America is in a bit of a pickle. There’s not just one elephant in the room. There’s a herd, maybe a couple of herds. I can’t tell. And we behave about the same with a herd of elephants as we do with one elephant. We pretend there’s nothing there. We are as inclined to mention metaphorical elephants as we are to mention unsightly irritating rashes in delicate and sensitive parts of our anatomy. We prefer to think we have it all under control, yet more than likely, we have no idea what’s going on, or what we should do. We get frustrated, yet not acknowledging it openly is easily preferable to exposing a whole nation’s frayed and raw nerves. We don’t want to appear dismissive or unsympathetic toward the injured, yet we are also very much aware no amount of contrition from the offender short of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” variety of justice will bring the healing we seek. There will be widespread demonstrations, vocal and disruptive. Some of it is clearly legitimate airing of grievances, although some will come uncomfortably close to lawlessness. The line will be crossed, property will be damaged, people will be arrested. And your guess is as good as mine if there will be more turmoil and unrest, or if the powers that be will do something productive. So we become even more convinced we should just have ignored the elephants. We might never address the problem, but at least we won’t be starting a stampede.
Shut your eyes a moment, and recall some recent events. They are just some of the elephants in the room. ISIS, Ebola, rape on college campuses, racial intolerance, religious bigotry, disproportionate use of force, international aggression. I don’t know how you feel about any of this. But there’s a lot more than meets the eye. I don’t claim to know all the facts. No one does. Many people are outraged. Some are just stunned. Very angry views are airing on TV and radio and social media. Everyone has something to say, while not everyone is interested in what others have to say. It’s a powder keg … or an elephant, or a herd of elephants. Some say the system is broken. Some say it’s just part of the natural process that might have to get worse before it gets better. Like some of you I just want to hide under my bed until it’s all over. But I’m afraid we might lose track of all the elephants.
I heard something interesting on the radio yesterday that got me thinking. A reporter was talking to someone from Ferguson MO who shared that children from different racial groups in their community don’t play together anymore, haven’t done so in many years. I suspect Jewish and Palestinian children don’t play together either, haven’t done so in many generations. They probably don’t play together because the grown-ups won’t let them. When they grow up, their children probably won’t either.
When the human race through our first parents and each succeeding generation after turned on God through disobedience and sin, we let in a herd of elephants who just made themselves right at home. God being God, no way were we sinful humans in any position to undo our grave wrongdoing, unless God acted first and reconciled us to himself through the passion, death, and resurrection of his own Son, Jesus Christ. Though we walked away like prodigal daughters and sons, God kept an eye on us from afar. His divine justice demanded we make amends we were incapable of making anyway without his help. So in his great compassion he reached out and came to our aid. God set that process of healing in motion the moment the break occurred. The break in our relationship with God was of course never intended. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, God “chose us … before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ. … In him we were also chosen … so that we might exist for the praise of his glory.” So from the start, God had designated for us a tremendous share of his life and love. Although sin got in the way and still gets in the way, ultimately it did not have power to derail God’s plan.
We profess faith in God’s saving action that brought about our redemption in Jesus Christ through the willing assistance of a woman who was found worthy to carry God’s own Son in her body. It was not that she was inherently worthy, for like all humanity she could not but share our flawed nature. But through the merits of her Son’s saving action, her Son who had yet to take on our human nature, his mother was preserved from the stain of human selfishness and sin even from before her own conception. This was something God alone could have accomplished, for he saw it fitting to provide a pure and sinless vessel for his own Son. God’s grace alone in all its wonder would restore us to our rightful place in his plan “… to be holy and without blemish before God.”
We celebrate this feast of the Immaculate Conception each year in the season of Advent, and it can be a bit confusing. But the mystery of “God become flesh” would not have been possible if not for the mystery of “God preserving his own mother Mary from sin from the very moment of her conception.” God provides all that is necessary to bring about our salvation. Although we were capable of altering God’s design through our disobedience, only God by his grace could restore creation to its original destiny, mirroring the holiness that is found in him alone. God invited Mary, a young girl of Nazareth, to play this unique role in the unfolding of his plan. And her willing obedience would make possible the mystery of “God become flesh.”
There are other elephants in the room. But because of Mary’s example of willing obedience, we have been given a pattern to help restore us to that holiness to which we were called from the start. Each of us has witnessed and continue to witness many wonders that God’s grace has bought about in our own lives. The New Evangelization encourages us to speak of these wonderful deeds God accomplishes in our lives, that others might see how God does the same in their own lives. And when we do this, we proclaim “good news.” We know it can happen many times over, especially in this season of joyful expectation, when we wait attentively for that something amazing God is accomplishing in our lives.
We need not fear the elephants in the room. God’s grace will conquer them every time.