May 21, 2023

On this day when we recall the Ascension of the Lord, we hear Christ's words to the disciples as found in the Acts of the Apostles, "... you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) As we celebrate this Ascension 2023 perhaps we should look into our own hearts and ask, "How am I a witness to Christ in my life?"

There is no doubt in my mind that we, who proclaim we are Catholic in the many years since Christ spoke those words, have brought the Gospel message to countless people. I also believe the task of proclaiming Christ's Gospel message of care for one another is most urgent these days.  Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment." The second is:  "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt. 22:36-40)

If we truly believe Christ's words. If we say we follow Christ and his commandments. If we call ourselves Catholic, then I believe we all have a lot of work and prayer to do if we want to make a reality of Christ's words in our time here on this earth. As citizens of the United States, we all know our country has many issues that need to be addressed. Our inability to establish a just and compassionate immigration policy, the increasing harm to peace, safety and trust in our country caused by shootings, mass killings and senseless violence is a national disgrace and an affront to what we declare in our Constitution. We the People of the United States, in order to form a perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The framers of our Constitution did not agree on all points and ideas. They were people of different backgrounds, religions and experiences but they were willing to discuss, compromise and work to establish the foundation of our country. In our increasing polarized time, our inability to even have a civil discussion and debate about the various serious issues facing us and our country is a challenge to each of us who profess belief in the teachings of Christ.

As I was thinking about what to write for the bulletin for the feast of the Ascension this year, I went back and read what I wrote in last year's bulletin. And I must admit, I was depressed. For while I wrote last year a short reflection about the Ascension of the Lord, I also saw that I had written about the murder of 10 African-Americans at a Buffalo, NY grocery store by a man filled with hatred and believing in white supremacist ideology. I also noted another gunman, complaining of a "Hispanic invasion of Texas" had killed many innocent men, women and children in El Paso, Texas.

Since those horrific killings of many innocent people, there have been other senseless shootings in our country. We must not succumb to becoming numb to the weekly and almost daily reports of shootings, stabbings and killings taking place throughout our country. Last year, Cardinal Cupich issued a letter about the killings in Buffalo, El Paso and violence here in Chicago. Unfortunately, his Pastoral Letter is still a challenge for each of us, if not more in this year of 2023. I offer below some excerpts from Cardinal Cupich's 2022 Letter for your reflection this week:

“On Saturday, May 14, 2022 a gunman used an AR-15, high-capacity assault weapon to murder 10 Black Americans at a Buffalo grocery store, wounding two bystanders. Many of his victims were near or beyond retirement age, including Pearl Young, 77, a grandmother of eight who taught Sunday school, and Katherine Massey, 72, a civil-rights advocate who had written in favor of stronger gun-safety laws. Civil authorities say the 18-year-old suspect traveled hours to carry out his rampage, apparently leaving behind a manifesto filled with white supremacist ideology, including the vile conspiracy theory that people of color are “replacing” white Americans.

In 2019, a gunman who shot up a Walmart in Texas wrote a similar manifesto that referred to the same conspiracy theory, complaining of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Whatever the theory, white supremacism is a lie. This ideology is not always so explicitly expressed, but it is condemnable whether it hides behind slippery political rhetoric or does not bother with any fig leaves of deniability.

We must pray for the victims of this outrageous act. We must keep them in our thoughts. But that is not all we are obliged to do. As Christians, we are called to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Part of that obligation entails being witnesses to truth. When this chapter of American history is written, what will our grandchildren say about what we did to protect the marginalized? What will they say about how we responded to a culture that became increasingly tolerant of rhetoric that demonizes our fellow human beings on the basis of their race or ethnicity or religion or sex? Will they wonder how we could have become inured to daily gun violence and mass shootings, how our consciences were numbed to the consequences of violence-inspiring rhetoric? Will they wonder at our failure to stop dangerous people from procuring assault weapons, including children, or our failure to see how social media is being used to rend the social fabric? What will they think about how we responded to a moment in which a Black American, indeed any person of color, is forced by the scourge of racism to live in fear?

These questions should preoccupy our minds as we stand at this cultural crossroads. We need not choose the path of indifference. We can choose to listen to the suffering of our brothers and sisters who suffer racism in all its forms — and then act to build a more just society. We can choose to face the challenge of gun violence, including that which occurs daily in the Chicago area, by enacting common-sense federal safety laws that help keep firearms out of the hands of irresponsible people and end the flow of firearms across state borders.

We can choose to take the path of love and see in our neighbors the face of Christ. We Christians can choose to act as though we actually believe that we, indeed all human beings, are made in God’s image.

It is in this spirit of family that we must stand in solidarity with the victims of the Buffalo massacre, with the victims of gun violence here in Chicago and across the nation, with victims’ loved ones, indeed with all people who face the threat of racism every day, holding fast to the knowledge that we are beloved by God, not because of how we look or where we or our ancestors were born, but because we are of God, made in his image, and directed toward love.”
- Cardinal Blase Cupich

As many people have noted after every senseless killing, we mourn the loss of life but, as the Cardinal points out, our faith calls us to be "our brothers' and sisters' keepers." Lest we once again fail to try and end this seemingly endless cycle of violence I ask myself and I present to you this question: "Do you have any suggestions on what can we here at St. Peter's Church do to promote life and respect for all people and all God's creation?" What concrete action(s) might we do to help end this growing tragedy here in Chicago and also in far too many other places throughout our country?

Please remember to pray for peace and justice in our city, our country and in our world. Please remember in prayer our newly elected Mayor, Brandon Johnson, and all the members of our city government. Pray for the safety of our police, firefighters and all First Responders. May each of do all we can to follow Christ's command to love God and to love our neighbor as yourself.

Fr. Michael