Fear Is a Color

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Back in January of 2014, Pope Francis was speaking to the throng gathered in the piazza below his window. He appealed for peace in Ukraine, where recent demonstrations against government corruption had resulted in the death of  protesters.

He chose to close his message in a picturesque way—by having two doves released from the window. But the gesture was memorable in a way Francis never anticipated. 

The doves were immediately attacked by a crow and a seagull. Feathers flew, but we never learned what ultimately happened to the doves.

The Pope might have gotten the ill-fated dove idea from the Gospel depiction of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River by his cousin, now known as St. John the Baptist. Witnesses spoke of seeing a dove hover overhead and hearing a disembodied voice say, ““You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

George W. Rutler, author and pastor of St. Joseph’s church in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, explains:

The Holy Spirit came down on Christ “like a dove.” Artists portray this as best they can, but one can get the impression that the Holy Spirit actually was a bird.

I’m not writing about all this because I am of Ukrainian ancestry, but because the incident in Rome was iconic of the seemingly eternal victimization of weakness by strength, of innocence by evil, of resolve by temptation.

The attack on the doves was worthy of an Alfred Hitchcock treatment. But the story needs no fictionalization. It is too true. 

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How could Hitchcock conjure up a more inhuman image than the young Syrian jihadist who early this month murdered his mother in a public square while hundreds watched? He performed that act scant days before Catholics around the world celebrated the Baptism of Jesus.

Rev. Rutler says, “Baptism begins a fight.”

It was after his baptism, remember, that Jesus went into the desert to do battle with his great tempter, Satan.

And St. John the Baptist told the crowds that, “one mightier than I is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

With fire.

St. Bernard said as long ago as the twelfth century:

Fear is a color. As soon as it touches our liberty, it stains it and renders it unlike to itself.

Perhaps this why good people flee. Because they recognize evil as something sub-human. Something beneath them. Perhaps they flee not so much to find sanctuary as to assert the humanity of us all.


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