He dwells among us: Walls of illusion

In this Year of Mercy, let’s tear down the walls of fear dividing us from God and neighbor

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

With the Easter season we again rejoice in the words, “Christ is Risen!” For by His death and resurrection, the walls of sin that separated us have been destroyed. Alleluia! But while we rejoice in the Divine Mercy, walls of division continue to be built in our world and in our hearts because of fear and sin.

History has many lessons to offer concerning walls. China’s “Great Wall,” though giving an image of massive impenetrability, failed to safeguard the country’s inner stability. France built, with great cost and effort, its famed “Maginot Line,” but it did nothing to slow the advance of what it feared most—another world war. The “Iron Curtain,” communism’s great wall of ideology and totalitarianism, fell with the collapse of it centerpiece, the Berlin Wall. But new walls, built with the same stones of illusion from the rubble of past walls, continue to be built.

Today, the simple awe of a meteor streaking across the night sky gives cause for fear and calls for a space wall to shield us from wayward asteroids or nuclear missiles. Our technology is at such risk that we need “firewalls” to protect against cyber-attacks. “Safe zones” are set up on university campuses to protect students’ sensitivities where even Christmas greetings and carols are deemed offensive. In the name of tolerance, a new intolerance has emerged in the form of legal challenges that seek to confine expressions of Christian faith to within the walls of our churches only.

These examples and so many others from history should be sufficient to illustrate the illusion of security in walls that seek only to divide and separate. But these walls, like all the walls of history, are but mirages that offer only a false hope of security.

The question is not one of walls, but the one posed by Christ: “Who is my neighbor?” The story of the Good Samaritan and the victim left half-dead by robbers continues in every age. Today’s victims lay along the very same path we all travel. Many are victims of poverty and refugees of war, and yet some in the political arena want only more walls of exclusion. But no wall can be built high enough to mask the cry of those in need. Christ reminds us that “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

I offer no solutions to the challenges before us other than God’s own remedy—the Divine Mercy. I pray you will truly embrace the prayer of the Divine Mercy that I chose for my own episcopal motto, “Jesus, I trust in you.” In that prayer lays the grace that helps us to tear down the walls in our heart that prevents God’s mercy from flowing to others through us. Because we have received God’s mercy, we also must be instruments of that same mercy.

When we wall up our hearts to God’s mercy and to others, we become more and more like the Dead Sea, whose waters turned poisonous because they have no outlet. Walls, exterior and interior, serve only to degrade others and our very selves. As Christians, we are especially called to act differently precisely because of the faith we profess in a merciful and loving God.

Given the perilous times in which we live, Pope Francis declared a special Year of Mercy that we might reflect more upon God’s mercy, love’s highest expression, and tear down the walls of fear that divide us from God and neighbor. For when we are merciful, we most resemble God, and this is the remedy most needed in our world today.

In conclusion, I pray you will reflect on the words of St. John Paul II from 2002:

“How much the world is in need of the mercy of God today! In every continent, from the depths of human suffering, a cry for mercy seems to rise. In those places where hatred and the thirst for revenge are overwhelming, where war brings suffering and the death of innocents, one needs the grace of mercy to pacify the minds and the hearts and make peace spring forth. In those places where there is less respect for life and human dignity, one needs the merciful love of God, in whose light we see the ineffable value of every single human being. Mercy is needed to ensure that every injustice may find its solution in the splendor of truth.” ■

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