August 22, 2021

In John's Gospel today we hear that many of the disciples of Jesus were getting impatient with the message Jesus was sharing with them. He heard them murmuring among themselves, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" Christ tells his hearers, "The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life." However, Christ's call to live the Gospel way of life seemed too hard and as St. John notes in today's Gospel, "As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him."

We who live these many centuries after Jesus spoke to the crowds in Galilee also struggle to follow Christ's words and life. And as Jesus asked the Apostles, so he also asks us in these difficult times, "Do you also want to leave?" Though life is often very hard hopefully each of us will answer the Lord's question to us with the words of St. Peter in the Gospel, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

The mis-information that seems to spread without basis in facts about COVID vaccines, the increasing disregard for the welfare of others, increasing unsafe driving practices on our streets and highways, the ease of obtaining lethal weapons and willingness to use them without any consideration of the consequences and what appears to be a growing lack of faith in God and respect for the dignity of all people all seem to weigh heavily upon our daily life.

In the midst of what might lead us all to despair, I find hope and strength in the practices of our faith that Pope Francis calls us all to live. Some of the bishops of our Church speak out strongly and boldly challenging us to respect ALL life and people. Committed clergy, religious and laity give us powerful witness of how to be faithful to Christ and loving to our fellow human beings.

There are more than enough pundits spouting on social media, radio waves, TV programs, in print media and others ways "doom & gloom" these days. However, the message of hope, of the dignity of all people and the call to work toward a society of respect for others is being proclaimed by many committed people.

On Wednesday, August 11, 2021 Cardinal Cupich issued a statement on the killing of Chicago Police Officer, Ella French, and the wounding of her partner during a routine traffic stop. In his statement Cardinal Cupich also addressed the need for all people of good will to commit to protecting life. Officer French was committed to social justice. A little over a month ago, Officer French raced in her squad car to bring a 1-month old victim of a shooting to the hospital. That child survives today thanks to the quick thinking of Officer French.

The weekend that Officer French was killed there were over 73 shootings in Chicago with 11 fatalities. How long can a civilized city allow such tragedies to continue? As Cardinal Cupich points out in his statement, just because tragedy doesn't impact us directly, "We are not released from the responsibility to understand WHY such violence plagues our city and our nation." I have placed below the entire August 11, 2021 Statement of Cardinal Cupich. I highly encourage you to read his words and ask yourself what YOU might do to bring peace to our city and live daily the message of Jesus every moment of your life.

Statement of Cardinal Cupich on the Killing of Chicago Police Officer Ella French

August 11, 2021

Saturday night, members of a Chicago Police Department’s Community Safety Team stopped a vehicle for an expired license plate. Soon after, Officer Ella French, just 29 years old, was shot and killed by one of the occupants of the civilian vehicle. Another officer was badly wounded in the exchange of gunfire and remains in critical condition. We pray for him, for his family and friends, just as we pray for Officer French and her family and friends, as they cope with the terrible reality that their loved one was taken from them in another act of senseless violence. We can only imagine their pain, as we hold them in prayer and stand with them and all first responders who risk their safety every day to protect our communities and keep the peace.

 They do this in a context of almost unimaginable complexity. A traffic stop turns deadly on a dime. One officer dead, the other fighting for his life. The alleged shooter, just 21 years old. Another suspect reportedly flees the scene, only to be detained by the neighbors whose fence he jumped to get away. Federal officials say the shooter obtained the weapon that killed Officer French through a straw purchase made by an Indiana man who bought the gun in Hammond — because his friend was ineligible owing to his criminal record.

The degree to which we take seriously the epidemic of gun violence will be measured by the effort we put into ridding our streets of illegal guns and weapons of war. Every day our elected officials fail to institute common-sense gun-reform laws, such as universal background checks and crackdowns on straw purchases, is a day we fail as a society to uphold the value of all human life.

By the same token, our commitment to protecting life will be judged by the work we put into building up the common good and redressing systemic injustice, not only through acts of remote charity — clicking to donate, posting to social media — but also through indispensable acts of proximate charity — giving food to the hungry, working to know our neighbors in need, no matter where they live. Committing acts of violence against the innocent can never be excused. But that does not mean we are released from the responsibility to understand why such violence plagues our city and our nation.

How can we understand such tragedies when none seems susceptible to logic? How can we make a difference when the crisis seems so enormous? There is no denying it: this has been a season of senselessness in Chicago, with gun violence rising and mass shootings becoming a regular occurrence. But we can never allow ourselves to become numb in the face of injustice, no matter how crushingly common it seems. (there have been more than 1,000 victims of mass shootings in Chicago over the past six years.) We shudder when we hear of the child hit by gunfire, but do we remember her name? We mourn the slain police officer, but do we see beyond the uniform? These questions are not meant to condemn, but to awaken us from the zombified state of polarization that suffuses our society today. We pick sides, even neighborhoods, rally with the likeminded, close ourselves to conversation with those who might disagree, derive meaning from the conflict, and gather ourselves into silos of politics, culture and even religion.

This is not what God wants for his family. Officer French’s brother Andrew, an Iraq War veteran, wanted us to understand that his sister’s decision to join the force grew out of her commitment to social justice. And we can see the evidence: According to the child’s uncle, Officer French drove a 1-month-old and her mother to the hospital last month, after the baby suffered a gunshot wound to the head during a mass shooting in Englewood. The infant survived and is recovering. As Andrew French told the Chicago Tribune, “My sister’s always been a person of integrity. She’s always done the right thing even when nobody’s looking.” Of course, as Andrew knows, God was looking. God sees with the eyes of a loving parent. Even when we are beset by grief, feeling utterly alone, on the precipice of despair, God never abandons us, because we are his children, all of us.

Those who choose to run away from seeking some resolution of this plague of violence are like those who ran away from Jesus when he challenged them to believe in him and to "love your neighbor as yourself." As we pray the Peace Prayer at the conclusion of each Mass here at St. Peter's, may each of us seek to put those words into practice in our daily life.

May God's Spirit guide each of us in these difficult times and may our actions lead others to Christ and one another. May each us speak the words of St. Peter to Jesus, "You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

Fr. Michael