So many innocent people have died. I think of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington D.C., the years of conflict in the Middle East, the wars in Yemen, Libya, and Syria, and more recently in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, and now Orlando. Hatred and the influence of evil have motivated the killing of innocent people without distinction for religion, race, political beliefs, sexual orientation or age.
The influence of evil can only be countered by a culture that respects the God-given dignity of every human being. Evil is real, just as God is real. Our forefathers clearly understood and attested to God in the Declaration of Independence. They held that truth is self-evident and can be known. Yet when cultures and societies abandon nature’s God and stop seeking the truth or desiring the good, evil is going to step in, in all its darkness, despair and confusion.
Certainly, from what we have learned about the Orlando shooter his motivations were complex: a volatile mix of wounds from a traumatic childhood, political and spiritual beliefs, and perhaps inner conflict about his sexuality.
How do Catholics respond to tragedies like what occurred in Orlando? Partisan political finger-pointing and angry outbursts are not the answer. For Catholics the response is conversion of heart to Jesus and to living his Gospel in the public square, rather than treating political party platforms as some kind of “gospel” that must be adhered to at all costs. We must seek to counter the influence of evil with the light of the Gospel. We must always remember that Jesus Christ has conquered evil, sin, and death!
Jesus’ teaching is radical. In his teaching he goes beyond the law, as he comes to fulfill the law and not destroy it (Mt. 5:17). Thus he teaches us, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5: 43-48). He practiced what he preached from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34).
Several years ago I had a conversation with a Catholic Vietnam veteran that struck me deeply. He was conflicted about the war, yet he engaged in the battle. He told me that every time he went into battle, life would be lost and he always prayed, for he knew it was either his life or the life of the enemy. He told me he always prayed for forgiveness for each man he killed and prayed that the Lord would open his eyes to heaven, the truth, and the good. He prayed too that he would be forgiven for his sins.
We Catholics and Americans have the duty to put our faith first, for you cannot serve both God and mammon (Mt 6:24). And while I do not advocate pacifism, as I believe we have an obligation to protect and defend innocent life, we must ask in our encounter with Jesus how he is calling us to live the Gospel, most especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. While there may be differing solutions to the world’s confrontation with terrorism and radical Islam that we can legitimately disagree with in our civil discourse, we must first recognize that good and evil exist. And it is God who reveals to us what is good and evil. If we become disconnected from God, then evil will prevail.
Christians and all who believe that we have God-given dignity and are best served by living in accordance with our nature must work to bring these truths into every aspect of society. With its insights into the human person, the Church has a special responsibility to help build a culture of life, peace and justice founded upon the dignity of the human person. And there are many areas that this can be done. We must not be silent about creating such a culture, bringing it into the public square and promoting it at home and abroad, through every possible avenue.
We must pray for our enemies and those who persecute us, for their conversion, that they may encounter Jesus. We must pray, too, for all the innocent victims throughout the world who come from many religions, countries and states in life. No class of people is exempt. We must live the Gospel, be converted each day, and give hope to the world!
Preventing Orlando from happening again requires that an alternative be present that answers the genuine longing found in every person’s heart to love and be loved, to be treated in accord with their God-given dignity. It is true that we will only experience that fully in heaven, but in the meantime we must strive, with God’s help, to create a society that values every person equally and encourages their flourishing according to God’s plan for creation. May our hearts be formed like Jesus’ and may we be his light, hope and leaven in the world!