This week began for me with joyous celebration. On Wednesday, July 18, I was installed as the fifth archbishop, and eighth bishop, of the Archdiocese of Denver. The celebration began with Solemn Vespers on Tuesday evening, and continued through the Installation Mass the next day. As many of you know, I spent 25 years as a priest in the archdiocese, so this is a homecoming for me. I never imagined that one day I would be the archbishop of Denver! The providential love of the Father is truly wondrous and surprising. I thank you all for the warm welcome you gave to me. I am grateful to the priests, deacons, the consecrated, the laity and the many friends who I had not seen for some time. I thank most especially all those who worked tirelessly to coordinate the installation activities. Your efforts went above and beyond the call to serve. Your care especially for my family, my brother bishops and out-of-town guests was remarkable and extended the hospitality of Christ. Thank you! I look forward to getting to know each of you, as your archbishop, in the weeks and months to come.
My great joy turned to sorrow early Friday morning, when, like many of you, I learned of the shooting that had taken place at the Century 16 Aurora Theater in the early hours of Friday.
I was stunned to learn that 12 people had been killed, and 58 injured, by an act which can only be described as evil. My heart and my prayers are with the victims, their families, and with all of those who have been effected by this tragedy. In truth, all of us have been effected—our friends, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters were the victims of an unspeakable evil. We stand in solidarity, and all of us grieve a great loss.
Over the past few days, I have heard a lot of questions. I’ve been asked “Why did this happen?” “Why was I spared?” “Why would a loving God allow this to happen?” I’m reminded of the reactions I heard after the Columbine shooting in 1999.
Tragedy breeds uncertainty because it undercuts the things we implicitly believe to be true—that we can go to school, or to work or to the movies safely. When those certainties are shaken, we question a lot.
I imagine there were many questions after the Crucifixion. In the upper room, the Apostles asked themselves the same questions we ask ourselves. The Blessed Mother, too, who lost a child, was faced with the question of why such a tragedy had ever occurred. Her Son died a violent death and she and St. John watched the entire event.
The questions ceased when they encountered the Resurrection. When Mary and the Apostles encountered Jesus, bodily risen, with wounds and all, their ambiguity and uncertainty was wiped away—in the Risen Christ, they encountered victory over death and evil. They learned that unspeakable sin, like the unspeakable sin we have encountered, is defeated by the love of God. The love of the Father is stronger than the sting of death. The Resurrection proves that to be true.
St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians says that “we do not grieve like the rest who have no hope.” We grieve knowing that the Lord is risen, and that we can rise with him. We know that our beloved dead are entrusted to a God who has defeated death and sin—those who loved the Lord live in him. Evil is real. We have seen it. Sin, too, is real. But we who have seen the Risen Lord know that evil and sin do not have the final word. Let us place our trust, our hope, and our questions in the God who has defeated the sting of death. In the days and weeks ahead, let us continue to pray for the victims and most especially their loved ones that they may be comforted by the God who is Love.