Deacon Ernie Martinez is a deacon at Notre Dame Parish in Denver and a Denver police officer.
My heart is heavy with memories from being one of many police officers who responded to Columbine High School on an April day in 1999. The evil which transpired in Uvalde, Texas, where the lives of so many innocents were ended, once again brought to the surface the horrific memories of lost lives from the same evil we have experienced over the last two decades in our state and our country.
Once again, we all feel a sense of extreme sadness through the chaos and mire in the hell of the intentional violent loss of life that has become too commonplace. The aftermath leaves emptiness at the lack of sacredness of life. We are left with nothing but loss, anger and questions.
In Colorado, we have unfortunately had many mass shootings, and we have yet to get it right. What are the answers when we lose innocent lives of high school kids, elementary children, teachers? Where are we when mass shootings occur at our local grocery store or theater? Politicians climb their secular pulpits and preach everything under the sun but fail in establishing and improving the bright lines of conduct and protections for a civilized society.
Our culture has taken a downward trajectory in devolving norms of appropriate behavior in our daily lives and a lack of reason and conscience of what is right, sacred and holy in our society. From defunding the police movement and the total lack of care for the vulnerable in the womb, the culture has embraced violence to the degree of becoming numb or desensitized to everything from the latest gang killing in the inner city, the frequent drug poisonings in communities, drug-induced psychosis, the breakdown of the family and the lack of fatherhood and mentors, to the lack of judicial accountability of illegal activities and crimes. So, should we be surprised with this latest mass killing? When will we learn?
In his book, Things Worth Dying For, Archbishop Emeritus Charles Chaput quotes Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel; “Without memory there is no culture. Without memory there would be no civilization, no society, no future.… That is my major preoccupation, memory, the kingdom of memory. I want to protect and enrich that kingdom, glorify that kingdom, and serve it.” Our memories have moved us to prepare law enforcement and first responders through best practice training and collaboration, “target hardening” schools and implementing school architecture that is consistent with safety in mind, purchasing needed equipment for police to effectively do their jobs in these situations, and partnering with the community, teachers and students on what to do and how to do it. This is a start.
But this is not enough, and it’s not as simple as this. Our Lord implores us to do more, to act as he does in our lives, in our families, in our community. In his exposition on the Psalms, St. Augustine writes that the psalm begins with a holy longing; “As a deer longs for springs of water, so does my soul long for you, O God” (Ps 42). Who is it saying that? Augustine suggests it is us. We are the answer to this question. Remember, we are not lone individuals, but a single body: the Church, which is the body of Christ. We share the pain together, we bear each other’s crosses together, and we also share the graces of redemptive suffering as one body with its head, Jesus Christ.
As Catholic Christians, we have an obligation under our baptismal promises to live out being Priest, Prophet, and King — to be Priests who offers sacrifice of our lives to better our world in tangible ways; to be Prophets to boldly tell the truth of the Gospel and what God has done for you and others in our lives; and to be Kings, to lead our loved ones and our communities to protection within the skills and abilities God has blessed us with.
This is a clarion call; this is the reality of our mission as disciples of Christ. I’m not an expert; I am an eyewitness, to 39 years of law enforcement serving our community of broken and lost lives through the fails of culture and society. Let us strive to do better and let us live out our mission: our kids deserve it, our community deserves it and our Lord asks for it.