We reflect this weekend as a Holy Family, as a Faith Community that “We are in this together,” in the wake of another horrific national tragedy, this time in Las Vegas. The numbers are still increasing with at least 59 people dead, 527 injured, and thousands of terrified survivors who fled for cover. As we pray for the victims and their families, we are also called to pray for the deceased shooter, Stephen Paddock, for his family, and his loved ones, who are left with deep and abiding emotional pain and heartache. What greater teaching could there be than the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons and daughters of your Father who is in heaven.” That’s how Jesus wants us to treat our aggressors. We are to retaliate with love. This means that in protecting our families and nations, we actually attempt to save our enemy with the love of Christ in our hearts.
How could such horrific violent acts like the one in Las Vegas happen? This question may be asked by our children and grandchildren, by ourselves and our neighbors. The world seems to be caught in an endless cycle of escalating violence. Each day we become more and more inundated and desensitized by acts of violence, both large and small. We must not allow abusive and derogatory language, intimidation, verbal, emotional, physical, sexual abuse, and bullying to become the new normal. Violence and aggression remain a common theme and are often glamorized in our culture’s music, gaming, advertisements, TV shows and movies.
However, when we inflict violence on others, even in the form of entertainment, we are making judgments that the lives of others do not matter. It’s time to stop wishing our enemies be destroyed and start praying for them to be restored. Our faith teaches us that every person is made in God’s image. Before we watch another movie or play another game that celebrates or simply chronicles people using guns, knives, or fists to inflict violence on others, let us first consider how this message is shaping our American culture and response to violence.
From a faith perspective, sacred scripture teaches us that the first part of a solution to violence is to change our hearts. Jesus’ approach to solving problems was to target the cause—not just the effect. The cause of our problems—including gun violence—is deep inside us, in our hearts. In order to stop violence, we must become people of prayer and social justice. “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
The Church in the United States dedicates October as Respect Life Month which is observed in a variety of ways in parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago. Through faith formation programs, Catholic schools, and Religious Education, Respect Life month calls us to reflect on such topics as gun violence, affordable housing, violence in families, the care of the elderly, capital punishment, education and outreach to the LGBT community, the care of our planet and all creation, as well as a reverence for the beginning and end of life issues. These are all included in the Respect Life perspective. Every person is viewed as sacred and must be treated with the dignity they deserve. No one should ever be treated callously or carelessly, everyone should be cherished and protected. God desires to be united with each of us in a loving and personal way. He loves us, treats us with respect, and asks us to do the same with others.
So, what to do?
- Check in on your neighbors, especially the elderly, those who are sick or suffering, and may withdraw.
- Hold a door for the person behind you, especially if you are in a hurry.
- Extend grace to the distracted or even rude driver you encounter.
- Seek common ground and amicable solutions.
- Hug your kids and pets (especially your dogs and cats).
- Donate when a cause tugs at your heart; give when it really matters to your conscience.
- Volunteer for something worthy.
- Be kind and stand up for someone who is being oppressed.
- Smile, be polite, use good manners; smile at the person serving you in a store or restaurant.
- Decide your most sacred values and live according to them.
Respecting all life is the world Jesus called us to foster. We are in this together!
Fr. Rich Jakubik, Associate Pastor