Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

02-14-2021Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Roses are red, violets are blue, this is what it looks like when ideology infects all you see and do:

LA Times columnist, Virginia Heffernan, who normally lives in the urban LA area but during the Pandemic decided to live in a more rural area has a big problem on her hands: her Trump-loving neighbors did something nice for her. They plowed her driveway after a snow storm! Very perplexed she writes:

Oh, heck no. The Trumpites next door to our pandemic getaway, who seem as devoted to the ex -president as you can get without being Q fans, just plowed our driveway without being asked and did a great job.

How am I going to resist demands for unity in the face of this act of aggressive niceness? Of course, on some level, I realize I owe them thanks — and, man, it really looks like the guy back-dragged the driveway like a pro — but how much thanks?

These neighbors are staunch partisans of blue lives, and there aren’t a lot of anything other than white lives in neighborhood.

This is also kind of weird. Back in the city, people don’t sweep other people’s walkways for nothing.

And she really struggles with the fact that her neighbors supported he-who-should-not-be-named. Such a stain on her neighbor’s souls is going to require a lot more than plowing a driveway to remove the stain:

I also can’t give my neighbors absolution; it’s not mine to give. Free driveway work, as nice as it is, is just not the same currency as justice and truth. To pretend it is would be to lie, and they probably aren’t looking for absolution anyway.

No Virginia, they are not looking for absolution with their “aggressive niceness”. They were just being neighborly. Nothing more. And they probably don't even think about the fact that you despise them because they voted for Trump. No, it’s actually how a lot of the country acts towards their neighbors. They do something nice and thoughtful because that is just how people try to live in harmony with one another. It actually is possible to live in peace even with those who, God forbid, had the stupidity to not vote for your preferred candidate. It happens. All the time. And life goes on.

Heffernan’s way of thinking is right along the same lines as, “once you get to know him, he’s actually nice, even though he’s black, or gay or from Argentina”. Political ideology divides people but neighborliness seeks to unite us by #nding our common humanity and make that the focus of our relationship.

The more rabidly secular our society becomes the more detached from the Gospel and its permeating formative effects on our culture. Two of the teachings of Jesus that have had a profound in"uence on Western Civilization are the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel and the Last Judgement (Whatever you did for the least of them) in Matthew’s Gospel. Both over time have helped tear down the walls that tribalism builds and helped create a world marked more and more by human solidarity. These two teachings have been the foundation for so much charity and the charitable institutions that mark our society. They are also the reason we insist even in government that we have safety nets for the most vulnerable.

Even though people may not be believers or consciously think they are following the teachings of Jesus, whenever they demonstrate neighborliness, they are in fact ful#lling the moral demands outlined in the Gospels: Lord when were you hungry and we fed you or when was your driveway snowed in and we plowed it? It has made our world a better place, a friendlier place and a kinder place to live in.

When political ideology infects you, it becomes your go -to explanation for EVERYTHING. There must be a political agenda behind your neighbors “aggressive niceness”. Absent an ethic of love, what else could be their motivation?

And yes, Virginia there is still a Santa Claus. He ’s living in the heart of your next-door neighbor.

What’s the lesson here? Annoy your enemies: be nice to them.

Happy Valentine’s Day!