What have you paid to follow Him?

I drove away from Charlottesville a few hours before the tiki torch atrocity. I wasn’t running. The trip there had been planned for months, and I’d actually stayed a day longer than the original schedule dictated. I’d spent the week caring for my father and visiting with my son and his girlfriend. People I love live in Charlottesville, and I’ve long considered it home. Charlottesville is where I go when the world wears me thin; it’s the place on earth where I breathe the deepest.

I admit I cried through much of that weekend. There was dissonance in hearing the name of my beloved city followed by such horrifying details. People asked me about my son, Patrick. “No,” I replied. “He’s not there. He’s safe in Chicago.” How ironic. My pastoral retreat city was the center of ugly hate. The dissonance clanged in my brain.

If you ache, alone, in a church that leaves you feeling as if you are not heard and you are not seen because the people are not Christ to one another, know that He hears you and He sees you.

And then, I grew increasingly aware of another divide. I’d long known that there are angry, ignorant white supremacists. And I’d been all too aware of violent progressive activists. What caught me by surprise was the vehemence of the hate of both those sides reflected in the people of the church.

In the days after the murder in Charlottesville, a local friend texted, “I feel so vulnerable. People in my parish are fully supporting everything the president said. They are proud of him and nodding about the fine people at a Nazi rally chanting ‘blood and soil.’ These are the people of the church, the people I’ve told my children are mentors and trusted adults. I feel exposed and so very sad.”

Her sentiments were well-founded. All around us swirled confusion amidst people of faith — a false moral equivalency that refused to condemn hate and call it sin. It was a time for looking toward people one expected to be heroic only to be sorely disappointed when they were not. It was a time for sitting expectantly in a pew and thinking that the Gospel would be preached and clarity would reveal the truly Catholic response only to find that the homily after the defining moment in history that was #Charlottesville spoke nothing of the events of the weekend at all.

Silence from the church.

Affirmation of the violent right from the church.

Affirmation of the violent left from the church.

Church, your hero is Jesus Christ. He weeps.

It’s time to be brave. It’s time to be the heroes we want to see. It’s time to speak the Gospel we know to be true and we need to hear. Hate is wrong all the time. If you are aligning yourself with a group or a cause that thinks that fine people walk alongside people chanting “Sieg heil” and raising their arms in a Nazi salute, you are mistaken. As we were reminded so profoundly just days later, Catholic heroes are men like St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life in a Nazi concentration camp and whose feast was celebrated on the same day my friend’s neighbors were reluctant to call Nazism in our day the evil that it is.

If you think that social justice calls you to come armed with clubs, spew hate and pepper spray, and spit on people solely because they are white, you are seen, too. And that is not fighting for justice. That is an evil of its own.

Who are we, church?

Maybe, in this season, we are not collective. Maybe we are solitary, one person at a time, recognizing that collectively we are making a mess of things. Choosing sides is mostly a muddy, miserable mistake. Maybe instead of devoting precious time to reacting to every sound bite and parsing every nuance to suit our story, we focus instead on the small sphere of influence that is genuinely ours.

How can we be Christ to our neighbors? How can we live a life in our community that proclaims the Gospel by genuinely loving the people God puts right in front of us: the man struggling with a language barrier at the bank, the pregnant teenager who needs a home, the black baby orphaned by a mother in jail for life, the lady in your parish who feels exiled because she is the child of immigrants and the women around her are affirming rhetoric that denies her dignity?

Who are you in a country that isn’t neatly divided into the good side and the bad side? Who are you as a Christian in a post-Christian world? When we genuinely take up the cross, it is heavy and it hurts and bearing it comes with a cost. What have you paid to follow Him?

If you ache, alone, in a church that leaves you feeling as if you are not heard and you are not seen because the people are not Christ to one another, know that He hears you and He sees you. And in your lonely ache there are places that only God can fill.

I pray you know the fullness of His love. And I pray that I can pour into your aching space today.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

@elizabethfoss