On this Pentecost Sunday the Church is called to reflect on the gift of the Holy Spirit imparted to His disciples on the night of His Resurrection. Jesus gave them the gift of peace and breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit. But on this Pentecost our minds and hearts are anything but peaceful. They are occupied by other spirits and another breath. We witness the spirit of violence active in our cities. And we hear the echoes of black man’s plea for the very breath of life which was denied him by another man in a police uniform. Instead of us marveling at the miracles of tongues of fire imbuing the Apostles with the courage to preach the unifying message of salvation, we are gripped by the spirit of fear at the burning of police cars and places of business from one shining sea to another. We are a nation torn asunder this Pentecost Day.
As journalists report escalating riots, what I fear will fade from our American consciousness is that in the last three months, three American citizens of color have died in violent acts committed against them by white citizens — all active or former members of local police forces in Georgia, Kentucky, and Minnesota. As the reactionary violence and counter violence drives a deeper wedge into our fractured culture and society, I wonder if the lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor will not simply become three more statistics in the continuing failure of our country to confront and reject the evil spirits of prejudice and bigotry which have plagued these shores from before our nation’s founding.
Will there come a day when the peaceful protests of a community against injustice will not be hijacked by anarchists who have no interest in justice for that community and not even for themselves? Will there come a day when a young black man or any young man of color can jog in a neighborhood — any neighborhood in our communities without fear of being shot? And should it happen again, will it take three months for the search for justice to begin because the persons pulling the trigger were a white, former police investigator and his adult son?
Will the spirit of justice ever come for young, black American women who served courageously her fellow citizens in the midst of this national pandemic? Or will it take another two months for people to be held accountable for her wrongful death? Is it true that justice delayed is justice denied?
Over the past four days we have seen the spirit of rage and violence plastered across every screen in our land. But the members of those communities have experienced firsthand the destruction of their homes and businesses. These images inflict on most of us a spirit of fear, but for the residents of those neighborhoods I ask who will address the spirits of hopelessness and despair?
What should every Christian’s response be to the tragedy that is unfolding across our nation? First let us get down on our knees and ask the Lord to bring peace to our cities and towns and justice for the victims of the original violent acts which triggered these protests and then lead to riots. Then let us examine our own conscience and see what prejudices and fears we may possess. How many times have we laughed at racist humor or at person who is different than I am? We can welcome the stranger into our congregations and get to know our neighbors. We can support our Catholic Charities financially as they work with families of all shapes and colors. The Christian of every color can address prejudice head on when we hear it in our homes, our workplaces, and in our church communities. We can write letters to our elected officials and endorse the petitions of others that demand safety for all citizens regardless of race, color, or creed. Indeed that is exactly the action taken by the leadership of the Black Student Alliance at four schools in Washington, D.C. They wrote a letter to the Chief of Police and to the mayor asking for changes in police training, and for a commitment of police to protect the lives of young black people in our city. Our Catholic University Chapter was one of the four sponsors of that petition.
The Christians of this world must be filled with the spirit of Christ and spread the Good News that He has conquered all sin, division, and even death itself. Only God can take away the breath of a man or a woman. No person — not even a police officer has that right to deny a person the ability to breathe. Nor is the Christian allowed to stand by as a man pleads for his life. That neglect is an evil spirit which is not in harmony with the Spirit of God.
In the face of the unrest that is gripping us as a people, the Church must open wide her doors to protect the lives of all God’s children. We must address the injustices around us regardless of the consequences to ourselves. We must bring the Spirit of God to bear upon all the imbedded evil spirits issues of our times. We must be as courageous as the Apostles in our proclamation of the Good News — for only in God will we find the answers to the issues of our day. Jesus has breathed His spirit upon us. What spirit fills our hearts?