When I was a kid, I hated mustard. It was sour, kind of sticky, yellow, and I didn’t like the way it smelled. I also hated lima beans, but that’s completely understandable…I mean, who likes lima beans? It didn’t matter what I was eating – hamburger, hotdog, ham sandwich, or chicken tenders – mustard needed to be at least 10 feet away from me to prevent contamination. I had tasted mustard once and formed a deep hatred of the condiment. But all that changed my freshman year of college. While ordering a turkey sandwich at the campus deli, unbeknownst to me, the short order cook squirted mustard all over the two pieces of wheat bread. When the sandwich was handed to me, I had no idea what was on it, and I proceeded to eat half of it before realizing mustard was smeared on the bread. And it hit me: I didn’t hate mustard anymore. In fact, I’d probably been avoiding mustard for years because of an opinion I’d formed as a kid, holding onto to my hatred of mustard without ever looking past my initial reaction to its taste.
While it’s an absurd example, I think my hatred of mustard illustrates a deeper point about our society today. We make snap judgments. Most of us immediately decide what our opinion is on a certain issue and staunchly hold firm to it, regardless of the amount of information we’ve collected or the evidence that is laid out before us. Our minds cannot be changed and the battle lines are drawn. We see it in everything, from minor things such as technology (PC vs. Mac), soft drinks (Pepsi vs. Coke), and football teams (Saints vs. Cowboys) to more important matters like a Grand Jury’s decision concerning the death of a young man.
In the next few days, countless blogs will be written and hours of commentary will be broadcast on news networks analyzing the fatal shooting of Michael Brown on August 9th and the decision of a Grand Jury to not indict the police officer involved in his death. I hesitated to add to the noise, initially thinking it would be more beneficial to cling to rosary beads and pray for those involved in the riots happening in Ferguson, Missouri as I type this blog. But, I can’t help but think that regardless of the countless opinions concerning Michael Brown’s death and how the case should have been handled, many of which were probably formed from snap judgments made based on piece-meal information given sporadically by a speculating media, there is one indisputable fact many have forgotten: a young man is dead.
Regardless of political leanings, religion, race, or socio-economic status, we are all human beings made in the image and likeness of God. When a human being dies under tragic and unexpected circumstances, a snap judgment leading to anger and potential violence will not aid in healing a broken community, but will create further division. Michael Brown will not be at the Thanksgiving table with his family on Thursday. He will not be unwrapping Christmas presents or celebrating the arrival of 2015 a week later. His family will be mourning his loss for the rest of their lives, constantly reminded of the fact that their son is gone. The pain of his loss is significant, for them and for so many others who identify with the hurt of losing a loved one.
In the face of tragedy such as this, a snap-judgment opinion about what should or should not have been done must be set aside and replaced with the understanding that God’s ways are not our ways and the mystery of suffering is one we will never fully understand. That is hard to grasp. A young man is dead and it seems there’s no reason explaining why it happened. There is anger, animosity, fear, and confusion. Tragedy spawns chaos and it is far too easy to fall into chaos’ trap.
A young life has been tragically lost and tonight our prayers should be directed towards the peace and healing of all directly involved, especially the families of Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson. It would be very easy for anyone to dig their heels in and adamantly claim their mind is made up: they know what they believe concerning the situation, and nothing can change that, their angry reaction is justified and their opinion is firm. But digging in will only drive a deeper wedge. At this moment, healing will not be found with the throwing of tear gas or the smashing of windows. Healing will be found in the clinging to loved ones and the bowing of heads in prayer.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us. Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.