There is nothing I can say that is new or enlightening about the death and life of Nelson Mandela. His passing serves as an opportunity to share his legacy with the young who may not know of his exemplary life. It is also a reminder to us all that the appropriate way to honor his life is to in some way follow his example.
We need heroes. Too often our pop culture exalts and rewards very inappropriate examples of human behavior. We need heroes to show us a better way to be fully human.
In October, many celebrated the birthday of Gandhi. In January, we in the US will celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We are now remembering the life of Mandiba Mandela. These heroes faced injustice courageously and forged the principles of non-violent resistance. They pass on a legacy of milestones of success in a battle for justice that is not completely won. December 10 was Human Rights Day, a reminder that we still have a long way to go in championing human rights.
We recently celebrated, with our Hindi, Jain and Sikh friends, Diwali, the Festival of Lights and the triumph of good over evil. In a rare confluence of dates, we celebrated Hanukkah, also a Festival of Lights, with our Jewish friends. We are now in the midst of Christmas celebrated by Christians with many lights on their houses and Christmas trees.
Unfortunately the meaning of Christmas has been vulgarized by crass commercialism. I hope that those of us who observe the holiday, either as a personal religious observance, a family tradition, or in solidarity with our Christian friends, can look beyond the commercialism. We are far from the Peace on Earth proclaimed in the Carols. But it is a beautiful vision worth working for. The birth of the Child represented a great Hope.
The adult Teacher Jesus did not triumph over the political injustices of his time. He instead gave us very difficult lessons about personal right relationships. He taught that we should have love and compassion for all others, not just those with whom we are comfortable. He taught compassion for sinners, lepers, prisoners, the poor – and even our enemies.
I pray that the Light of our genuine Heroes will shine in our lives and our actions. Peace on Earth will only come when it comes to each of our hearts.