Witness of Mercy
Nickel Mines, a small farming town in Lancaster County, Pa., has been a place of both human grief and divine grace this month. The horrific killings of five young Amish girls, who were captured, bound and then shot by a deranged man who burst into the town’s one-room schoolhouse on Oct. 2, struck a mournful chord in American hearts. The Amish, one of a number of Christian Anabaptist groups that first settled outside of Philadelphia and then moved westward, some to other states, are best known for shunning modern technology. A wood-burning stove heats the electricity-free schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, and there was no telephone to use in this dire emergency. Initial media reports naturally focused on the modern world’s cruel intrusion into the Amish’s pastoral lives.
But just as remarkable was the Amish community’s response to the tragedy: forgiveness. Besides their adherence to pacifism and the practice of adult baptism, forgiveness is a major facet of the Amish way of Christian discipleship. Though the tight-knit community grieved over the loss of the girls, local residents quickly started collecting funds for both the victims’ families and the killer’s wife and children, instinctively recognizing their loss. Often, when one in their community is killed by a car driven by an outsider (the Amish use only horse-drawn carriages), the driver of the car is invited to the funeral. In such ways the Amish vividly follow Christ’s injunction, in the Gospel of Matthew, to forgive not once or twice, but seventy times seven times (18:22).
The deep capacity for forgiveness shown by the Amish is a powerful witness for a culture that seeks closure after murders by means of the death penalty, or strives for justice during the sentencing stage of a murder trial through impact statements, in which family members sometimes lash out at those who killed their loved ones. These are natural impulses. The Amish remind us, however, that these human impulses must be tempered with the desire for forgiveness. A gift to those who grieve and those who are culpable, forgiveness is the foundation for peace between individuals, within families and among nations. The Amish, who seem decidedly old-fashioned, offer the modern world a lesson that is both ancient and new.
No Litmus Tests
The fullness of Catholic social teaching has been both narrowed and eclipsed, said David J. Hollenbach, S.J., during a telephone press conference announcing the distribution of Voting for the Common Good, a guide for Catholic voters. Sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports Catholic organizations working on behalf of what the U.S. bishops have called faithful citizenship. The guide rejects the litmus tests that reduce the rich heritage of Catholic social teaching to one or two issues.
Taking as its goal the notion of the common good, which reaches back to St. Paul and St. Augustine, the new guide reminds the faithful that social teaching falls squarely within the magisterium of the church, binding Catholics to adhere to the church’s insights on a broad array of urgent issues. The culture of life, the authors say, encompasses not simply abortion, but also poverty, human rights issues (like torture), immigration, war, genocide and environmental issues. The guide asks Catholic voters to: first, inform their consciences; second, use prudence to address the full range of issues; and third, vote in a way that benefits the common good.
Catholics in Alliance plans to distribute its brochures through grass-roots organizations, partner groups and the Internet (www.thecatholicalliance.org). Its work reminds us not only that litmus tests are flawed tools for the voting public, but also that the total demands of the Catholic faith are never embodied in the platform of a single political party.
Cutting Out the Little Man
In the same week that Wal-Mart announced that it planned to save money by shifting more of its worker base to part-time employment, The New York Times reported (10/3) that the shopping chain is updating its employee uniform as part of the company’s efforts to give its stores a more upscale appearance. The current uniformvests and smocks with the slogan How may I help you?are being phased out in favor of navy blue polo shirts and khaki pants, in order to give employees what the company hopes will be a more professional look.
While no announcements have been made about the possibility of a Wal-Mart motto for the back of the new shirt, we have a couple of suggestions: I make less so you can save more; Cutting out the little man; ora front/back modelI work at Wal-Mart, and all I got / Was a cut in pay and this crummy polo shirt.