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Joe Hoover, S.J.January 11, 2024
A Christian pilgrim lights a candle Dec. 17, 2016, in the grotto of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. (OSV News photo/Debbie Hill)

A Reflection for Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

Find the readings here.

“The Philistines fought and Israel was defeated.” (1 Sm 4:10)

A few weeks ago, reading an article about the war in Gaza, I was overcome with a frightening kind of rage that I have not experienced in quite a long time. One I do not wish to experience again.

I was reading about the effects of the blockade by Israel as the shelling continued to cascade down on the Palestinians. A hospital in Gaza was so short on supplies that doctors were performing surgery on children without anesthesia. In one quote, someone, perhaps one of the doctors, begged the world to get Israel to stop this insanity.

It was all too much. My entire body was seized with an all-consuming fury that I did not ask for, could do nothing about and felt like I would never get over. I had to call my old Jesuit spiritual director to talk me through this feeling.

For about five hours yesterday, I wrote this Scripture reflection about Israel’s battle with the Philistines as related to the war in Gaza. I marshaled forth Scripture commentaries and old notes from a “Pentateuch” class I took in grad school. I seized on particularly damning quotes from my professor: Israel’s claim on the promised land depends on it acting righteously.

I researched how many billions of dollars the U.S. has given Israel in military aid over the years, to write: “How much money have you and I been paying to kill the children of Palestine?” I looked up how many children Israeli military forces had killed to date.

I wrote about ancient Israel losing military battles—such as the battle in today’s reading—because they were worshiping false gods. And how the nation-state of Israel today (not the Jewish people, to be clear, Israel’s actions are not the actions of the collective Jewish people) lost any veneer of moral high ground because it abandoned one of God’s basic commands to the Israelites (and to all of us):

“You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely listen to their cry.”

In the first iteration of this reflection, I wrote that modern-day Israel was tragically ignoring that fundamental command because, in response to the horrifying attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7, Israel was making widows and orphans. It was actively oppressing the resident alien poor by destroying his homeland. It is literally crushing the stranger right across the border.

I was going to use this article to condemn Israel’s brutal ongoing war on Gaza as I have not seen Catholics publicly do so. (It would be disingenuous to say I wasn’t still using this article to condemn Israel’s actions.)

But after writing all of that, I remembered my moments of rage from weeks ago. I noted a particular irony: that I had, in my own very small way, shared the fate of Israel in becoming consumed with rage and losing all sense, reason, hope and humanity. For, in the moments you are consumed with physical rage, you are not in touch with reason, hope and humanity.

There are a thousand obvious caveats about comparing two hours of anger on a fall evening in Brooklyn and a single article it inspired with the brutal attack on an entire people and its homeland in Palestine.

Nevertheless, my own rage was, you could say, a part of the “seamless garment” of worldwide rage from the past three months that has surrounded this war: some of it small and contained, some of it overwhelmingly violent, but rage nonetheless.

When I told my old spiritual director that night about being consumed with fury, he said, it sounds like you need to pray. You need to surrender this to God.

I did. I prayed, then I went to sleep. I woke up in peace.

Righteous anger against injustice is one thing, but rage is another. I will do my best to keep that kind of rage at bay. I hope and pray we can continue to transform rage into righteous anger as we struggle to end this war.

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