By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published April 9, 2009
I don’t know of any person who has not been repeatedly dismayed and shocked during these last few weeks with the news of too many acts of senseless and unpredictable violence. Whether such violence occurs within the circle of the family or with the wanton slaughter of public servants or in an office building where immigrant peoples are studying English, we have been appalled and frightened. Such acts of random violence remind us that our society—for all of its many and great accomplishments in the area of science, technology and medicine—can still be recurrently a quite hostile place.
The magnitude of such violence and its unpredictability are sources of distress and alarm for all of us. Yet we also continue to discover ways to overlook other forms of violence in our society. Our nation, along with many others, still permits and sanctions violence in the killing of unborn children within the womb. We dismiss such brutality as a legitimate expression of choice on the part of a mother-to-be who chooses to abort her own child. We defend capital punishment as a deterrent to crime even when such logic is at best open to discussion, if not blatantly false. We justify the ill treatment of undocumented immigrants and their families because they are here without legal permission. We find convenient ways to rationalize our own sometimes violent behavior, but we are then stymied and mystified when random and horrific violence intrudes into our lives.
Holy Week is upon us once again and a totally innocent man will be the victim of violence for us. Jesus was a prisoner who endured capital punishment for us. It was a violent and unjustified death. As we listen to the Gospel narratives tell the story of His Passion and death, we are horrified that One so guiltless was handed over to such a cruel sentence. This violent death was a sacrificial and redemptive offering for us all so that we might escape the punishment that was rightfully ours.
As we read about the tragedies that have broken so many hearts and destroyed so many lives during the recent past, let us all ask the Lord to help us to work for and to create a less violent society so that such human brutality is diminished in all of its many forms. So many of the people who have been the perpetrators of these random acts of violence have been emotionally and psychologically very disturbed individuals. Let us pray for their families as well as for their victims’ families for healing and comfort in the face of tragedy and profound loss.
We will never be able to do away with all the violence that people inflict upon one another. It is a consequence of original sin and of our broken human nature. Yet we can and must pray and work for greater understanding among all people. We can pray for and work for a lessening of the violence that destroys or devalues any human life.
This week as we listen once again to the Passion narratives of the Gospel, let us be reminded that by His suffering and death we have been made whole and free—perhaps the only act of violence that ever had a worthwhile purpose.