Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 10:25-26,34-35,44-48 / Psalm 98 / 1 John 4:7-10 / John 15:9-17
Searching is a theme that runs through my life – everyone’s life, I imagine. On this Mother’s Day I’m remembering, though it’s hard to believe, it’s been thirty years since I decided to search for my birthmother. The process was an adventure, like unraveling clues in a mystery novel or going on a journey into unchartered terrain. Looking back it didn’t take me so long to find her (only a matter of months); though, truth be told, I’m still searching for something - that ever-elusive goal, that destination never quite reached.
I’m sure that’s why I’ve liked history so much. Because I’m a slow learner (this is not self-deprecation, just honest perception), it took me a long while to question that much-accepted myth and acknowledge that there’s no such thing as an objective view of things – history depends on who’s telling the story, on what and how much that who chooses to reveal. It’s precisely those dull textbook accounts, filled with numerous unadorned facts, which serve to turn most kids off to the study of history. You might think you’re being very wise when, like Sergeant Joe Friday from Dragnet, you say you want just the facts, ma’am; but those facts need to take on some flesh and blood, be embodied so to speak, in order for us voyeurs of history to get the meaning – to understand what’s really happening.
Yet facts are essential. They’re the skeleton on which that flesh takes form. That’s why despotic governments throughout history have always tried, and often succeeded in manipulating people, by withholding from them the uncomfortable facts of their own history. In a recent interview to promote his new film, For Greater Glory (opening June 1st) Eduardo Verástegui told how he had been raised and educated in Mexico’s public schools and yet had never heard of the Cristero Rebellion of the 1920s. The film is about that uprising which rebelled against the Mexican government’s attempt to eliminate the power of the Church by suppression, violence, imprisonment and execution. Embarrassed by those events, subsequent governments sought to brush things under the rug – what they don’t know won’t hurt them, seemed to become accepted government policy. But lies always hurt; and the greatest lies are the ones that are told to keep secrets. So a Japanese student will never read from a Japanese textbook about the misery his countrymen perpetuated in China in the 1930s or about their cruel occupation of Korea for nearly forty years. And you’ll look in vane through any Turkish history book in search of that chapter on the Armenian Genocide.
The adopted suffer a similar injustice; the lie, for us, writ large on amended (i.e. false) birth and baptismal certificates – the original facts sealed under lock and key. But lies always backfire. It may take time, but they always do. Lies not only deceive others but they deceive the liar as well. I remember an adoptive mom asking me once whether I thought she should tell her two sons they were adopted. After all, she said, they came from abusive homes. It might hurt them to know. But, I said, they’re only four months apart in age. Don’t you think that someday they’ll figure out they’re not related to each other? It literally never occurred to her. The adopted, who have been lied to about their origins, may indeed someday forgive the adoptive parents – as was the case in the recent film October Baby. But that type of lie – the biggest kind of lie you can tell – can never be forgotten. “It is secrecy that is everywhere the soul of bureaucracy,” Simone Weil wrote. “It is the condition of all privilege and, consequently, of all oppression.”
I now know many of the facts of my particular history – at least, a lot more than I knew before – but I’m still sifting through them, deciphering their meaning, trying to understand how they became the deck of cards I was dealt. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that we are no longer slaves because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing – he doesn’t have the facts. Jesus calls us friends because he lets us in on things, reveals, discloses, sheds light on the situation. This is why we call the gospel the “good news.” Love always seeks knowledge and knowing inevitably leads to loving – and that’s a fact.