What to Cancel
By Fr. Jim Chern
Last week, two newspapers from completely opposite coasts – literally and figuratively – both published opinion pieces on what is called “Cancel Culture.” “Cancel culture” is when businesses or individuals find themselves experiencing boycotts for having said or done something deemed to be questionable. And it seems to be growing more complicated and emotional with each passing day. The interesting thing was that the editorial boards of The Seattle Times and The New York Post both coming from completely opposite political and philosophical positions wrote pieces that condemn this controversial phenomenon. While they both kind of blame or put the bulk of the responsibility on the other for this “cancel culture,” what was remarkable was how they kind of found themselves in agreement with each other. The Seattle Times wrote: Thanks to the way right-wing pundits and politicians have weaponized the term “cancel culture” to stir up the passions of their audiences and constituents, it is easy for people on the left to dismiss concerns that the campaign for equity and justice sometimes strays into an unforgiving, illiberal push for purity of thought. But, the fact is, good people are seeing their careers ruined for offenses that are forgivable human failings, not heinous acts of bias and hate. While the NY Post opined: In this world, the left has created, there is no path to forgiveness. There is no redemption. There is only smug dismissal… the cancel monsters will find that no one is pure enough and no one can change. They’ll burn everyone and everything down.
What was fascinating is recognizing that they both get part of it correct. But they are both blind to something far bigger and more important. This isn’t about politics between “the right and the left” or cultural fights over celebrities or what business sends money to what organization. This is ultimately about the eternal fight of good versus evil, which is evidenced by their frustration, their shock, their surprise for, as they put it that there is no forgiveness, no redemption, only smug dismissal. While they conveniently place the blame on the “other” out there for that being the case.
This is why what we’re doing here today is of such importance. Every year, we enter into this most important, sacred time of the year called Holy Week beginning with the proclamation of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. Unlike any other Sunday, this is the one week where the entire congregation takes part in the proclamation of this Gospel. And that’s meant to be a collective thing. We’re supposed to feel that tension when we’re saying words calling for Jesus’ death on the Cross – condemning an innocent one in place of a guilty man. We’re meant to feel the discomfort of speaking words of betrayal and denial. We’re meant to recognize how often we fall far, far short of the selflessness and sacrificial acts of the personification of love, Jesus, as He accepts the brutality, the humiliation, the injustice of it all. All of this is meant to unsettle us, get us out of our comfort zones, and realize we’re far from perfect. We all share the guilt in the fact that this world remains imperfect. In our sinfulness, we all contribute to His death on the cross.
But we’re not meant to sit and wallow in that truth. Holy Week confronts us with the question: What is our response to that cross of Jesus Christ? Cancel culture offers us easy, thoughtless, heartless ways to deal with life’s questions. In the space of 10 minutes – or 10 seconds – we are asked to pronounce final judgment, punishment without the possibility of appeal, or the hope of clemency.
The gift we find in the mysteries of our faith, as Jesus dies at the hands of a heartless, maniacal, outraged mob – is how God incarnate takes a completely different approach . . . breaking the kill or be killed cycle of returning evil for evil. He decisively and definitively conquers evil not just in some theoretical, philosophical sense – but by putting His entire life on the line. Showing us that the satisfaction, the fulfillment, the peace we desire isn’t found in joining in angry mobs looking for the next outrage. One reason so many find it hard to resist joining in those types of protests is because it distracts us from the guilt or shame or denial we’re suffering from because of our own brokenness and sinfulness.
It is in embracing the cross, it is in following Jesus’ example, that the healing, the peace, the joy every human heart seeks is found: In experiencing and offering forgiveness. One of Jesus’ last words on the cross was “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” And on Easter Sunday, after Jesus is risen from the dead, He gifts them with the Holy Spirit with the first direction to His apostles is to offer forgiveness to others through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Those critical moments are meant to speak to us. Jesus calls on us to bring our sins to Him, to make a thorough examination of conscience and a good confession for us to personally experience his canceling out our sins on His Cross. And then in turn to be ambassadors of His mercy, to participate in His sacrifice of the cross by offering forgiveness to others. The receiving and giving of mercy are intimately linked.
This Holy Week, we’re invited to make a definitive choice: to continue the endless cycle of outrage culture, responding evil with evil or breaking it by embracing the Cross. To hear the call of Christ to receive and offer His mercy, recognizing how it is the foundation for the new life of Easter resurrection to be experienced by a world, which left to its own worst impulses only seeks to erase or cancel.
Fr. Jim Chern has been a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark since 1999. He graduated with his master’s in theology from Seton Hall University. In 2007, he was named director of the Newman Catholic Center at Montclair State University, where he still serves. In 2018, Fr. Jim was additionally named archdiocesan director of Campus Ministry by Cardinal Joseph Tobin.
This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at homilyonthespot.com/2021/03/27/what-to-cancel.