June 16, 2016
I am writing this second reflection while attending a semi-annual meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All the lives lost and people senselessly injured in Orlando as a result of terrorist brutality is central to our conversations about the pastoral care and spiritual leadership we as bishops need to exercise as part of our ministry.
No matter what one’s religious or political beliefs may be, senseless hatred, rage and bloodshed are more than most of us can process – psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, especially since the Orlando massacre follows other murderous rampages in Paris, Mumbai, London, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino and beyond.
Many people are asking: What does faith have to say about this? What is an appropriate response? How are we to show mercy and live by “fraternal love” in the face of such a hateful and violent assault on human life? The overriding faith question, though, is this: What do mercy and forgiveness mean in the wake of terrorism?
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis, we recall Christ’s command to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). However, the call to forgive is certainly not easy to fulfill, especially in the face of the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history.” Only faith in God can free us to have the will to forgive despite our feelings. Why? Because faith teaches us that God is both infinitely just and infinitely merciful. One does not negate the other. Right now, we cannot comprehend how the two can be reconciled. It will only be given to us to understand in eternity. Hence the need for faith, just as the apostles needed faith on Good Friday while they were still clueless about Easter Sunday.
I am heartened and inspired by the outpouring of compassion, generosity and courage that is shown far and wide after acts of terrorism. The swiftness of security and emergency first-responders, the blood donors standing in mile-long lines, people supporting victims and their families, those offering their prayers worldwide are all emblematic of human solidarity and goodness in the face of evil.
Mark Twain once described forgiveness as the “fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” The fragrance of our prayers rising up to God as a result of hatred is rightly offered for the repose of the souls of those who have died and for the living who bear the wounds of personal loss and grief. But, if we are to be true to Christ and his words, we must also pray for those who have committed such horrific crimes. We must pray for all who seek their ends by violence and terror, imploring our Heavenly Father that they have a conversion of heart and come to know the value and sanctity of human life.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12).