Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
All of us have struggled with the reality of terrorism, particularly the randomness and the senselessness of acts of killing that are unthinkable to civilized people. All of us have imagined the pain of those who have been so broken by these criminals. It is natural to react in anger when confronted with our powerlessness
to do anything to prevent this violence.
But the anger that has boiled over largely has not been properly directed. In the absence of someone to blame, without a good explanation, it is often the case that people blame God. How could God allow this? Think. If he didn’t allow us to sin, nor could we freely choose to love. There would be no virtue in our human existence,
because we would not be free to act.
Or else we look around and see who else is to blame. I’m hearing this happen too often these days, even outside church after Mass! Extremists breed extreme reactions: this means they have accomplished their goal of instilling fear and violent response. What happened at the community meeting in Spotsylvania a few weeks
ago—we can call that exhibit A. Yet, I want to say that there are in our community so many more people who could have brought a balanced, rational dialogue to the front of the room had they attended. I only realized at the last minute there was a movement among some of our own parishioners to bring hate to the meeting. That
is why I attended. If needed, I was going to stare down Catholics and remind them who they are.
When Pope Francis was in Nairobi, though he didn’t specifically refer to the terrorism in Paris, he said that God must never be used to justify hatred and violence. This goes for both those who act in hate, and for those who respond in hate. The Pope warned the religious leaders that “young people are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear, and to tear at the very fabric of our societies.” “How important it is that we be seen as prophets of peace, peacemakers
who invite others to live in peace, harmony and mutual respect,” he said. The Vatican has said the Paris attacks have heightened the Pope’s sense of urgency about the need for interreligious dialogue.
We must join in dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters, to learn that hatred and killing is not the core teaching of Islam, but rather an extremist interpretation of a faith that has been confused with and manipulated by political power from its earliest days. Fundamentalism, in every religion, in every country in the world, has long produced the tragic effect of violence, persecution and the downward spiral of hatred.
Unfortunately, we live in a world today corrupted by self-interest and ignorance, a culture that will believe any blog or sound-bite that seems to feed their fear and insecurity. Fundamentalism, by its nature, is the use of truth to serve the agenda of the individual. It is a twisting of something shared in common by all, whether in the form of scripture or tradition, to the exclusion of those who do not agree with the opinion of one person or sect. A sacred text, for example, may be read in different ways and interpreted in completely opposite, contradictory ways. This is true whether we consider the Hebrew Scriptures, the Christian Bible, or the Qur’an. Personal opinion reigns.
Leaders of Muslim communities across the world have come together with a consistent cry that this radicalization of Islam does not represent them. These are crimes and the ones who do these unthinkable acts in the name of God are criminals. We may not condemn an entire people for the individuals among them who are criminals. Consider, for example, how the extremists are attracting, “radicalizing,” people from all countries and diverse backgrounds— not religious backgrounds, but more likely backgrounds of emotional and psychological sickness—who are “joining up” with the culture of hate and killing to feel powerful.
Let’s remember what makes us Christian. We do not return hate for hate, killing for killing. While doing what is necessary for security and justice, we must remain open to dialogue so as to end the cycle of misunderstanding and ignorance, the very reality that the extremists are manipulating right now to promote fear, control our lives, and escalate world tension. Finally, we must intentionally discover, engage and promote what is good in each other in order to build a society that is free and seeks the good of all, building friendship through the encounter that will allow us to confront the evil of our world together and uncover a mutual foundation of peace.
God bless you.