As a pastor, I sadly had to bury young people who were victims of violence. The pain in the family and the community are intense, seemingly unbearable. It’s the kind of news you never want to receive.
Just last week, those memories were made more real as I received an email passed along from Father Michael Surufka, OFM, rector of the Cathedral and pastor of Ss. Monica and Luke in Gary, requesting prayers for the community and the family of his parish secretary. When we spoke, he shared that during an otherwise pleasant “normal” day at work, a frantic phone call from her husband turned her world upside down as she learned her teenage son had been killed, a victim of gun violence.
Immediately the community of faith, co-workers, and friends became a harbor of understanding and communion of prayer as together they faced the tragic suffering of this act of violence. The parish embraced the family with love as they began to process the death of their playful and kind 18-year-old just beginning his life.
As we bear witness to their loss and grief, let us ask for our hearts to be opened and filled with the grace of compassion for all who are victims of violence.
When we so commonly hear reports of tragic violence in the media, we can become numb to the reality of the pain experienced from these horrific acts. We can be overwhelmed by the breadth and intensity of suffering, to the point that our hearts and minds simply cannot absorb it all. We may even begin to accept things as being normal, that are anything but normal.
While mass shootings may gain attention in media outlets, singular acts of violence are so common, they hardly get reported as “news.” Studies sadly tell us that most Americans know someone who has died from a gunshot and that guns are the leading cause for death among children and teens. These studies further reveal that nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides – those who have lost all hope.
While we need to be mindful of how our communities and government address the issue of the abuse of guns, as Catholic Christians, our attitude must be grounded in a deep respect for life. This valuing of life must be what prevents our hearts from becoming numb to hard truths. Saint Paul wrote about our need to be concerned and care for each other in his letter to the Church in Corinth two thousand years ago, “that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” (I Cor. 12:25-27)
As we share in the pain of loss, we pray that, with Saint Paul and Christians everywhere, that we respond to the call to compassionately care for one another, to ardently stand for the value of all life and to offer hope in our merciful God.
Let our prayers for hope and healing include all who are affected by violent actions, both the victim and the perpetrator. May this scourge of violence end. Let us pray that our hearts be not hardened but moved with compassion to offer encouragement in a world filled with sorrow and brokenness. May our prayers result in grace that leads us to respectfully engage and love one another in our shared journey to bring forth the Kingdom of God.
The Most Reverend Robert J. McClory
Diocese of Gary