Moving Mountains of Apathy
What brings out the crowds to cheer on a hero, a liberator, a Messiah like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the greatest of all, Jesus of Nazareth, and many more? All but one of the above was executed or assassinated, and all were brutalized and jailed unjustly for their beliefs and mission. They had a common goal to bring justice, freedom and truth to the world held captive by tyranny and evil.
These great people of our generation, despite their human frailties, Jesus excepted, gave their lives for others without counting the cost. They are inspiring leaders that lived out the deepest values that makes us so dignified human persons. For believers, Jesus is divine, but he humbled himself to be fully human like the rest of us and shared our human condition and came to redeem it.
We admire them in varying degrees, because they are what we would all wish and aspire to be, but cannot find that same courage and bravery in ourselves. And yet they are liberators of our spirits and of all who are captive to fear and insecurity because they have stood non-violently against tyranny and oppression.
They took a stand to defend the helpless, the victims of poverty, cruelty, violence, hatred, bigotry and torture, and they suffered the same themselves. They took a stand for us. They knew from experience what they were standing against and what they were ready to live and die for. We cheer for them, because they represent our highest aspirations, yet we frequently fail to stand up for ourselves and our neighbors.
As always happens when the tyrant and oppressors or their agents of violence arrive with guns, sticks, knives and swords, the messiahs are left in the open alone, deserted, betrayed. Then the cheers, hosannas, and euphoria die away, and they are led to the gallows, the firing squad or the crucifix to pay for their bravery and self-sacrifice. Then fear triumphs, and the once euphoric followers flee and hide. It is then that a great silence descends as a voice is choked off, a vision is mocked and trampled upon, and tyranny seems to triumph.
What happens when we see the same today in an equally cruel and selfish world? Are we not disgusted to see so many ignore the poor, the hungry, the abused child and turn away? That is the hour for us to decide on whose side we are really on, the liberator or the oppressor? Can we overcome fear and speak out, or do we fear pain and punishment so much that we would allow a neighbor, a friend to suffer and die, children to be abused and we do and say nothing, but deplore and denounce it in others? That is a betrayal of our faith. To believe in justice but not to help victims is hypocrisy.
There are many thousands of great and good people doing heroic things every day to alleviate the hurt of others. They are involved in charities, they volunteer to help the downtrodden and the needy wherever they find them. We are challenged to go and join them, find a way to end our apathy and complacently and our selfish indulgent ways.
We need to ask, “how can I help?” Everyone can help ease the hardship of another and that means more to the needy than we can understand. If we suffered like them, we would understand pain. Just to see that there are others far worse off than we ourselves are is the start. We only need to count our blessings and appreciate what we have when others have so little to be motivated to help.
If we are healthy, we can help the sick, if we are rich we can share with the poor, if we have strength we can lift up the fallen and the weak, if we have faith we can move mountains of apathy. That’s what Jesus of Nazareth did and those who followed him.
Giving our lives for others is the highest form of love that Jesus of Nazareth practiced. We can’t reach those heights perhaps, but we can start to help people in small ways and then we can be small heroes. You’ll be happier for it and so will they.
Columban Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.