Basilica of St. Mary 1931
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The Basilica Archives

Life is Not Only Black and White

A few weeks ago on the Friday evening of the Block Party, I got home a little after 10:00pm and being too wound up to go to bed, I turned on the television and read the paper. As I was flipping through the channels to see if there was anything worth watching, I came across an old episode of Perry Mason that was just starting. For those of you too young to remember, Perry Mason was a television show that ran from the late 50’s to the mid 60’s. The title character played a fictional attorney, who always got the charges (almost always a murder charge) against his client dropped. The show brought back a wave of nostalgia that swept over me. When I was growing up, watching Perry Mason was kind of a right of passage. It meant that you were too old for cartoons and were ready for more adult things. 

As I watched Perry Mason that night, not only did it bring back memories, but I was also struck by the fact that it was in black and white. I suspect at some point they switched to a color format, but this must have been one of the earlier shows. As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that being in black and white was especially appropriate for Perry Mason. In the show there were good guys and bad guys, and there was never any argument about who was who. The good guys always triumphed and the bad guys were always exposed and punished. 

While there are times today when I would like to go back to that black and white world, the reality is that life was not and still isn’t that simple. Rarely are our motives and intentions entirely pure, and there always seem to be mitigating circumstances to explain inappropriate words and actions. Moreover, I think that seldom do people set out to deliberately do something wrong or bad. Rather we end up making bad choices that often have a negative impact on others. Sadly too, sometimes inappropriate words and actions follow from misunderstanding someone else’s words or actions, or misinterpreting a situation. 

Now certainly there are some things that are always clearly and demonstrably wrong. Taking an innocent life is always wrong. We can’t pretend otherwise. I have come to believe, though, that there are shades and hues in most of our behaviors and words that aren’t immediately obvious. And if we take the time to recognize and appreciate this we would be far more understanding and far more forgiving of others and of ourselves. 

The above is something I have been working on for a while now. Some days I think I am making good progress, but then I will find myself falling back into being judgmental or intolerant. I suspect it will be this way until the day I die. 

Living in a black and white world certainly can make our life easier, but that is not the world we live in. And so, while I suspect there will always be times when I struggle to understand another individual’s as well as my own actions. I trust that the God who created me knows my struggles, accepts my failings, forgives my sins, and continues to love me and all of us in spite of everything.

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