As an archbishop who has celebrated Masses in Washington, D.C., to pray for an end to violence in our community, I grieve for the 12 people killed in the recent movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. I join people of all faiths across our country in praying for them, for the 58 people wounded in the attack, and for their family members and friends.
Such senseless acts of violence can leave us in despair. Our faith offers us hope in such times of sorrow.
At a prayer service in Aurora, Denver Auxiliary Bishop James Conley offered an invocation, noting, “We grieve with the knowledge that neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God.” The bishop went on to say, “Our lives are a gift from God – a grace – and they are given to us to glorify God… Let us glorify God by responding to all violence with peace and to all evil with love.”
We live in a culture saturated with violence. Any minute of the day, we can view it on our movie and TV screens and on our video game consoles. Rage fuels violence on our roadways, our sidewalks and even in our homes, and it has erupted in places normally considered as safe havens, such as school classrooms and now, movie theaters.
After suffering a brutal execution, the risen Christ reassured his disciples with the words, “Be not afraid.”
It was no accident that Blessed John Paul II emphasized those words of Jesus at the outdoor Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica at his installation in 1978 as the new pope. In a world of anxiety and violence, Jesus reminds us not to be afraid. Blessed John Paul II said the answer to the world’s fear and darkness is to open our hearts to the light of Christ.
Blessed John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, “The Gospel of Life,” began with the words, “The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message.”
The pope noted that we live in a world where violence is often utilized as the answer to life’s challenges, where the weak and vulnerable at all stages of life are at risk, through practices like abortion and assisted suicide. The encyclical emphasized our Catholic teaching about the God-given dignity of every human life, and how God’s gift of human life is closely bound to his promise of eternal life to those who follow Jesus, who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
Blessed John Paul II encouraged people to confront this “culture of death” by building a civilization of love, by reflecting the love of Christ in our daily lives.
As Bishop Conley said, in the face of violence and death, we can choose life and love. Reportedly, four of the 12 people killed at the theater were men who shielded their girlfriends from the spray of bullets.
The risen Christ, who told us to “Be not afraid,” offers us a way to overcome the culture of death all around us. As we continue to pray for all the victims of violence in our world, let us resolve to build a civilization of love. Jesus, who conquered sin and death, offers us “the way,” – a path of love and life that extends from this life to the next.