Bishop’s August Reflection: Looking for Hopeful Answers in Unsettling Times

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

On July 7th I was in Shreveport packing to begin my vacation when I was shocked to learn 11 policemen were shot in Dallas, five of whom were dead.  Dallas is where I grew up, so the tragedy feels close and personal to me. I felt sadness and a deep, unique fear that I have felt only two other times in my life.

The first time was on November 22, 1963, when it was announced at school that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. I felt that day that something had changed inside of me. And although I did not yet have the words at age 11 to make sense of it, I remember having a general feeling of fear and unease.

The second time was when I watched TV as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11. Again I was overcome with a pervasive fear and unease about everything.  Something had changed in my world in a profound way.  I felt that same fear and unease when I heard of the attack on the police officers in Dallas. This event, as the others before it, now affected me in a profound way. It was not like other disappointments and losses in my life, no, this was a fear and unease at the core of my inner life. They were changes that were foundational to my daily assumptions about the world in which I live.

We go about our daily lives with a set of presumptions that we don’t have to think about, which create the foundation on which we live and plan for the future. Some of these assumptions are: every time I take a step I assume the earth will remain firm and that there will be air to breathe when I take a breath; in my home I am safe and terrorism is in other countries, not here.  Because these assumptions are so foundational, we are surprised when we stumble and we feel violated and vulnerable when our house is broken into or we realize, as we did on 9/11, that terrorism is now a part of our lives. When these moments happen we are disoriented and must find a new foundation on which to move into the future.

Many natural responses emerge at these times. Anger, desire for revenge, fear, overbearing sadness and loss, criticism, blame and depression are all some of our reactions as human beings because the loss and because the experience is so foundational to our understanding of ourselves, our world around us, and maybe even to our faith in God. While these responses are natural to the experience, we must not be fooled into thinking that the healing and reordering we need will be discovered in these emotions.  Terrorism will not be thwarted by revenge. Violent crime, violence against police and citizens will not end with only a show of more force and power. These kinds of emotional reactions are not big enough to truly heal our culture because they offer no hope to healing the real problems. We might accept these inadequate responses because we also believe that the causes of violence are too big to fix and the cost and sacrifice too great to make a change. We all feel this.  How many times have you said or heard said, “I don’t know what’s happening to this country. I don’t know what we can do.”  These are the words of someone losing hope.

It cannot be that way with us who believe in a God of love and that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  We must be willing to be a voice that creates and supports real solutions to the root of violence in our country and be willing, if necessary, to make sacrifices for this good work. We should be a voice that promotes programs to lift up all people so they have a quality of life that allows them to believe they have a voice and a chance in the world today.  We must not give in to despair, but always seek the hope-filled answers that show the love and respect for every person that is the defining quality of a disciple of Jesus Christ. We are to be the “salt of the earth,” bringing new answers and the hope, rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ, to a hurting world. May God give each of us the inspiration and hopeful enthusiasm to support programs that seek to break the cycle of poverty, inequality and violence in our society. May God help us in our daily conversations to encourage others to look for hopeful answers to the big problems of our society rather than speak only despairing words of blame and hatred.

These are unsettling times and we will lose our way in the darkness of despair if we do not hold on to our faith in Jesus Christ and His Church.  In Christ we will find the hope that dispels the darkness of our hearts and gives us new hope for the future and the energy to work for change in our nation and in the world. In Christ we will find the best answers to the challenges in the world today.

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