Ignore God’s goodness at your own risk

Archbishop Aquila

In these times of trial, it is easy to forget or overlook the stories of faith, joy and vibrant life that are a part of the fabric of our Church. The Psalms remind us, it is essential to “call to mind the deeds of the Lord” and to “remember his wonders” (Psalm 77:11), since failing to do so can lead to despair and a hardened heart. To help us all celebrate God’s goodness, I would like to recall a few moments where I’ve seen it recently.

As 2019 began, I had the privilege to see and be a part of one of God’s wonders. After spending several days on retreat with my fellow bishops at Mundelein Seminary, I made the short trip from Chicago to Indianapolis, where the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) was holding its biennial SEEK conference for students wanting to encounter Jesus and seek the truth.

It’s hard to describe the energy and enthusiasm that the more than 17,000 students from 626 campuses brought to the event, but a few moments from the gathering might give you a glimpse of the experience.

Saturday night, the vast conference room was filled with young people adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and coming to him for healing in reconciliation. In the words of Amy Gasper, who spoke to The Criterion, “You get to see how hungry people are for the Lord. It makes my heart leap for joy.”

I had the privilege of hearing confessions for over two hours and seeing the healing Jesus brought to young people as they heard the words of absolution pronounced over them. They experienced the mercy and tenderness of Jesus welcoming them home and the great joy in heaven over one repentant sinner.

During the Mass on Sunday morning, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, I encouraged the young people in attendance to allow the grace of their relationship with Christ, the light of Christ in them, to overcome the darkness that the world and the Church are experiencing. What I said in my homily applies to everyone: “Jesus can heal any wound. He can restore any disorder. He can bring light into darkness.”  We must put our faith, our full trust and confidence in Jesus!

A few days later, I spoke from the west steps of the Colorado Capitol to a crowd of energetic, joyful pro-lifers from northern Colorado and beyond who came to stand up for the unborn at the Celebrate Life March. Despite the snow storm just a day before, thousands of people cheered the witness of the McGarrity family, who have eight children, four of them with Down Syndrome. The crowd cheered their generous embrace of life and laughed along with the excited shouts from their kids.

A short while later, downtown Denver witnessed doctors, nurses, moms, dads, children, a mariachi band, Native American dancers and so many others marching through its streets to publicly support life at every stage, from conception to natural death.

Then on Friday, Jan. 18, the nation witnessed what organizers called the largest pro-life March for Life in recent memory. By and large, most of the people marching were from Catholic parishes, schools, universities and apostolates. The march had a strong presence of young people, a palpable atmosphere of love, a sense of unity and hope.

The message of hope was also present in Pope Francis’ words during the Jan. 16 General Audience, in which he reflected on the Lord’s Prayer and the fact that God’s love for us is not impacted by our sins and shortcomings. “God is looking for you, even if you do not seek Him,” he said to the crowd. “God loves you, even if you have forgotten about Him. God sees beauty in you, even if you think you have squandered all your talents in vain.”

We need to adopt God’s view of ourselves and the Church, asking him for the grace to see and love as he does. The Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, bringing healing to those in darkness and encouraging people to shine the light of Christ in the world. The evil one would like us to wallow in despair and convince us that things are hopeless.  Place your hope in Jesus and turn to him for healing. You will not be disappointed, and then you will become the light of the world!

Featured image provided by FOCUS

COMING UP: The shock of forgiveness

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Every so often, the media will pick up a story that serves as a potent reminder of what it means to be a Christian. That’s because living as a Christian in today’s post-Christian society is an unusual way of living, contrary to what the rest of society might say about it. It is not “outdated.” It is not “irrelevant.” It is radical, countercultural and, to some, even incomprehensible.

On Oct. 2, the trial of Amber Guyger came to a close. Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, was charged with the murder of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old man who lived in the same apartment complex as Guyger. On Sept. 6, 2018, she walked into Jean’s apartment, thinking it was hers, saw Jean sitting there on the couch, and after giving verbal commands, shot him twice, killing him. It was an absolute tragedy and played into the ongoing national conversation about police behavior toward people of color (Guyger is white; Jean is black).

What I want to focus on is a particular moment that came at the end of Guyger’s trial, after she had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Jean’s younger brother Brandt took to the witness stand to address his brother’s killer directly. He wasn’t planning on saying anything during the trial but changed his mind at the last minute. A prompting of the Holy Spirit? I think yes, based on what happened next.

“I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all the bad things you may have done in the past,” Brandt told Guyger. “If you are truly sorry … I forgive you. If you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.” He continued, “I’m not going to say I hope you die … I personally want the best for you … I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want … and the best would be: give your life to Christ. Giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.”

But it didn’t stop there. Brandt was bold enough to ask the judge if he had permission to give Guyger a hug. He was granted it, and they embraced for over a minute, Guyger weeping into Brandt’s shoulder, just as some of us might do were we to be embraced by Christ.

Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement to her in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. Guyger has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing her black neighbor in his apartment, which she said she mistook for her own unit one floor below. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

Brandt has every reason to hate Guyger. This woman gunned down his innocent brother who had his whole life ahead of him and was given a lighter sentence than what she originally faced. Those in the courtroom and watching on TV wouldn’t have been shocked to hear Brandt tell Guyger that he hopes she rots in hell. No, the shock from those in the courtroom – and subsequently, the rest of the nation – came when Brandt did the exact opposite.

With those words and the simple act of embracing his brother’s killer, Brandt gave the world an incredible witness to the forgiveness Christ calls us to live as Christians. Of course, you can count on the bickering voices of social media and pundits to take this powerful moment and exploit it for their own agenda, but that’s because many of them don’t understand. It is not normal in our culture to forgive. It is also not easy. And that’s what makes witnessing something like this so shocking. It was not supposed to happen, but it did. It defied every expectation. Make no mistake about it: Brandt was living his call to be more like Christ in that moment. And it is exactly this moment – this shocking moment – that we are able to get a glimpse of what it is to be a Christian.

Following Jesus does make for quite a shock. And it is that shock that we are called to bring to the rest of the world, just as Brandt Jean did.