Dachau, one of the Nazi’s notorious concentration camps, sits in the Bavarian countryside beside the town of Dachau. Less than an hour by car from Munich, Dachau’s tourists pass through countryside and neighborhoods to reach the camp.
What tourists find inside the camp is horrific — bunkhouses packed floor to ceiling with wall-to-wall wood-plank beds; a medical lab where prisoners suffered fatal experiments; and, of course, there is the crematorium.
It is an atrocity.
What’s also disturbing is the nearby town of Dachau, where ordinary German citizens lived their lives in the late 1930s and early 1940s as tens of thousands perished in their backyards. The residents did nothing. Maybe it was fear; maybe it was a gradual acceptance. Whatever it was, they allowed genocide to become the norm in their neighborhood.
It sounds absurd when you put it that way. Yet history is full of such blind acceptance.
Fortunately, when school-age children begin to learn about history’s most horrific events, they start to ask questions.
“Mom, did you own slaves?” the child asks.
“No honey, I wasn’t alive then. But I would never have done that,” adults answer.
But is it true? Would you have challenged the norms of your day?
“Dad, did you march with Martin Luther King?”
“No, sweetheart, I was just a baby. But what he did was important. I’m glad you’re learning about him,” we say.
Is it true? Would you have taken time off work to march in Alabama and risk being attacked?
It’s easy to choose the right side of history after the fact.
The question for today is, are you on the right side of history now? We make choices every day that determine what we can and cannot accept.
Can we laugh off the occasional racially-charged joke?
Is it OK to buy a $60 shirt produced by people laboring in unsafe and abusive working conditions, earning barely enough to feed their children?
We make these decisions with an eye to making our lives easier. You need a new shirt, right? Your joking friend is a nice guy, really. You wouldn’t want to endanger your friendship, right?
But where is God in that acceptance? Where is the face of Christ in these situations?
Christ is the laborer, whose abuse has been supported once again by a swipe of the credit card. Christ is the African American child, whose life will be that much harder because racism has been accepted once again.
It takes courage to stand up to society’s norms. But that’s just what followers of Christ are called to do.
Of course, even those who knew Jesus tried and failed to stand by him. Would you, like Peter, have denied Christ? Most of us might honestly answer, “Probably.”
That doesn’t mean we stop trying. Pope Francis offered some new guidance recently for those of us struggling with contemporary issues and the call to live our faith.
On the solemnity of All Saints, Nov. 1, the Holy Father said the eight beatitudes are the “identity cards” of the saints. And he proposed six “new beatitudes” for contemporary saints, according to Catholic News Service.
As Christian saints have always done, the pope noted, Christ’s followers today are called “to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age with the spirit and love of Jesus.”
Following are the pope’s suggestions for today’s aspiring saints:
— Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart.
— Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness.
— Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him.
— Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.
— Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.
— Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.
This Advent season, as we await Christ’s coming, is a good time to do the hard work of preparing a place for him in our lives.