By Deacon Derick Cranston
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” President Abraham Lincoln said this in his first inaugural address as one last appeal to the Southern states that had just seceded from the Union. They were not impressed, and 750,000 Americans ended up losing their lives in the Civil War.
In recent weeks, our passions have again become strained as protests and riots sweep through cities across the nation. The frustration of those most affected by the sin of racism has boiled over into outrage. There are no easy answers, and I certainly do not have a solution.
Nevertheless, as Lincoln so eloquently ends his quote, “The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Therein lies the key; we carry the inherent memory of the love Christ has for every one of us.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” Christ tells us in the Gospel of Matthew. We are all hurting right now, but we must focus on “the least of our brothers and sisters.”
The analogy of a triage that a friend shared with me helps to illustrate my point. Two patients come to the emergency room at a hospital. The first says he is experiencing abdominal discomfort; maybe he is constipated, maybe he has a kidney stone, maybe he ate bad chicken.
The next patient comes in with respiratory distress, shallow breathing, and gasps, “I can’t breathe.” Which patient do you help first? You help the patient in most danger of losing his or her life. This does not mean the other patient will be neglected. It simply means that one person is in more need than the other is.
At times, however, our reasoning becomes clouded. We focus too much on our own self-preservation, believing our perceived needs should come first. Adam and Eve made this mistake. It is the core of original sin.
Christ came to earth and taught us a better way. His early followers referred to themselves as “People of the Way,” and that Way still serves as the North Star leading us through our Christian life. When we forget the way, it is easy to become lost and trapped in the thickets of pride and arrogance.
The mystical chords of memory remain, and will swell once again if we open our heart. We have only to appeal to the better angels of our nature — and help the patient who cannot breathe.
(Deacon Cranston is pastoral associate for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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