What can we do? Practical steps for living in an age of terror
June 13, 2016
God, I’m sick of this.
I’m sick of opening my computer in the morning and seeing the latest body count splashed across my newsfeed. Of my husband cautiously, almost furtively asking me over the din of a weekend breakfast table, masking the gravity of the situation from tiny ears, “did you see the news about Orlando?”
You don’t even have to wonder, anymore, when someone asks “Did you see …” Heart sinking, thoughts racing, inevitably, another terror attack.
Maybe it’s not any more dangerous to raise children in this age than in any other, and maybe that’s the illusion of an unceasing news cycle and the flat, digital world we dwell in, but it seems a hell of a time, just the same.
One week we’re agitating for more death, for death enshrined by law, slickly sterilized for public consumption by that convenient mechanism dubbed “privacy,” and the next we’re reeling from another mortal blow, more death, death in unprecedented numbers, death by ambush.
Death begets death.
And reading the news today makes me want to cry. To curl up into a ball and gather my children under my arms – not that they all quite fit there – and hide.
I didn’t sign up for this. For raising kids in a culture that is self destructing. For growing a family in an age of terror and hatred and so much uncertainty.
Except that I did.
Yesterday at Mass, before we’d had news of Orlando, our parish welcomed two new Christians into the family. As their parents held squirming toddlers over the baptismal font and their godparents clutched newly-lit flames kindled from the Easter candle, from Christ Himself, the adults promised on behalf of those squirming babies to reject Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises.
To reject the glamor of death, the allure of evil.
Because it’s real.
And, for reasons God felt sufficient to merit the decision, our free will allows us to choose evil.
I choose evil every day. I give in to a surge of anger at a traffic light, tapping my horn in frustration, muttering under my breath about a texting driver (like I’ve never done the same.) I raise my voice to my children. I spend too much time surfing the internet and not enough time on my knees. I have a moment of pure rage towards someone well up in my heart, and rather than reject it outright, I nurse it, just for a moment or two, relishing the feeling of being angry. Of being right.
The only real answer to the problem of evil in our world is the very same answer to the problem of evil in my own life: conversion.
Continual, frustrating, and sometimes humiliating conversion. Because life without Christ is hopeless.
This world is a mess, and truthfully, it always has been. And yet He saw fit to redeem it.
But we must participate in that redemption, because He loves us so much He drew up the contract along those lines: active participation.
So here are some practical ways we can fight terror in our own homes.
1. Mother Teresa will be canonized this Fall, and one of my favorite one-liners from her is the best medicine for our age:
“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”
Love begins at home, in the family. It is where our children will learn – or will not learn – their intrinsic value. It is where they will learn to share, to give and receive a sincere gift of self, to witness sacrificial love, to be heard and to be seen, to be convicted of the inestimable value of every single human life. Give your children, your siblings, your family members more love than you can bear to give. Ask God for more patience, more humility, more courage, and love your children and your spouse with a love that is truly outside your self. I fail at this every day. I must keep trying.
2. Frequent confession and reception of Holy Communion.
Look, the world we’re living in, even if the internet is contributing a bit to the impression, is bat.shit.crazy. It’s not okay that I think about terrorism when I’m queuing up for my next flight, when I take my kids to a museum or a baseball game. But the number one thing I can do to protect them – and myself – is to live, as much as possible, in a sacramental state of grace. That means daily Mass when possible (note to self: even when 2 year old is kicking me in the throat), Confession every couple of weeks, and making a daily examination of conscience.
Not only does this contribute to a higher likelihood that I will die in a state of grace, please Lord, but it makes me a better person.
Without Jesus and the grace of the Sacraments, I am, as I’m sure is evident in some way from this blog, a fairly miserable loser. That’s just me being honest. If I can continually be redeemed and recreated as a better, happier, holier person, how far might that go in influencing my immediate neighbors for the good?
3. Devotion to the Rosary, and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
We’ve been meaning to get our home enshrined to the Sacred Heart for a couple months now. We bought a beautiful icon, hung it in a prominent place, and have since somehow failed to have a priest come over for the official “enthronement,” despite knowing, oh, 2 dozen or so, personally. (If that’s not commitment to laziness, I don’t know what is. But I digress.)
We do plan to do it soon. But just having the image in our living room has me stopping multiple times per day to place a finger or a kiss across Jesus’ heart, reminding myself as I look at His image what I’m supposed to be doing, and for Whom. (For a quick explanation of how keeping pictures of your loved ones in your home is not idolatry, click here.)
I try (and mostly fail) to pray a Rosary each night. We’ve had off and on success praying a decade with the kids at some point during the day, this season being more on the “fail” side. Our kids sleep with rosaries at their bedsides for easy access during the night. They’re comforting sacramentals – tangible reminders of the real graces available to us through prayer and devotion – and, as my 4-year-old likes to remind us, “Mary kicks the devil’s butt.”
Yeah she does.
Smile at strangers. Stop and help someone who’s car is broken down, if you’re in a safe area and you’re able to do so. Give that guy a dollar. Buy someone’s coffee behind you in line. Call your sister or your friend and offer to pick up some extra milk and diapers while you’re at Costco. Tell your husband to sleep in while you get up and make the oatmeal. Call your mother in law and tell her you love her. Put your phone away and talk to the checker, the barista, the girl sitting next to you at the pool. Tell your server if you like her nails, his glasses, her hair cut.
Reach out, reach out, reach out.
We live in a lonely world. We can each be a little light in the loneliness, and give someone else the gift of knowing that, at least in that moment, they aren’t living in an age of terror.