How to respond to the Capitol violence and confusion

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

In these tumultuous days, everyone is asking the question: ‘What is the truth?’ Based on how they answer that question, and given the relativism of the day, we are dividing ourselves into camps. This division was on full display when the Capitol Building in D.C. was stormed on Jan. 6. In that moment, we saw anger and violence generated by feelings of disenfranchisement burst into the open, just as we had seen in the months before in many of our major cities. Both the right and the left have resorted to violence that is unacceptable in a civil and democratic society.  

What is at the root of this turmoil? Our country is suffering from the unraveling of the common moral fabric and the truths that comprise it that have held us together for nearly 245 years. Now, when people search for the truth about almost any topic, they don’t find a single answer. Instead, they are confronted with a mob of competing voices, each with their own agenda. Finding someone or an organization seeking the common good is increasingly rare.  

So, what is a Catholic to do in this situation? How should we respond to the constant attacks on our national and religious values and the widespread erosion of good will toward our fellow man?  

The only solution that will repair the weakened moral fabric of society is to seek Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am reminded of the line from the Psalmist that says, “Though nations rage and kingdoms totter, he utters his voice and the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob” (Ps. 46:7-8). He is the only one who can pierce through our posturing and rhetoric and scatter the fog of confusion. Jesus, the Word of God, reveals us to ourselves and shows us the way to true happiness, both as individuals and as a society. 

To allow God to do this, we need to rediscover the value of silence and spend time with him in the Word and sacraments. We need to break away from the constant flow of information. As God showed Elijah on Mt. Horeb, he was not in the great wind, the earthquake or the fire; he was in a “light, silent sound” (cf. 1 Kings 19:9-12).  This means placing our trust in Christ for salvation and seeking his wisdom for how to live, rather than turning to commentators, politicians or political parties. They may promote legislation or give speeches that contain truth, and that is praiseworthy and should be supported when it happens. But we should not forget that we are made for heaven and are called to build up the kingdom of God, not a utopia on earth. Jesus reminds us to seek first “the Kingdom of God” and “the will of the Father.” St. Paul reminded the Romans and reminds us today, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).  

This means seeing both our friends and our enemies as sons and daughters of the Father, no matter what their beliefs, ethnicity or political affiliation. It means adopting the vision of Mother Teresa, St. Francis or Julia Greeley. They saw others as Jesus does.  

When Jesus was presented with the woman caught in adultery, he did not condemn her but called her to repentance. Both St. Francis and Mother Teresa experienced a calling to care for the neglected, which certainly applies to our current hyper-partisan environment. Instead of the lepers or sick people left to die in the gutters that St. Francis and Mother Teresa cared for, each of us is being asked to see our neighbors, relatives, friends or enemies with the eyes of Jesus. St. Francis was moved to kiss a leper and later care for them. Mother Teresa was called to pick up the sick and dying and to defend the unborn. We are called to these same works of mercy, but also to love others as Christ loved us. We won’t be able to do this unless we receive the love of God and recognize that he is real. 

May the Blessed Mother, Queen of Peace, intercede for us and our country, that we would become more fully rooted in the Truth, that our minds become the mind of Christ, and that our hearts become more like the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Featured Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images

COMING UP: Lessons on proper elder care after my mother’s death

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We buried my Mom last month. 

In the summer of last year, I first drove her to her new memory care facility. My heart was breaking. She was so scared and vulnerable but was trying so hard to be brave. My brother said it was like taking your kid to pre-school for the first time. And never going back to pick her up. 

But we had to do it. She was far too confused for our 97-year-old Dad to take care of her. She didn’t recognize him. She would lock herself in her room, afraid of the “strange man” in their apartment. She wasn’t eating well, and with COVID restrictions we couldn’t get into her independent living facility to monitor her diet or her health. Worst of all, she would wander. Unable to recognize “home” and unable to convince anybody to come get her, she would set off by herself. Dad would realize she was missing and frantically try to find her. Fortunately for us, she always attempted her escapes when the night security guard was at his desk. But we were terrified that some evening she would get out while he was away, and she would roam out into the winter night. 

We knew that, without round the clock support, we couldn’t keep her safe in any of our homes either. So, we concluded that she needed to be placed in a secure memory care facility. I think it was one of the hardest decisions my family has ever faced. We researched. We consulted experts. We hired a placement agency. We came close to placing her in one home, then chickened out because we felt like the owner was pressuring us.  

Finally, we landed on what looked like the best facility for our needs. They specialized in memory care, and we were assured that the staff had been trained to care for people with dementia. They took notes about her diet, health, likes and dislikes. Most important, it was a secured facility. They knew that Mom wandered, and their secured doors and round the clock caregiver oversight seemed like the best way to keep her safe. It was the most expensive facility we had seen. But we figured her safety and well-being were worth it. 

On Jan. 12, Mom was found in that facility’s back yard. Frozen to death.  

She had let herself out through an unsecured exterior door, unnoticed and unimpeded, on a cold winter evening. No one realized she was missing until the next morning.  A health department investigator told me that she had been out there at least 12 hours. Which means caregivers over three shifts failed to recognize her absence. I’m told she was wearing thin pants, a short-sleeved shirt and socks. The overnight low was 20 degrees. 

We are devastated. Beyond devastated. Frankly, I don’t know that it has completely sunk in yet. I think the brain only lets in a little horror at a time. I re-read what I just wrote, and think “Wow, that would be a really horrible thing to happen to a loved one.” 

I debated what my first column after Mom’s death would look like. I have felt compelled, in social media, to celebrate the person my Mom was and the way she lived. To keep the memory alive of the truly amazing person she was. But I think I did it mostly to distract my mind from the horror of how she died. 

But I am feeling more compelled, in this moment, to tell the story of how she died. Because I think it needs to be told. Because others are struggling with the agonizing decision to place a parent in memory care. Because when we were doing our research, we would have wanted to know that these kind of things happen. 

I am not naming the facility here. It will be public knowledge when the Colorado Department of Health and Environment report is completed. From what I am told, they are horrified at what happened and are working very hard to make sure it never happens again.

My point here is much bigger. I am discovering the enormous problems we face in senior care, particularly in the era of COVID. I was told by someone in the industry that, since the facilities are locked down and families can’t get in to check on their loved ones, standards are slipping in many places. With no oversight, caregivers and managers are getting lazy. I was in regular communication with Mom’s house manager, and I raised flags every time I suspected a problem. But you can only ascertain so much in phone conversations with a dementia patient. 

Now, since her death, we have discovered that her nightly 2 a.m. bed check — a state mandated protocol — had only been done once in the ten days before her death. She could have disappeared on any of those nights, and no one would have realized it. 

I have wracked my brain, to figure out what we could have done differently. The facility had no previous infractions. Their reputation was stellar. Their people seemed very caring. Their web site would make you want to move in yourself. 

Knowing what I know now, I would have asked some very specific questions. How are the doors secured? Are they alarmed? Is the back yard accessible at night? Are bed checks actually done every night? Who checks the logs to confirm? 

I would check for infractions at the CDPHE web site. Then I would find out who owns the facility, and do some online stalking. Is this a person with a history of caring for the elderly, or just someone who has jumped into the very trendy, very profitable business of elder care? I am very concerned that, for many, this “business model” is built on maximizing profits by minimizing compensation for front line workers — the people actually caring for our loved ones. 

Dad is living with me now. We are not inclined to trust any facilities with his care. Watching him grieve has been heartbreaking. If you talk to him, do me a favor and don’t mention how she died. It’s hard enough to say good-bye to his wife of nearly 60 years, without having to grapple with this, too. 

I am, frankly, still in disbelief. I don’t know exactly where I am going from here. But I do know one thing. I want my Mom’s death to spur a closer look at the way we care for our vulnerable elderly. 

Because I don’t want what happened to my Mom to happen to another vulnerable elderly person again. Ever.