"I pray for all the victims of these days. May the blind violence of terrorism no longer find room to exist in the world." - Pope Francis
Turku, Finland. Barcelona and Cambrils, Spain. Charlottesville, Virginia. Stockholm, Sweden. Paris, France. Manchester and London, England. The Middle East, Africa ... and Buffalo. There are so much more, just in recent months, including 3,000 preborn children's lives snuffed out through abortion every day in the United States.
The epidemic of violence in our world is nothing less than reprehensible and sickening. Christians are realists. We know that sin is universally present in the world as a consequence of original sin. But the pervasiveness and brutality of killing in our time is beyond our capacity even to imagine.
In his 1995 encyclical letter "The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae)," St. John Paul II warned of the "extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenseless." He could well have been speaking of the terrorist attacks of our own day when he observed that "new threats are emerging on an alarmingly vast scale."
St. John Paul II, a leader among bishops at the Second Vatican Council, recalled the strong words in which the Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World ("Gaudium et Spes") condemned all attacks against human life. The quote below is lengthy, but it is important to help us appreciate the context in which the Church recognizes and grapples with the evil that is any assault on human life.
"Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamous indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator (27)."
So what do we do? We force ourselves to keep abreast of what is unfolding almost daily in world news reports. We must face it for what it is. We give these tragic events a theological reading through the lens of our Catholic faith. We condemn incidents of evil and destruction for what they are. We pray for those who have lost their lives, and for those who grieve their loss. We pray for those who have been injured and for their caretakers. We pray for the protection of military and law enforcement and all first responders.
And we look into our own lives. We examine our consciences. With humility we repent of any and all traces of racism and hatred that, while perhaps on a small scale compared to world events, are the roots of behavior that can hurt and harm others. Conversion of hearts is the way to reconciliation and peace, for each of us and for the world. We pray for the conversion of all who have been deluded and seduced by white supremacist, Neo-Nazi and KKK ideology. These movements are nothing but evil.
The bottom line, though, is hope. It must be hope for a Christian. We know that death is followed by resurrection, and that Love will triumph. This is God's will, God's plan. Perhaps the best we can do some days is to pray "Lord, make me and instrument of your peace." And to live that prayer every day in our relationships and interactions with others.
Aug. 15 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador martyred for his prophetic call to social justice. In light of the violence and threats to his own life that faced Romero daily, we can be heartened by his words:
Christians cannot be pessimists.
Christians must always nourish in their hearts the fullness of joy.
Try it, brothers and sisters;
I have tried it many times and in the darkest moments...
to unite myself intimately with Christ, my friend,
and to feel a comfort
that all the joys of the earth do not give -
the joy of feeling oneself close to God,
even when humans do not understand one.
It is the deepest joy the heart can have.
- May 20, 1979