Finding God in the Aftermath of the Presidential Election

Reflection by Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, FAN Board Member and Associate Pastor at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, MD.


arezzo-fresco

Tuesday night, Nov. 8, I stayed awake past midnight, anxious to find out the results of the Presidential Election. Finally, I rested my weary head on a pillow. “O God where are you in the midst of all this?” I sighed. “And what do you want me to do?” I got an answer a few days later when, out of the blue, an image and a story popped into my mind. That image was one of Giotto’s frescos in the Upper Church of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. The fresco, which you can see [above], tells a story. St. Francis was passing by the city of Arezzo, which was in the grip of an intense conflict. According to the story written by St. Bonaventure, St. Francis saw a multitude of demons rejoicing over the city and instigating the angry citizens to destroy each other. The people were deeply divided along economic, social and political fault lines. Many felt disempowered. That disempowerment, in turn, gave rise to fear, resentment and hatred. It bred mistrust, mutual demonization and even violence.

In response to that scene, St. Francis sent Br. Sylvester as his herald to preach a message of peace. On the fresco, you see Br. Sylvester standing in front of the city of Arezzo while St. Francis, down on his knees, is in deep, contemplative prayer. As a result of the intervention of the two friars, “the tumult in the city was appeased, and all the citizens, in great tranquility, began to revise the statutes and regulations of the city, so that they might be duly observed. Thus, the fierce pride of the demons, which had enslaved the miserable city, was overcome by the wisdom of the poor. The humility of Francis restored it to peace and safety.” (Notice the fresco’s depiction of the demons fleeing Arezzo).

In this post-election season in America, there are – and I’m speaking figuratively – demons hovering over our cities and the entire nation. They are the demons of fear, callousness and incivility. Those demons incite intolerance, discrimination, and personal and systemic violence. What can we do to follow the lead of the two medieval Franciscan friars who put evil to flight? I’d like to offer three observations and suggestions:

1. St. Francis and Br. Sylvester were contemplatives in action. Notice Francis, down on his knees, praying. Likewise, our efforts for justice and peace must go hand-in-hand with cultivating prayer and contemplation. Only by going deeper will we be able to draw on these inner resources. Only then will we have the power to deal with fear, anger and helplessness. Only then will we be able to let go of the rigid ideologies that shackle us and hinder us on our path toward the Kingdom of God.

2. St. Francis and Br. Sylvester didn’t flee from the conflict – they took personal risks and engaged that conflict with compassion, creativity and courage. They brought opposing groups of Arezzo’s citizens into a civil discourse. Are we willing to follow their lead? As a response to the 2016 Presidential Election, Franciscan Action Network invites us to make this make this commitment to Civility in Dialogue:

Facilitate a forum for difficult discourse and acknowledge that dialogue can lead to new insight and mutual understanding.
Respect the dignity of all people, especially of those who hold an opposing view.
Audit myself and utilize terms or a vocabulary of faith to unite or reconcile rather than further divide those with conflicting positions.
Neutralize inflamed conversation by presuming that those with whom we differ are acting in good faith.
Collaborate with others and recognize that all human engagement is an opportunity to promote peace.
Identify common ground, such as similar values or concerns, and utilize this as a foundation to build upon.
Support efforts to clean up provocative language by calling policy makers to their sense of personal integrity.

3. According to the biography of St. Francis, the devils fled the city of Arezzo when its citizens sat down together in a civil dialogue and “began to revise the statutes and regulations of the city.” The key point here is that an authentic dialogue leads to restorative justice. The 1971 World Synod of Bishops reminds us that “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel.” The Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation ought to compel the ordinary Christians – men, women, youth and children – to civic engagement, and not just during times of elections but throughout the year.

I hope that, just like St. Francis and Br. Sylvester, our Franciscan parishes will continue to inspire and empower people to live out a Gospel that is not truncated but, rather, is inclusive of civic engagement.

Engaging in a civil dialogue and working together “to revise the statutes and regulations” of our counties, states and nation is what we do, to some extent, at St. Camillus Parish. We often use labels like “community organizing” or “advocacy” to describe the work we do. Through our involvement in Action in Montgomery (AIM) or Renters Alliance, we make our contribution toward more compassionate, just, inclusive and intelligent public policies on issues such as access to safe, quality and equitable housing for the poor and middle class; and quality educational opportunities for all children and youth. The advocacy efforts of Bread for the World help stave off malnutrition and hunger in our country and around the world. March for Life seeks legal protection for unborn children. Citizens Climate Lobby and DC Catholic Conference work together to promote the D.C. Carbon Fee and Family Rebate Act. Franciscan Action Network and the USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants seek just and fair treatment for undocumented immigrants, opposing policies that target people of color and discriminate against Muslims. These are the various ways we can care for the vulnerable, safeguard the earth, and promote what Pope Francis refers to as “the revolution of tenderness.”

So, where is God in this tumultuous post-election period? As typical of our God of surprises, S/He might be waiting to be found in your commitment to deeper prayer and contemplation, in your pledge to civility in dialogue, and in the tenacity with which you stay engaged in various community or advocacy efforts without giving in to despair or cynicism. I know it gets tough. But God believes in you.

Peace and all good,
Jacek Orzechowski, OFM
St. Camillus Church, Silver Spring, MD

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Published in: on November 17, 2016 at 1:20 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Is there a possibility for you to insert a (print) to get the FAN Statement on Civil Discourse in Response to 2016 Presidential Election. I would like a copy of it if possible. please respond. judy

  2. Will you be sending me a copy i replied and made a comment. Thank you judy!

  3. This message has been GIFT for me as I read all of the message sent out by Father Jacek. Much to ponder and to live into. I will be sharing with friends and others. I am a Rochester Franciscan Sister so will be sharing with them too. Some of my community may have received Aftermath of the Presidential Election. Peace and all good! judy

  4. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Reblogged this on Justice – Peace – Creation and commented:
    A wonderful blog by Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM

  6. […] “Finding God in the Aftermath of the Presidential Election” by Jacek Orzechowski, OFM – Nov. 17, 2016, Franciscan Action Network […]


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