By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The Catholic world view of faith and morals, of anthropology and human nature, without wavering, has taught that original sin has pierced the heart, mind and will of men and women. Combined with sin and temptation lurking at the door, our good intentions and behavior are often overwhelmed and swept along currents of madness and ruin. To better understand the forces that work against us from within and without, the Church has reflected upon and brought to the light the seven deadly sins. They are like the furies from hell who arise from our corrupted human nature to reveal the potential depth of our depravity. Pause and close your eyes at this point and see how many of them you can recall before continuing. Anger, avarice or greed, lust, pride, gluttony, sloth and envy. To one degree or another they afflict us all, and unbridled, one or any combination of them can ensnare us in the swamp of violence and destruction, even to the point of unleashing the power of the enemy, the evil one.
On Sunday morning, August 4 the following memorandum came via email blast from the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in response to the massacre in El Paso, Texas the day before.
“This Saturday, less than one week after the horrific instances of gun violence in California, yet another terrible, senseless and inhumane shooting took place, this time at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas. Something remains fundamentally evil in our society when locations where people congregate to engage in the everyday activities of life can, without warning, become scenes of violence and contempt for human life. The plague that gun violence has become continues unchecked and spreads across our country.
Things must change.
Once again, we call for effective legislation that addresses why these unimaginable and repeated occurrences of murderous gun violence continue to take place in our communities. As people of faith, we continue to pray for all the victims and for healing in all these stricken communities. But action is also needed to end these abhorrent acts.”
The Bishops’ Conference obviously had prepared this heartfelt response the night before to be released at the beginning of the Lord’s Day. As most people were preparing for bed or already sound asleep late Saturday evening, the bullets flew again in downtown Dayton, Ohio and in the time it takes to prepare a cup of coffee the body count of the dead and wounded mounted. Phew! Now it is true that each year far more lives are lost on our nation’s road ways, or through the destructive power of opioids and far more through the destruction of life in the womb than by gun violence, but I believe it is true to say that most of these actions are not the end result of unbridled anger or rage. More often, it’s force or fear, carelessness or addiction, arrogance or selfishness, albeit in the end lives are lost and it is tragic. The litany of the destruction of life is endless and no one escapes the shroud of its darkness. But what do we do as a society in the face of reckless hate? It is true that mental illness correlates significantly with gun violence, but when does destructive rage hit critical mass and pass over into the realm of evil? In either case, as the poet, John Dunne, astutely penned, “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee,” because who among us has not gathered with others in churches or in schools, at festivals or in shopping malls or at Saturday evening restaurants or night clubs or simply strolling while window shopping or people watching in the cooler evening breeze? As we consider the current state of affairs, let us not forget the victims, their families and friends, and the first responders who are amazing in their commitment to the common good. Do I believe that there are far more people in our nation, even today, who are inherently good and upstanding citizens and neighbors because of their faith in the God of love, or by God’s grace, whether or not they are aware, of God’s divine action? I do; but are we seeing an erosion of the solid mass of people a nation needs to prosper, one family and one community at a time? I hope that this is not the reality.
As a balance to where this column began, our Catholic faith and tradition also inspire us to know that we are God’s children now because we have faith in God’s beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit works overtime to guide our thoughts, words and actions. Thanks be to God who has given us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are indeed saved. In Baptism we have died with him and in our rising to new life we can crucify the passions that can easily derail our good intentions, hopes and dreams. At times, it is spiritual warfare but let us not grow faint in fighting the good fight of faith and running the race in our daily lives. We don’t have easy answers to the complex problems and challenges of our time, but we can choose to be intentional disciples of the Lord in countless ways each day and that makes all the difference.
I return to the simple, yet profound wisdom of Saint Mother Teresa in her beloved poem, Do It Anyway. “What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.” How and why could she insist on this amid intractable poverty and misery on the streets of Calcutta? She concludes her poem with eternal wisdom: “in the final analysis, it is between you and God.” Go and do the same. (Luke 10:37)
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz