Happy Independence Day! How blessed we are to be part of this great country! Most of you were born and grew up here. Some of us became citizens when we were older. I am deeply grateful to this nation and to all of you for all that I have received over the years. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Let us gratefully remember all those who have gone before us, all those who made sacrifices so that we may live in peace and freedom. Let us pray for our country and all her people.
As we celebrate our nation’s birthday, let us take time to reflect on what happened in Charleston, SC, last week. From time to time a certain terrible act is committed by an individual and we are shocked. We think that there can be nothing worse than that. And then someone perpetrates an evil that is even more terrible. The killing of nine innocent African-American church-goers during a Bible Study is beyond comprehension. In my mind it is the embodiment of pure evil.
Political pundits and media talking heads will offer their own explanations. We will never fully comprehend why or how it happened. The fact that it happened must make us pause and question. As a nation, we must do a lot of soul-searching. Why would an individual be filled with so much hate? How could a young person subscribe to such ideologies of supremacy and despise other groups and races? Are there issues that we should address collectively as a people? What should we do as Christians who try to live by the teachings of Jesus?
We have to remember that extreme ideologies are always dangerous. Look at ISIS. It believes that anyone who is not Muslim should either be converted or killed. Any philosophy that holds up one group over another will turn pernicious at some time or other. Deranged individuals or even normal individuals with bruised egos find validation and legitimacy within such extreme ideologies for their own twisted attitudes and actions. In the Church, both in our preaching and in our teaching, we should be careful never to give even a remote hint of such extreme positions. St Thomas Aquinas always insisted that virtue is in the middle, not in the extremes.
The Fathers of the nation articulated a fundamental tenet in our Constitution: “All men are created equal.” Those words should not remain solely on paper. We cannot make laws to wipe out racism. Laws only help to punish offenders. They do not make someone respectful of other races and groups. For the eradication of all forms of racism and superiority, we need interior change, a conversion of heart. That is where faith comes in. We live by the conviction that all of us are children of the same Father. In Christ we are brothers and sisters. As Paul says in his Letter to the Galatians, “In Christ there is no Greek or Roman, Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free.”
We also have something to learn from the response of the families of the victims. Coming face to face with the killer, they offered forgiveness and invited him to repent. They showed us what it means to be a follower of Christ. I heard somewhere that the killer was thinking of not doing the deed because his eventual victims were so nice to him. This is what we Christians are called to do. We overcome evil with good. This killing is a clear manifestation of evil in our world. No one can deny there is evil. Many people complain about it. But as people of faith we are called to overcome this evil by our goodness. That is what the people of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church did. They forgave the one who killed their family members. They adequately responded to the challenge Jesus posed in the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Let us pray our nation. Let us pray for the members of that African-American Church. Let us pray for ourselves that as disciples we will rise up to the same challenge. Hopefully future generations will never have to face this kind of racial hatred again.
May God bless America! May God bless the whole world!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...