Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Defining Moments in a Nation's History: How do the innocent fare?

Two Defining Moments: Elian and Terri:

There are certain historical events which are defining moments for a nation. Quite often the event might receive some publicity but its impact and ripple effect goes unnoticed. Americans naturally move on to the next news flash but fail to consider the depth and significance of what just happened. However, with a working knowledge of bible and Church history, we know that what the world deems to be insignificant can be, in fact, a critical event; one that shapes a nation’s future.

Last March we celebrated the sixth anniversary of the premature death of Terri Schiavo (2005) and this June will be the eleventh anniversary of returning a young refugee, Elian Gonzalez, to the dictator Fidel Castro (2000). The circumstances surrounding Elian Gonzales and Terry Schiavo enjoyed plenty of publicity at the time; but I would argue that the majority of journalists and historians do not consider these events to have any historic significance. Certainly they are not deemed to be as important as 9/11, the invasion of Iraq and the 2008 housing crisis by many. Nevertheless, I caution the reader not to subscribe to a journalistic or historical template that minimizes the national importance of an event just because an injustice was done to only one or two individuals. It is sometimes the case when a victim suffers in view of a passive multitude- when only a few come to the aid of the innocent -the wrong done to that one person may be a preview of things to come for the public at large. Under certain circumstances it would seem that the injustice afflicting the victim is an index of what the people themselves will endure in the future.

Historical Considerations:

We know this to be true in the case of our Lord’s crucifixion. He said to the religious elders, “Destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it in three days.” On Good Friday that is exactly what they did. However, Jesus also predicted the destruction of Jerusalem that would take place some forty years later. In 70 A.D., the Roman general Titus, in order to suppress an insurrection, surrounded the city and proceeded to destroy it along with the Jewish Temple. According to our Lord, these tragic events took place because the his people did not recognize the time of their visitation. To be sure, the crucifixion of Christ was a portent of things to come for the citizens of Jerusalem.

With that said, God in his mercy gives us time to repent: “Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them, and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!” (Wisdom 12:2) Within the last ten or eleven years there may have been signals from Divine Providence that its protection and benedictions, once enjoyed by America, may be receding. Just to name a few indications that there are cracks in the foundation: We had a significant divide in our country over the 2000 Presidential election between Bush and Gore; we had an unprecedented terrorists’ attack on our homeland on September 11th 2001; in 2008 our nation was jolted by the Housing Market Crash; and we’re are still looking at an impending financial crisis with Federal and State budgets.

Very seldom does a nation or civilization decline precipitously into ruin. A decline is, more often than not, characterized by a few steps forward and several steps back; a little progress here and a significant regression there. Close-up it is difficult to see but if one takes a step back what we find is a general decline in the graph. As Bishop Sheen said in 1948: "It is characteristic of any decaying civilization that the great masses of the people are unconscious of the tragedy. Humanity in crisis is generally insensitive to the gravity of the times in which it lives. Men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves by which to measure their times…The basic reason for this false optimism is that he [the citizen] attributes to the fact that our civilization is mechanical rather than organic."

Elian and Terri: Two Steps Backwards for America

The sacred author of the book of Wisdom goes on to say that the Lord’s justice is exercised through those things by which we sin. America’s response to the highly publicized stories of Elian Gonzales and Terri Schiavo happened to be, in my estimation, those significant steps backwards or sins of omission whereby good men and women in positions of power did not put everything on the line to protect these two victims of injustice. Moreover, they served as a portent of things to come for this nation. Could it be that the immigration crisis in the border States, especially Arizona (in relation to Elian), and the threat of rationing healthcare for the elderly under Obama-care (in relation to Terri) is not only the natural consequence of wrongs committed but the effect of offending God? Could it be that divine justice is at wrok here?

More on Elian Gonzalez in the next blog.

"Bridging the Gap" is a blog that recaptures how, in part, the Roman empire fell in much the same way America is falling. When the innocent are assailed without the intervention of good men and women, then evil is to prevail. To read it, please scroll down.