The attacks around Paris have left me with a significant heaviness in my heart that, to be quite honest, surprised me a bit. I was living in Boston at the time of the bombing at the Boston Marathon and have visceral memories both of the day of the Marathon and the day the city shut down to hunt down the suspects. I studied in Paris and spent part of my honeymoon there. Paris has significant gravity for me, always calling me back. It’s a strange reality to know two places that have been home for me have been violently attacked in a very personal way.
But Boston isn’t Paris. The brothers Tsarnaev are not ISIS. In many ways Paris frightens so many not just because ISIS is particularly terrifying but because – unlike places like Beirut or Kenya – Paris feels close to home. A Western developed country that feels ‘safe’ to so many. I would like to think that between my connections to Boston and Paris, I am not so naive as to the realities of evil in the world. Though as someone who is in many ways still distant and does not know the much starker reality of living under the threat of violence, I realize I still have much to learn about evil, but am not utterly separated from it myself.
Evil is a strong word and a very serious undertaking by any means. I do not hesitate in naming the attacks in Paris as acts of evil. I do not hesitate in naming ISIS as an agent of evil in the world. But these things are also the easy side to evil. It’s easy to name and fairly obvious that these heinous and horrifying events are just that. This is also where I worry that the other side of evil comes alive without us knowing, the sneaky and quietly malicious side of evil.
What happened in Paris calls us to grieve, to take the time to let the reality of what happened sink in and to process what it is to lose so many people in such a manner. But as disciples, we are always called to go beyond grieving in the wake of evil actions. There are many cries for justice rising into the air now – but if justice is to be more than vengeance, to truly seek right relationship, we would be remiss if we did not pause to reflect on how we – as Christians, as Catholics, as citizens of the United States and of the world – may perpetuate evil or be complicit in other acts of evil.
While we rightfully ought ask ‘How could they have done this?’, such a question rings hollow if we do not also inquire as to how we got to where we are in the first place. How we may have allowed the situation to progress to how it is. We also then must ask ourselves how we move forward and seek justice that is truly justice and not trumped up vengeance.
As days pass, it seems that evil is creeping its way in, whether through blaming all Muslims collectively for the actions of ISIS, or – the popular new move – blaming refugees.Despite the role of a French-born man in the attacks, having one possible refugee involved seems justification to refuse to accept refugees. Regardless of whether or not state governors have the power to refuse or accept refugees, the effort on the part of so many to keep refugees out betrays the sneaky way evil sneaks into our hearts and convinces us to act on its behalf. Refusing refugees means condemning these people to suffer the fate which we so fear ourselves that we are willing to justify their suffering in place of our own. Evil manages to twist our logic so that we can feel confident in denying a safe haven to others to allegedly ensure our own.
It’s easy to claim courage when condemning the obvious evil of the acts of ISIS, an evil that has no easy or obvious solution and will continue to try our courage as a whole human race. The real courage comes when one is willing to examine how they might perpetuate evil on their own. Real courage comes to life when we are willing to say ‘we will take in those most in need, fleeing this evil we fear and abhor, even at the risk of suffering it ourselves.’ Denying refugees does not guarantee that we will not suffer the evils of ISIS. Accepting them means that we resist causing others to suffer from the evil that breeds within us and quell it instead.
Jesus did not call his disciples to seek self-preservation, but to give up one’s life for their friends. Jesus himself, with all of the Holy Family, sought refuge from persecution in a strange land. As we enter into Advent, may we remember that Jesus suffered for all, not just for some, and that ultimately we are called to do the same.
Holy Family, who were refugees in a foreign land, pray for us.
Jesus, light in a darkened world, pray for us.