"And Jesus wept."
This is not what any of us hoped for when we complained about the lack of stories other than coronavirus in the media. As you have no doubt noticed, American attention has been fixed on Minneapolis this past week following the death of George Floyd.
Video surfaced of a Minneapolis police officer pressing his knee into Floyd's neck, despite Floyd's repeated pleas that he could not breathe. Since the incident, America has been burning with tension, anger, and violence. How should we, as the people of God, respond to this event?
This incident has become extremely divisive. To begin with, let's focus on what we should all agree on, based in Catholic social teaching: George Floyd deserved life, unequivocally and without discussion.
The Catholic Church is staunchly pro-life in its teachings and practices. While many outside the Church seek to distill this into only opposing abortion, in reality we are called to respect and protect life from conception until natural death.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the section on the Fifth Commandment, does allow for the death penalty "if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor," yet also states that "the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.'"
It cannot be argued that George Floyd's imprisonment would have posed a legitimate threat to the lives of others; he was being detained on suspicion of forgery, a nonviolent crime. On top of these moral factors, he died without trial or sentencing, a clear violation of both his human and Constitutional rights. This was, without a doubt, an unjust death, and we should mourn it and call for justice in full voice.
The shortest verse in the Bible in just about every translation is "And Jesus wept." This verse, John 11:35, comes when Jesus learns of the death of His friend Lazarus. I think it's the single most humanizing verse in the Bible when it comes to Jesus, and it's intensely powerful. What we sometimes forget is that Jesus weeps for us all when our time comes. While He longs to be united with us forever in Heaven, He feels our pain along with us, including the final pain of death.
Jesus is weeping profusely for George Floyd and his family. He is also weeping for all of us in the wake of this tragedy as we search for the right path forward as a nation. He knows the fear, anguish, anger, and confusion many of us feel, and He hurts right along with us.
This is not the end of the story, however. The Lord does not simply feel our pain along with us and then forget about it. He wants to help us make positive changes to avoid feeling a similar pain again.
This brings us to the aftermath of Floyd's death. I will not use this platform to make political statements about race in America or how those who feel threatened in the aftermath of Floyd's death should act, but I will seek only to apply Catholic social teaching to the situation. The rights to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances are enshrined in the Constitution's First Amendment, and all Americans (and Catholics) should respect those rights.
Those who have taken to protesting and assembling in solidarity with the black community, whatever their race, should be protected and supported. However, the outbreaks of violence and looting at some of these protests have become another flashpoint of national discussion over the weekend. This muddies the moral waters considerably, and should be considered separately from the peaceful protests.
In the same section of the Catechism quoted earlier, we read that "to desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit." We also read that "hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil," and that "deliberate hatred is contrary to charity."
Taking these statements into account along with the general tone of the Catechism's writings on life, we can conclude that violence borne from anger towards one's neighbor, no matter how understandable that anger is, is not permissible by Catholicism.
As I said, this anger is largely understandable and relatable. We should all empathize and share in it, because the killing of George Floyd was gravely wrong on every level. But we must also not forget that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
The Catechism tells us that "earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Christ." We all acknowledge that killings such as George Floyd's do not bring about this peace, but neither do burning, looting, smashing, and other forms of violent anger that we have seen in these recent days.
Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers." He calls us daily to work to bring about peace and harmony among mankind. Mourning George Floyd and honoring his memory through trying to prevent further such tragedy is wholly in line with our Catholic duty. Speaking out against the violence and looting that has broken out in the aftermath is also in line with this duty, as is respecting those who are protesting peacefully.
This is an incredibly painful topic for all of us as Americans, Catholics, and human beings. We need to work extra hard to respect each other in times like these when tensions are running high.
We must work to prevent another such tragedy, and we must do so without inflicting further pain and violence on each other. Jesus calls us to promote peace and justice, and He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Pray for the healing of our nation and our communities. I look forward to the day when we can all once again pray for unity together in the body of our beautiful church. Until then, stay safe and be well.