Only, now… it HAS happened…HERE…in OUR town…in our little corner of Westport…here at Saint Luke…in the parish where I live and serve as pastor.
I have been here for almost 19 years and have many times raised a prayer of thanksgiving that violence and vandalism have not forced their way into the life and home of our faith communities as it has “elsewhere.”
That is no longer the case. But let’s keep it in perspective:
- No one was injured by the events that happened here on 13 July.
- The monetary value of damage to masonry, electrical systems, and statuary – relatively minor – is insignificant in comparison with the loss of human life – and completely covered by insurance that all Catholic institutions are required to have.
- Various aspects of the way that the damage was done hint at much deeper psychological issues that must be addressed, not only for this individual perpetrator, but for a much wider population.
- The worst of this event is a sense of being violated somehow in something or someone that we hold sacred and beloved.
Consider the following items that have recently dominated the news:
- Debates about the regulation of firearms
- Incidents in Sandy Hook, Aurora, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Nice and elsewhere
- Heightened interracial and immigrational tensions – even while the Westport-Weston-Norwalk religious communities rejoice to welcome and provide for a Syrian refugee family
- Repeated reports about how people can be bullied and demeaned by various “social” media to the point of desperation
- Suicides among our people: teens, police officers and any of our neighbors
- The political climate, especially in a presidential election year
- Reports about how 80% of people admit to participating in incidents of “road rage” (CBS Newsradio, 14 July 2016)
- (fill in your own blank about how any one person or group is treating another with contempt or anger for any reason of being “different” or “unworthy”).
I submit for our consideration, dear neighbors, that too much of our energy – collective and individual, national and local, emotional and psychological is – as the Scriptures say – spent on straining at the gnat while swallowing the camel. In other words, we are wasting a HELL of a lot of energy and bringing a HELLISH existence upon ourselves because we are ever trying to swat at the symptoms while avoiding the core disease and question: what are the angers and the frustrations and the sense of helplessness and powerlessness that are boiling up within people driving them to act-out in destructive ways? More importantly: how must each of us bear a share of the responsibility for that?Because every human being does so.
A colleague of mine from many years ago and now in the next life, once spoke in a completely different context to reflect on the image of watching intently the pot of water that his grandmother placed on the stove to cook the pasta for their weekly Sunday Italian dinner. At the very beginning, there was nothing. Then, barely visible currents of warm water could be seen interacting with the colder water. I’ve since learned that those barely visible currents – like plumes of clear heat rising from our chimneys into the cold air of the winter – are called “schlerins.” Then, little by little, tiny bubbles of steam would form on the bottom. One bubble would nudge up against another bubble and combine to make a bigger one…again and again and again. Bubbles would begin to rise to the surface, one by one, until the whole pot would suddenly break into a FURIOUS full-rolling boil.
Beginning as neighbors on our streets and in our schools and workplaces and towns – as families around our dining room tables – we need to become aware of and address the schlerins – what are the subtle unnoticed currents of “hot” and “cold” in our community, silently and invisibly clashing with one another? What are the stresses and the pressures that we place upon ourselves – and one another – that will lead first to small and then ever-growing bubbles of emotional steam to become full rolling boils of anger, hatred, addiction, desperation, and fear?
I’m not wise enough to have a magic “one-size-fits-all” answer, and surely a psychotic episode cannot be put on a par with other ways of acting out and seeking relief. But I firmly believe nonetheless that each of us – however old or young, privileged and advantaged or less so, whatever our cultural background – has it within us to make choices every day to turn down the heat with and for one another –however modestly so.
Can we? Will we?
Monsignor Andy Varga
Pastor, Saint Luke Church, Westport CT