“This wretched state of being / is the fate of those sad souls who lived a life / but lived it with no blame and with no praise.
They are mixed with that repulsive choir of angels / neither faithful nor unfaithful to their God, / who undecided stood but for themselves.
Heaven, to keep its beauty, cast them out, / but even Hell itself would not receive them, / for fear the damned might glory over them”Mark Musa, The Portable Dante
Right now the country is burning, burning with hatred, burning with inequality and brutality and burning due to protests gone violent. I’ve been wanting to reflect on Dante for some time now, and, with the country seemingly on the road to hell, perhaps now is a time to start.
A Priest once told me, if you are going through Hell, don’t stop. If you are in hell (metaphorically), the one thing you can’t do is stay there. Keep moving. Don’t leave things as they are. We need to ask why things are the way they are. And challenge them. We can choose to stay here, or we can choose to make this “dark wood” we find ourselves in part of the journey to heaven.
The first group of the damned Dante sees are the neutral. Those who live life with “no blame or no praise.” I am reminded of a speech by Elie Wiesel
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.Elie Wiesel
I find it striking that Dante says that the neutral are so low that “the damned would glory over them.” We each must do something at this time. Here are a list of resources in the Minneapolis Area. Perhaps donate to them or other worthwhile organizations. Perhaps take the time to learn from fellow Catholics of African American descent through https://www.nbccongress.org/. Be aware of racism in your workplace and in your family and call it out. Do not be neutral. Take the time to learn about these issues in more detail. How you respond may be different based on the gifts God has given you, but do something. Do not be neutral.
What happened to Mr. George Floyd is proof that as a nation, the United States is deeply broken, and we need to start the long pilgrimage to reconciliation. Rest in Power Mr. George Floyd, may the God who watches over all, welcome you home.