Five years ago, Pope Francis promulgated Laudato Si, the first ever encyclical devoted to the environment. It is a fantastic work of theology, looking to the signs of the times and offering a comprehensive approach to the ills facing our world.

If you haven’t read it yet, I cannot encourage you enough. It is really good. And incredibly important. And about more than just the environment.

Beyond this week’s Catholicism in Focus, which offers and overview, here are some of my favorite passages:

The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”. (#6)

If we approach nature and the environment without…openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. (#11)

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. (#23)

There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. (#25)

The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet… The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor. (#48)

Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” (#120)

“There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development.” (#136)

I’ve heard it many times before: “The news is too depressing. I just can’t watch it.” You won’t find any argument from me on this point. Whether it’s foreign wars or police brutality in the US, drug epidemics or airborne pandemics, politicians disgracing themselves or disgracing others, the news is often packed with information that is sure to upset us. This is not the way things should go.

In many cases, it angers us. In other cases, it leaves us confused and feeling helpless. It’s just awful. And so we look away. We turn off the TV. We choose to focus on the things that bring us happiness rather than the things that depress us.

Which makes sense. Until you realize that so many people don’t have the luxury of looking away.

When we’re dealing with issues like racial inequality and oppression, as we are now in this country, turning off the TV doesn’t make things better or cause the issue to disappear. While we who are outside of the situation can pretend that it doesn’t exist, the people suffering from it will continue to suffer from it. They cannot turn off the TV or walk away, because it is happening to them.

In this week’s reflection, I want to recommend that we who have the luxury to turn away not exercise it. As upsetting as it is to watch, I think we owe it to others not only to watch, but to let the anger of the situation consume us. 

As long as we have the ability to hide from it—as long as the issues of the world remain distant and are easily avoided—we will never become invested enough to want things to change. As long as it is someone else’s problem, we’re going to let it continue to happen.

That needs to stop. The body of Christ is suffering all around us. Let yourself suffer with it.

The following is a homily for the Feast of Pentecost, Year A. The readings can be found here.

For those who are still wondering if God has a sense of humor, I point you to today’s Gospel. Here we are on the first weekend open for public masses, in a world where we’re trying to get people to stay home, to social distance, to cover their mouths—and we get a Gospel criticizing those who stayed home in fear and Jesus straight up breathing on the disciples. As a preacher you just have to look at that and go… are you kidding me?

Luckily, there are other readings to talk about, and so we’re going to hold off on the Gospel for a second and focus on the image we’re given in the first reading. The passage from the Acts of the Apostles recounts the Pentecost event, describing it as something coming from the sky like a “strong driving wind.” If you look to most other English versions of the Bible, this phrase is translated as a “rush of a violent wind.” This is not some light summer breeze. You don’t feel this air on your face and go, “Oh, isn’t that refreshing. Isn’t that nice.” When I hear “strong driving wind” or “rush of a violent wind,” I think of my days in Chicago where the wind was so strong that it could literally knock you over. Walking to seminary each day in my habit, basically a human sail, I was afraid of being swept up sometimes, just blown away. For those here in the southeast, I think of the powerful hurricane winds that rush through our coasts each year. What a terrifying display of power, wind so strong that it can uproot full-grown trees, hurl debris through windows, even topple houses. Look to a city after a hurricane runs through and you will see what a “strong driving wind” can do, what a “rush of violent wind” can accomplish. Wind has the power to destroy.

But interestingly enough, it can also be absolutely life-giving as well. As much as the violent winds of a hurricane cause damage to property, they also churn up the deep waters of the ocean, infusing oxygen into the water and bringing nutrient-rich water to islands and coastal lands. They distribute warm water to colder regions and work to break up bacteria and red tide. Despite their violence, Hurricanes actually replenish dying ecosystems. Where life is stagnant, where things are dying, “strong driving winds” bring life.

A destructive, life-giving force. What a perfect description of the Pentecost event; what a wonderful image of the Holy Spirit. 

On the one hand, the Spirit does come to destroy… injustice, that is; to break down all that acts against the Kingdom of God. Whenever God is angered in the Bible by oppression, idolatry, or murder, we hear that the winds are raging, that he has sent a scorching wind. The Egyptians were cast into the sea; the false prophets were killed by blowing fire; Jonah was caught in a violent storm; idols and temples to other gods were burned down. Like a hurricane, like a violent wind, the Spirit comes to his people to tear down what stands in the way of justice. Thus, those who were prophets, people filled with the Holy Spirit to speak on behalf of God, brought destruction with their words. Think about Isaiah and Amos, Hosea and Jeremiah. Were these men who asked nicely, who came in like a nice summer breeze, politely requesting that people change? No. They came to the people like a violent wind—“Stop abusing the poor! Stop putting your own people into slavery! Stop worshiping false idols… or you will be destroyed!” They condemned oppressors, cried out for justice. The Spirit, living in them, rolled in like a hurricane to tear down everything in its path.

But this same spirit, this violent wind, also came to bring life. In the very beginning, remember that it was the wind that separated the land from the sea to allow for life; after the flood of destruction, it was the wind that dried up the waters to make it livable again; it was the violent wind that parted the Red Sea, leading the Israelites from slavery to freedom; all throughout Scripture, it was the west wind that came from the sea, bringing moisture to the land, saving the people from famine. Just as a driving wind was sent by God to express his anger, so too, is one sent to accomplish his saving, life-giving work. Just like a hurricane, this strong driving wind churns up what is stagnant, awakens what is dormant, gives life to what is dying. It does not simply denounce injustice, it breathes life; it helps to build a just society. The Old Testament prophets didn’t just bring anger at injustice, they brought consolation for the oppressed, hope for the future, a reminder that God was with them always. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is like a driving wind: he has the power to destroy and give life, all for the sake of the Kingdom.

This is the Spirit that Jesus breathes into his disciples at Pentecost, and the Spirit that lives in us. That violent wind, that strong driving wind, lives in you and in me because Jesus has anointed us with it. That violent wind is alive in our world, just as he was with the Old Testament prophets, because we are his hands and feet. As baptized Christians, those sent out on Christ’s mission, we are that driving wind; we are that rush of violent wind.

As a church, we must be a force of destruction against injustice, a people who tear down all that is against the kingdom of God. We stand against affronts to life like abortion and euthanasia; we demand justice in the face of oppression and poverty; we cry out like a violent wind, breathing out the spirit in the world when others have had their breath taken away. How utterly disgusting it is to see racism continue to rear its ugly head this week—a woman lying to the cops in an attempt to hurt a black man; a police officer killing a man in handcuffs, kneeling on his windpipe for 9 minutes while he choked “I can’t breathe.” How do you think the Holy Spirit, the breath of life, feels about someone taking another’s breath away? How do you think he feels about those who stood by and watched, refusing to speak up, to give their own breath? As a people in the Spirit, those who have been anointed at Pentecost, now is not the time to stay silent; now is not the time to keep our breath to ourselves—like a violent wind, we must cry out for justice, we must rush in and destroy all that is against the Kingdom.

But we must also work to bring life. Being a prophet, being anointed in the Spirit, being a violent wind in our world, means being a destructive force, yes, but it also means being a life-giving force as well. It means being that wind that brings the rain to dry land, life to those who hunger and thirst. It means churning up what is good and spreading it around, bringing warmth to those who are cold. Just like the Old Testament prophets, it means being a voice of hope, of consolation, of reconciliation. Look at our world today and we see so many disparate voices, so much division. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings together all of those languages, all of those people who cannot communicate, and makes them one people in peace.

Yes, I tell you, if we are anointed in the Spirit, if we are filled with what Christ has left us, if we want to build the kingdom of God in our midst, a warm summer breeze simply won’t do. The Spirit is a violent wind come to shake up this world, and we are his hands and feed. Rush out into the world, and don’t go quietly.

The Horrifying Truth about the Porn Industry

There is no doubt that pornography is obscene. The idea of filming people performing sexual acts on one another is the essence of perversion. Television and movies have limits to how much of this sort of content is allowed because decent people don’t want to see it.

Some, of course, will argue that it is nothing more than free speech, that it may not be something for everyone, but that doesn’t make it illegal. For years, I granted this argument.

Not anymore.

The problem with this idea is that it assumes everyone on screen is freely consenting to be filmed, is there without coercion, and is receiving just remuneration for their work. Sadly, none of these points are guaranteed. As I discuss in this reflection, there is a direct link between pornography and human trafficking.

Viewer discretion is obviously advised.

Is there anything wrong with being rich? This is America. And in America, we reward hard work and ingenuity. You can be anything and anyone you want, right, as long as you work for it. If you work hard enough and have enough skill, you deserve everything you get. Millionaire? Billionaire? Richest person in the world? This is the sign that you have worked hard, and everything you earn is rightfully yours. No one can take it away from you.

Okay. But what if that person is a Christian?

The question of what we do with our money is arguably the most important issue found in the entire Bible (in the Old Testament, second only to the issue of idolatry.) More than an insistence on peace, more than politics, far more than sexual ethics, Jesus spends most of his earthly ministry caring for the poor and preaching about wealth. He tells his disciples how they are to approach it, preaches against the rich, and raises up the poor. Truly, if there is one thing that Jesus cares about more than anything else, it’s what we do with our money.

Understandably, then, the Catholic Church has a few things to say on the topic. Drawing from the social encyclicals, papal pronouncements, and ecumenical council documents, this week’s Catholicism In Focus offers a brief overview of the Church’s stance on but one economic topic: private property.

Can a Christian be rich? In general, the Church has no problem. But it definitely depends on what one does with their riches.

A little while ago, I was talking with someone about how the Church cares for the poor, works for justice in our world, and does all that we can to promote peace. I said that we do these things not because we’re “do gooders” or hippies, but because it is our responsibility as Christians.

I forget the context of the conversation, but it was a pretty standard response to whatever was asked, straight from Catholic Social Teaching 101. I will never forget the response:

But why should we care about this world? If we believe in heaven, who cares if people are poor or die? Shouldn’t our only focus be on getting souls into heaven?

Rarely am I caught off guard by a question, but this one certainly got me. I could see what the person was getting at, I could see why they would ask this, but there were just so many problems with that way of thinking that I didn’t know where to start. Luckily I have a good internal filter and regrouped, because my first thought was, “So, are you suggesting that we just mercy kill everyone who has a tough life so that we can ‘send them to heaven?'” That would not have been a pastorally appropriate response.

I can’t remember exactly what I said at the time, but it got me thinking, theologically, how to best answer this question. In this week’s Catholicism In Focus, I offer three reasons why we care about protecting life, and really, the entire physical world:

1. Creation was created by God, it is good in itself, and is a vessel for experiencing God.

2. The human person is more than just a “soul” or spiritual body, but is fundamentally a physical being.

3. Salvation is not simply an other-worldly experience, one completely removed from our reality.

Is this a complete list? By no means. But I think it offers a foundation for a Catholic view of the world that must be behind everything we do. Unless we accept these three points as a basis for our faith, we might struggle to understand much of what we do and why we do it, leading us to ask tragic questions like, “Why should we care about life at all?”

After a month off from social media (but not a month off… just so we’re clear), I’m happy to say that I’m back in the swing of things with YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and the podcast (whew… that’s a mouthful). While I’ve received many messages over the past few weeks wondering where I was, questioning whether I was stepping away from this ministry, the question was never in doubt; as with past Christmases, I take some time away, not just to rejuvenate, but to plan the next semester.

And yet, there was something a bit different about this break, I’ll admit. I didn’t have the same enthusiasm about the next semester’s lineup of videos. I wasn’t completely invested as I was in years past. A part of me was a bit frustrated with the work, a bit burnt out from the constant pressure to produce, and frankly, a bit disillusioned by the whole thing. Maybe I was discerning what the future would hold for Breaking In The Habit.

As I share in this week’s reflection, I found myself asking more and more last semester, “Am I even making a difference?” Sure, I was getting “likes” and nice comments. Sure, I have amazed at how many “followers” I have. But really, in the mission of Christ, was I really making progress in a way that reflected the work I was putting in and what I hoped to accomplish?

I share this, not because I’m still discerning this ministry or because I’m looking for compliments, but because I think that what I’m experiencing is very common in this life as a Christian. I think that we all hit walls, struggle to see the fruit of our labors, and have to fight the urge to give up. This is not the first time I have struggled in this way, and it will most certainly not be the last.

So, how do we respond. In this video, I want to suggest two things: 1) live with personal integrity, and 2) trust in God. At the end of the day, we cannot let our perception of success dictate how we act; besides the fact that our definition of success is different from God’s, we don’t always see the whole picture. It is important to remember, sometimes, that just because we don’t see progress, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

And so, I leave you with one of my favorite prayers, one related to this issue. Often attributed to St. Oscar Romero, it was written by then-Fr. Ken Untener (later, Bishop Untener) for the use in a homily delivered by Cardinal Dearden in 1979. I hope that it gives you the hope that it does for me, and that the wisdom of this prayer may guide us as we continue on.

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Sex in the Catholic Church?

In the 19th century, of the (many) reasons that Catholics faced discrimination from their Protestant counterparts was over the issue of sex. While many Protestants had been swept up in the Victorian-era repression of sex, believing that sex was merely a means to an end and should be avoided except for the procreation of children, that all sexual desire should be suppressed, Catholics took a slightly different approach. Not only did we emphasize the importance of pleasure in sex, we freely talked about it, with Church leaders routinely commenting on sex in homilies or letters to the faithful. For those who thought that what happened in the bedroom was private and was no one’s business in the Church (even God’s?), the Catholic Church was a strange and promiscuous institution that one should be wary of.

Funny how the more things change the more things stay the same. Today, we’re still looked upon as strange by the outside world, but instead of being promiscuous and free we’re now seen as repressed and stuck up. And while our teachings have stayed the same all of these years, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that few people actually understand what’s at the root of these teachings. Why do we say what we do? What is at stake in terms of our definition of the human person? How does sexual activity require responsibility, morality, and (dare I say) even some virtue? Even for married couples, even for those in the privacy of their own bedrooms, the Church stands firm in believing that everything we do should reflect our faith. Marriage does not give someone the free pass to do anything they want just as a driver’s license doesn’t give someone free rein of the highway.

Obviously, there are many ways to exercise this and some may faithfully approach sex without coming to the same conclusions that we do. In fact, even within the Catholic Church, among the faithful and clergy alike, there is great debate surrounding our sexual teaching. To say that simply because someone disagrees with the official magisterium of the Church means that they are not taking this sacred act seriously would be a serious overgeneralization. There are many faithful ways to view the same issue.

What I present to you this week, then, is not meant to be dogmatic teaching inherent to the very nature of being a Christian. What I present is an attempt to understand the logic behind the Church’s teaching. Not everyone will accept this, I accept, but that is not my hope in taking on this topic. In a world so divided on such a controversial issue, my only hope is that people may come to a greater knowledge of why our teachings are the way they are so to engage them more critically in prayer and conversation. We’ve gotten a bad rap on this issue for centuries, and while some of it is certainly deserved, I think the vast majority of it springs from misunderstanding.

Eight hundred years ago, a little man from Assisi, a man without tremendous wealth, power, stature, or societal influence, set a movement in motion that would leave the Church and world forever changed. That man was St. Francis of Assisi.

Within just a short decade, there were already more than 5,000 friars in countries all across Europe, the Poor Clares had spread to multiple monasteries and established itself as a new way of monastic living, and the penitent movements had received their rule and amassed a larger number even than the rest.

It’s difficult to underestimate the effect that the Franciscan movement had on history. With its great size and diversity came the ability to spread its culture and values, including a number of innovations, in a way that had never been seen before. Constantly on the move, they could respond to the signs of the times, enflaming a people with passion before moving on to the next place. The way they served the poorest of the poor, living humbly themselves, preaching in new and popular ways, and not asking for much in return challenged the secular priests of their day to serve in a different way. The nativity scene and stations of the cross, while not invented by the Franciscans, are popular devotions today because of their insistence on an incarnational way of prayer. And the breviary, the shortened and compacted way of praying the psalms found in every religious house in the world today, was first employed by these traveling preachers.

At every level of the Church, in every country in the world, the Franciscans have not only been present, but have left their mark in irreconcilable ways.

But why? Why didn’t the Dominicans, who were formed around the same time, not grow as quickly? Why did it take the Jesuits, who were founded to do similar forms of ministry, so long to get its first pope (who took the name Francis!) Why haven’t the Benedictines, who have existed for much longer, had such a lasting effect on the imagination of the Church? And why haven’t the countless other religious orders that were founded throughout the history of the Church been able to match what the Franciscans have done in 800 years?

I ask these questions not to put down other Orders or even to shamelessly promote the Franciscans (okay, a little bit of the latter), but simply to marvel at what seems inconceivable: a religious movement started by a simple man like Francis should have never worked at all, let alone have changed the Church and world as it did.

Why is that? And maybe more importantly, what might we learn from the success of this movement 800 years ago in what our Church and world are facing today? That is what I was employed to talk about last weekend at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Arizona. While I can’t repeat all 5 hours of talks, I wanted to share the central points here in this week’s vlog.

I hope it inspires you to join in the movement, in however you can in your situation, and happy Feast of St. Francis to you all!

On Tuesday of last week, the Catholic Church found itself back in the spotlight. Unfortunately, this was not the sort of spotlight that Jesus meant when he said that a lamp should be placed on a stand so that all may see its light. No, once again, the Catholic Church was the center of the world’s attention for the sins it has committed in the abuse of minors by priests and its subsequent coverup. According to a Grand Jury report from the Office of Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as many as 1000 minors had been abused by priests over a 70 year period.

One thousand.

For many, the gist of the story is old news. In fact, the Church had reported similar numbers itself back in 2004 when it had done a full survey of the entire country. The fact that there were so many is horrifying, but not all that new. What is new, though, is the list of perpetrators and the details of their cases. As opposed to 2004, what the world is seeing now is more than just a statistical breakdown, more than just overall generalities, but an actual list of names, details of their abuse, and the ways that the Church systematically covered it up. By no means for the weak of stomach, the report reveals unconscionable tactics that these priests used to lure in minors, abuse them, and even create a network of abusers within dioceses, able to continue their actions from place to place under the shelter of the Church.

Simply horrifying.

And so, once again, the Church finds itself in the spotlight with attackers from every angle. We experience the same hatred and distrust as a decade ago, the same wound being reopened and made worse. And we are left shocked because we put our Band-Aid on and thought that it would have healed by now. There are some in the Church that wonder why there is so much animosity towards the Church again, becoming very defensive, claiming that there is nothing new in this report and that this is all old news. But this wound is too deep to think that it could have healed in short time, to think that it could have healed on its own without tending to the depths of the damage inflicted. No, to its credit, the Church changed some of its protocols and made Churches the safest place for minors in our world today, but it never addressed the structures that led to such a problem, and it never really healed the wounds all around.

And so they fester.

And so we find ourselves bombarded with the same horrible arguments as a decade ago. Some want to use this an opportunity to remove the requirement of celibacy for priests, arguing that this is the cause. But do we really want to say that remaining single and not acting out sexually causes one to be a rapist? Should we be worried about the millions out there not currently in relationships? This is ludicrous. Others want to use this as an opportunity to denounce homosexuality and to purge our seminaries of anyone with a same-sex attraction. But do we really want to say that having an attraction to someone of the same sex causes one to rape minors? That there is a natural propensity in gay men to want to be sexually active with children? This is absurd.

Pedophilia and ephebophilia are not normal expressions of sexual desire. In fact, they are not primarily sexual in nature: rape is more an act of violence than anything else. These things comes from a place of brokenness and distortion, the result of a real disorder. To use this situation as a means to promote an agenda, claiming that celibacy or homosexuality causes one to develop such a disorder and act out in heinous ways, is cheap, scientifically inaccurate, and against what the Church has said about itself.

But most of all, it is a deflection. It is a way of scapegoating an issue so that the blame is placed onto someone else, that we who are not of that category are left feeling innocent, and all the while, the victims themselves are left as an afterthought.

That cannot be our path forward. That cannot be the way we ultimately heal this wound and move on as the light of Christ in the world. More than anything else, the Church needs to recognize and accept the sins that it has committed, willing to accept the consequences for the sake of bringing justice for the victims, rather than focusing on self-preservation. Rather than focusing all our attention on who is to blame so that we can be sure that we’re not to blame, our focus needs to be on having a real sense of remorse, an honest reflection on what went wrong, and a steadfast commitment, above all else, to those who need the most healing. As much as this situation hurts us and we can say that the Church needs to be healed, we are not the victims here. I’ll say it again:

We are not the victims here.

It is only when we are able to fully accept this that the healing can begin. A Band-Aid will not heal this wound. Nor will treating the wrong patient.

Every second Monday of October, residents of the United States celebrate “Columbus Day,” a commemoration of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492. For many who live in this country, it marks the beginning of our history, the start of European settling in the Western Hemisphere.

For many others, however, the date and commemoration are not things to celebrate. Besides the fact that the Americas were “discovered” thousands of years earlier by the people who had called it home when Columbus arrived, his arrival marked not the beginning of our history but the end of theirs. In the decades that followed, many native nations were assimilated, thrown into slavery, or wiped out, witness to horrible atrocities that would continue into the 20th century. Today, 1492 represents a terrible memory—both for the remaining native people and for European-descended Christians who lament our first ancestors’ actions—of the evil that is possible when greed leads us.

Like all of history, though, it’s a mixed bag that leaves us sitting uncomfortably in the middle without a correct answer. Was Columbus a “bad” guy? I’m not willing to say that outright. As easy as it is to see the actions of a particular historical figure and judge them from the perspective of our current moral lens, doing so is not prudent or fair. While the actions of a historical figure may not be permissible today, we must always remember that we are where we are and know what we know precisely because of the lived experience—and major failures—of those who have gone before us. To impose our value system on a historical situation that was acting under completely different historical situations and values—essentially holding two people to the same rules even though they’re playing a different game—is not a beneficial way to look at history. While I do think that many of the acts committed against the native peoples were objectively against the will of God, we must remember, as in all cases, that our social context, systems of injustice, societal expectations, and limited worldview restrict our ability to freely choose the good.

For that reason, I spend this Columbus Day—or Indigenous People’s Day—or First Nations Day—or the Second Monday of October… day—not focusing on the evil committed by someone of history and accepted as normal by the people of his day; someone acting the way that most acted in their day is not worth commemorating, good or bad. Instead, I spend this day focused on a man who stood against what was normal and accepted in his day, a man who risked his life and reputation to stand for something that was unpopular and unheard of. That man? Dominican Friar Bartolomé de Las Casas, the “Protector of the Indians.”

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It seems like a rule of nature that conflict is inevitable. While the last two decades has been witness to extremely polarized thinking in both ecclesiastical and political debates, the fact of the matter is that people have always been in conflict. We disagree with one another. We get angry. We fight. Such is life. On this side of the Kingdom, I’m just not sure we can avoid it.

But oh do we try.

When I meet someone who has opinions diametrically different from mine, my first impulse is to try to change their mind. I may not open with that, and really, I may not even pursue it in action, but that desire is there. While small differences in opinion are not only good, they’re necessary, there is something deep inside of me that is unsettled when someone claims something I find absolutely ludicrous. I must fix them.

Maybe you know this feeling. If so, then maybe you know what usually happens in these cases: nothing. In my whole life, in all the people I have met and in all of the conversations about politics, religion, philosophy, or the like, I’m not sure if I have ever changed the opinion of someone who started off diametrically opposed to me. Never. Instead, what almost always happens is that at least one of us gets frustrated at our inability to fix the other person and we leave the conversation worse off than when we started: same opinions held but a worse relationship between us.

What do we do now?

More times than not, we just let it go. Rather than carrying the burden of the frustration with us well after the conversation is done, we try to forget the argument and move on with our lives. And on the surface, this seems like our best option: adding resentment to an altogether meaningless conversation is not good for one’s mental or emotional health, and benefits neither you nor your opponent. Letting the conversation go is probably the best thing we can do.

Rather unfortunately, though, we often let go of much more than that. In my experience, when faced with a difficult person or opinion that we cannot reconcile with the way we view the world, we often let go of the person as well. Rather than having to deal with the frustration that such a perspective is out there, and unwilling to accept that it cannot be reconciled with our world view, we employ a defense mechanism that eliminates the problem: we determine that that person or opinion is fundamentally wrong, therefore not of any worth to our lives.

It’s a nice tactic, actually. Able to put someone in a box—no, they put themselves in a box away from reason, not us!—our commitment to them and their ideas disappears. Those people are so messed up, we say. That one is crazy, we think. Why waste time thinking about or engaging people who are so far from right thinking?

And yet, as nice and comforting it is to us, as neat and tidy as it makes our relationships, when we do this, we forget something rather fundamental to our lives: As Christians, we do not have the luxury of writing people off.

As much as we want to solve problems by cutting people out of our lives and forever ignoring them, we do not have the luxury: we are called to forgiveness.

As much as we want to put people down for being “so messed up,” we do not have the luxury. We are called to love even our enemies.

As much as we want to attack others, play the victim, or try to get people our our side against them, we do not have the luxury. We are called to be meek peacemakers.

As much as the world may find certain behaviors and ways of dealing with conflict acceptable, we do not have the luxury. We are called to another world.

As much as we want to hide from issues and people, avoiding conflict and saying that “it’s not my problem,” we do not have the luxury. We are called to imitate God’s justice and mercy in our world, building up the kingdom of God, not just for ourselves, but for all.

There is no doubt in my mind that conflict has existed as long as life has existed and that it will continue long after I am gone. I have no utopian dreams of creating a world in which everyone holds hands and gets along, all thinking and speaking with one voice. This side of the Kingdom, conflict is a reality at the center of our lives. As Christians, that should not free us from being who we say we are—Christians. No, Jesus himself came and lived in a volatile world with conflict all around him. In fact, it is mainly through conflict that we know what we know about him and how we are to live. As easy as it is to buy into the values of the world—to act like the leaders of camps we see around us, to improve our cause by putting down our enemy, to determine for ourselves who is worth engaging and who is not—we need to remember one thing: if we want to call ourselves followers of Christ, we do not have the luxury of letting go of any part of the body of Christ.