hearts… [but] with the Risen Lord, no night will last forever, the morning star still shines. Jesus entered the tomb of our sin; he descended to those depths where we feel most lost; he wove his way through the tangles of our fears, bore the weight of our burdens and from the dark abyss of death restored us to life and turned our mourning into joy.”

Then the Holy Father challenges us. “Let us not tarry among the tombs, but run to find him, the Living One. … Let us allow the women of the Gospel to lead us by the hand, so that with them we may glimpse the first rays of the dawn of God’s life rising in the darkness of our world. … Easter joy is not to be kept to oneself. The joy of Christ is strengthened by giving it, it multiplies sharing it. If we open ourselves and carry the Gospel, our hearts will open and overcome fear.”

In playwright Robert Bolt’s outstanding theater production, “A Man for All Seasons”, the protagonist, St. Thomas More, makes this comment which surely applies to the incredible complexity of holding together the current tensions between Easter War and Easter hope.

“God made humans to serve him wittily in the tangle of their minds.”

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.

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