By Fr Stephan Alexander
General Manager, CCSJ and AMMR
God certainly has an interesting way of getting our attention. At least, that’s my experience.
While readying myself for prayer one morning recently, a vehicle playing loud music stopped nearby. I ignored it at first but then got annoyed when I realised the driver had no intention of moving on or lowering the volume.
It was earlier than 6 a.m. The longer the music continued, the more agitated I became since I was unable to settle for prayer. That is, until I recognised the words of the song that was playing.
“Killing is not a part of our policy; you kill a brother, explain to Almighty; days following days, we heart have hatred, keep up your dirty ways and Jah is not respected”.
These words sung by Jamaican Reggae artiste Sizzla (Miguel Orlando Collins) in his 1998 track, ‘Explain to the Almighty’ vaulted me into an unplanned reflection on the current disregard for life that has become so normalised in our world.
Such is our current indifference that we are often not impacted by the travesty of war, murder, and other forms of disregard for life, which daily visits us.
As my reflection deepened, the cry of children, mothers, wives, people who regularly suffer violence, and those who live with the resultant consequences rose within me.
This was confirmation of God’s invitation for this topic to be the subject of my prayer. The Almighty clearly chose Sizzla and that driver to grasp my attention and guide this reflection.
In the song, Sizzla is lamenting the fact that murder and other forms of deadly violence have become so commonplace in Jamaican society that it’s beginning to define their nation.
He doesn’t distance himself from this critique. Rather, he identifies himself among the ‘we’ whose hearts are full of hatred, which points to societal change as well as personal conversion.
His lyrics are meant to jolt the entire population as well as individual members of society by highlighting the prevalence of murders in Jamaica and the relative indifference to loss of life displayed by citizens.
This jolt is accompanied by a reminder that we were not created to kill. Indeed, in his intro, Sizzla clarifies that his mother didn’t give birth to him so he could take the life of his brother.
He calls on Jamaicans to remember their purpose and turn away from lives that disrespect God insofar as they demonstrate wanton disregard for human life.
Sizzla’s critique easily transcends the Jamaican reality. It appropriately applies to our local, regional, and global context, which daily records increases in murders and violent crimes, rising death tolls from wars and conflicts between nations, as well as suicides, abortions, and euthanasia.
Trinidad and Tobago, aren’t we as a nation, being increasingly defined by crime statistics? Accordingly, we are being invited to give up our ‘dirty ways’ and recognise the inherent dignity of all human life.
Catholic Social Teaching (CST) states that the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person are paramount. Indeed, this is the basis of all CST.
“A person has immense dignity, is an end in and of himself or herself and never a means to another’s gain”. Hence, a person cannot be collateral damage. This applies to every human being, bad and good alike, sinner and saint, criminal and law abiding, atheist, and believer, rich and poor.
Recognising human dignity isn’t simply the preclusion of killing but an active concern for all human life to be respected and valued. We miss the point when we think or say, ‘I ain’t kill nobody’ and move on. It’s much more than that. Positive action is required.
CST invites us to recognise the equal dignity of each person, value every human life, turn away from indifference, and turn into our purpose, which is to love.
To love, we must overcome the numbness displayed in response to the reality of violent crimes in our country. We can’t claim to love and remain silent and unmoved in the face of increasing deaths and displacement due to wars. Remember, in 2020 Pope Francis stated that war is not the answer, and it can no longer be considered as a solution because the risks almost always outweighs its supposed benefits (Fratelli Tutti, 258).
These are our beliefs, and they must inform our actions, the first of which is prayer. Pray for discernment that the Holy Spirit will guide you to understand what is required. Pray for victims and perpetrators.
Pray for those suffering in Palestine, Israel, Gaza, Ukraine, Russia, Sudan, Haiti, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, and elsewhere. Pray for peace and an end to bloodshed.
Pray for those who have died, those who lost loved ones and those who have been displaced from their homes and countries.
Pray that we may work to change ourselves and societal constructs that allow for assaults on the dignity of human life.
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