It is a Wednesday morning and I have just returned from the blessing of the Nancy J. Toscano Learning Center at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School. What a beautiful new learning center and my gratitude to the Toscano family and their friends for bringing this vital project to fruition. I also had a few minutes to visit the Senior Lounge and enjoyed a quick game of air hockey while I was there.
On my drive back to the Chancery, I was listening to the Storme Warren Show on Sirius Channel 56 — The Highway. Yes, your bishop is a country music fan and I enjoy listening to Storme’s commentary. This morning Storme was speaking about the heartbreaking news from Uvalde, Texas. Just hearing him talk about the elementary school shooting and its aftermath brought tears to my eyes. My heart is breaking for the parents and families of these young victims and their teacher and even typing these words I am having great difficulty keeping my emotions in check. I offer them my prayers, but I am afraid that this time that is not enough!
Storme talked about his own inability to speak about yesterday’s tragedy (even that word doesn’t seem strong enough) and the anger that he is trying to quell inside. As he said this, I realized I am having the same struggle. I really want to lash out over what has happened in Uvalde and Buffalo and Syracuse and too many other places in recent memory.
I have shared with you that since I began my ministry among you, I have had a decent sleep every night — until last night! Yesterday’s event in Uvalde, on the heels of the shootings in Buffalo, haunts me! What have we as a nation become?! All I hear about is “my rights” — what satisfies me! Me, Me, Me. … Well what about the life of my neighbor whether in a mother’s womb or in a classroom or in a supermarket or on a sidewalk? Where has our respect for one another gone no matter race, creed, political party, religion, gender, sexual orientation — young, old or in between? Where has our genuine concern for the person next to us on the road of life gone to?!
In 1984, the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, in speaking of a consistent ethic of life, used the image of “a seamless garment.” There are some who dispute the use of this imagery as an inaccurate expression of the Church’s teaching due to the Catholic Church’s teaching on just war and the death penalty. Nonetheless, Popes St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have cautioned that not even these traditionally held beliefs should be canonized and all have spoken about the evils of war and the arms race and have on multiple occasions intervened in various countries for persons on death row.
What I am getting at is that now more than ever our actions must match our beliefs! If I … if you … really believe that all life is sacred from conception to natural death, then I believe we need to live our lives in a more purposeful manner. That is, with greater intention at Gospel living and putting Jesus’ ultimate commandment — “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34) — as the standard for our daily lives! Our actions toward those who surround us in life, whether in church or in the public square or in a store or on the highway, must be dictated by Jesus’ teaching and not what makes us feel satisfied and in control!
Isn’t that what happened in the story of Cain and Abel (see Gn 4:1-16). Cain was feeling dejected — he wanted attention and satisfaction — so ignoring the Lord’s call to “act rightly” (4:7), he decided to take the matter into his own hands and ignore the fact he was his “brother’s keeper” (4:8). Then God says to Cain: “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”
How much more blood has to be spilled on the ground and crying out happen before we do something about it concretely? When are we going to start saying, “No” again to the extremism rocking our nation and our world and start thinking about the person next to us? Yes, it is true — if I talk to the person next to me — I might come to realize that they are just as human as I am. We might not always be in philosophical agreement, but that does not stop us from treating one another as men and women made in the image and likeness of the very God whom we claim to believe in and worship. A great example of this for me was the endearing friendship between the Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg — they approached issues of the day from very different viewpoints, but it didn’t stop them from caring for each other as God’s son and daughter!
To our leaders at all levels of government — executive, legislative and judicial — I ask for a greater effort of talking with one another instead of talking at one another. In my mind, there should be a much greater dialogue over the issues facing our nation whether abortion or health care or the death penalty or gender or gun control just to give a few examples. Instead, we use name-calling to infer people as “backwards thinking” or “bigots” for their beliefs; or alternatively as “hack” or “left wing” for a countering set of beliefs.
What if we, like the indigenous nations who were first on this land and had to deal with “strangers” — were to set out together on two parallel paths as the Iroquois Confederacy desired — as a formal affirmation of cooperation or friendship between groups? In accompanying one another, how might our paths come even closer in support and true friendship — after all, as Christians we believe “our true citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20) — “here” is only on the way! I want to give a shout out to Bishop DeDe Duncan Probe of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, to Bishop Lee Miller II of the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and to the Tadodaho and others from the Onondaga Nation who continue to teach me every day what true accompaniment involves.
In Isaiah 11:6, one reads: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.” In the Gospels Jesus says: “Let the little children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mk 10:14), as well as, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me” (Lk 9:48).
With these passages in mind, I now ask us as a church and as a nation to come together and to not let the blood of our children, of our sisters and brothers, be shed in vain. Again, turning to the prophet Isaiah, let us “beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. … Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (see Is 2:4-5)! Concretely, even in our own diocese, let us work together for new gun laws whose overall goal is the good of one’s neighbor, for the fostering of mental health, for continuing vigilance in protecting God’s children from all predators, and most all for ways to walk together and care for one another as we walk the path of life together.
My prayer is that together, we will say a great “Amen” to all of this as we continue to pray for peace in our hearts, in our homes, in our nation and in our world. God’s blessings to you and your loved ones and especially to all in need of God’s peace this day!