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July 7, 2016

How Christians respond to evil and extreme cruelty -
Thoughts about violence as a contagious, learned behavior -
Pastoral action with real couples and imperfect families -
Terrorism as a test of "our humanity"

In this edition:
1. Terrorism tests "our humanity."
2. The grace to weep over evil.
3. Dachau, place of human cruelty.
4. Violence, a contagious disease.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) After Britain's vote.
b) What Jesus' cross means.
6. Pastoral action: marriage and family.

7. Love is good, but hard.

1. How Terrorism "Tests Our Humanity"

"Evil tests our humanity," Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said after the June 28 terrorist attack at Ataturk airport in Istanbul, Turkey. A series of terrorism-related attacks around the world are prompting religious leaders to ask how Christians should respond to the violence and death witnessed so frequently today.

Evil "tempts us to linger in the terror of Istanbul, Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, Orlando and countless other Golgothas ancient and new," Archbishop Kurtz wrote. He said, "Evil lives in the empty hope that terror will blind us to our common humanity."

He and others urged Christians to view this moment in history as an opportunity to manifest the riches of their faith in the world by serving others and acting with love and compassion.

"Evil cannot be born from God," Archbishop Kurtz stated. "The true representation of faith," he commented, "is found in the heroic acts of Istanbul's airport security and emergency response." He suggested that this moment be viewed as a time to reach out "to our brothers and sisters in solidarity."

Will fear "numb our compassion?" The archbishop recommended asking that question whenever "terror returns us to Golgotha."

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, in his blog for the diocesan website, expressed concern July 1 that a "deluge of catastrophic events," including human violence and natural disasters, "have inured us to the immense amount of human pain, suffering and deprivation that exists in the world today."

For, he said, "the unimaginable has become commonplace: mass beheadings, kidnapping and trafficking of children, wanton rapine by armies, victimization of those hoping for refuge, mass murder of innocent people and natural disasters, earthquakes, floods, pandemics."

Bishop Farrell wrote, "When we are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, often beyond comprehension, our mind may sanitize those numbers, and they cease representing suffering human beings and become statistics. A statistic does not have a name or a face. It doesn't hurt or weep or die."

The Gospel, he said, "is a call to action, not to inertia or apathy, much less to denial. Outrage demands a response, not a retreat."

In a June 27 blog entry, Bishop Farrell spoke of "the anti-venoms for disorder and upheaval caused by greed and avarice." These anti-venoms, he said, "are the common good, love, compassion, consideration and mercy toward others."

The Istanbul attack, said Chicago's Archbishop Blase Cupich, represented yet "another attack on the lives of innocent people seeking only to work and travel in peace." Coming as it did "in the holy month of Ramadan," this atrocity showed "a deep lack of respect for faith and human life," he commented June 29.

Three days before the attack, he "joined with our Muslim brothers and sisters in celebrating the annual Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago Catholic-Muslim Iftar dinner. "Let the spirit of prayer and respect that pervaded that gathering grow in the coming weeks and months, and leave no room for hatred and suspicion among our people," he wrote.

He encouraged dedication "to working for peace and understanding in the memory of those lost and injured."

2. Pope Francis: The Grace to Weep Over Evil

When he visits the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in Poland during the July 25-31 World Youth Day, Pope Francis does not plan to give a speech, as might have been expected. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's official spokesman, asked him about this during the pope's in-flight press conference June 26 while returning to Rome after his visit to Armenia.

"You will be visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau during your visit to Poland," Father Lombardi said to the pope, adding: "I have heard that you want to spend these moments in silence rather than with words. . . . So I wanted to ask you if you intend to speak there or if you prefer to pray silently with a particular intention of your own."

Pope Francis responded: "Two years ago in Redipuglia, [Italy], I did the same thing to commemorate the centenary of the Great War. I went to Redipuglia in silence. Then there was the Mass and I preached, but that was something else. Silence.

"I would like to visit that place of horrors without speeches, without people, only with the necessary few. . . . On my own, to enter and pray. . . . May the Lord give me the grace to weep."

Several days later Father Lombardi confirmed that Pope Francis indeed did not plan to deliver a speech at the death camp. Cindy Wooden, chief of the Catholic News Service Rome bureau, observed in a CNS report that "it is not that Pope Francis has nothing to say about the horror of the Shoah, the importance of remembering it and the need to continue fighting anti-Semitism."

Wooden noted that the pope spoke of the Shoah, or Holocaust, earlier this year. "The past must be a lesson to us for the present and the future," he said Jan. 17 when he visited Rome's synagogue. "The Shoah teaches us that maximum vigilance is always needed in order to intervene quickly in defense of human dignity and peace."

And in a 2010 book titled "On Heaven and Earth," written together with Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the future Pope Francis said that while the question "Where was God?" at the time of the Holocaust is an important theological and human question, the question "Where was man?" is a still larger question.

For, the Holocaust had an "idolatrous construction," with the Nazis claiming to be God and embracing evil. "Each Jew that they killed was a slap in the face to the living God," he stated.

During a 2014 visit to Israel, Pope Francis visited the Yad Vashem memorial to the Shoah. At that time he wrote this in the Yad Vashem guest book:

"With shame for what man, who was created in the image of God, was able to do; with shame for the fact that man made himself the owner of evil; with shame that man made himself into god and sacrificed his brothers. Never again! Never again!"

3. A Place of Extreme Human Cruelty

"Our contemporary society easily moves closer to the inhumanity practiced here," Archbishop Timothy Broglio said in a June 4 homily in Dachau, Germany. The archbishop for the Military Services USA led a pilgrimage to the site of the infamous World War II concentration camp at Dachau.

"Coming here obliges us . . . to ask ourselves what we can do to ensure" that what happened in Dachau "will not happen again," the archbishop said during an afternoon Mass.

"Men and women died here because of their religion, ethnic origins, handicaps and their opposition to the Nazi regime," he observed. He said, "Dachau even boasts a priesterblock where priests were imprisoned because they dared to oppose the evil in a regime."

He described the Dachau camp as "a place linked to death, inhumanity and a cruelty almost beyond comprehension." He added, "We have come here to learn and to say 'never again.'"

To those making the pilgrimage he said: "This visit is a good occasion to see how easily people are deceived. We believe in a good work ethic, but the sign over this camp, 'arbeit machte frei' ('work makes you free'), is a parody of what can happen in a democratic society where one can leave a tenement and become a cardiologist or the ghetto for a military academy."

But the pilgrimage was a reminder, too, "of our responsibility to see as Jesus did what was going on around him," he said. "Government and political party are not absolutes," and they "must be held to a system of values." Moreover, "if something is legal it is not necessarily good or moral."

The archbishop stressed the importance of compassion and love in Christian life. "We often find ourselves powerless in the face of certain situations. We see that in so many human tragedies: terrorism, a fatal illness, an accidental death, flooding, tornadoes." People find it painful, he said, "to want to do something, but to be unable."

But "in the face of this powerlessness, the power of God is revealed and with it the mystery of compassion." Archbishop Broglio commented that "the prophet as the man of God makes the divine presence evident and reveals the iniquity of the guilty, while he helps them develop their consciences."

He challenged his listeners to consider "the effect of the presence of the Lord Jesus in our midst." Because we "have experienced the presence of God," we must "give evidence of his action in our history," the archbishop remarked.

He said that "if we fail to appreciate [the] inestimable value [of human life] from conception to natural death, we can easily repeat what happened" at Dachau. He insisted, though, that "each of us, by our love and care," can leave a mark on the lives of others.

4. Is Violence a Contagious Disease?

Violence is contagious, according to Gary Slutkin, a physician who founded an effort known as Cure Violence and is a professor of epidemiology and international health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He contributed an article on violence in local communities to Health Progress magazine titled, "Is Violence 'Senseless'? Not According to Science: Let's Make Sense of It and Treat It Like a Disease."

Slutkin's article is one of several on various forms of violence appearing in the July-August edition of Health Progress, published by the Catholic Health Association of the United States. The articles can be located online at www.chausa.org.

"In many cities across the United States, we see a familiar scene unfold virtually every weekend," with dozens of youths between the ages of 15 and 24 being killed, Slutkin observes. He asks, What sense can be made of this?

"Science has proven for more than 50 years that people acquire behavior through imitation," he writes. "Because people copy behavior, it means behavior witnessed over time is contagious."

In short, says Slutkin, "violence is transmissible. It behaves like all epidemics. It has the exact characteristics of a contagious disease."

He comments that "it may seem counterintuitive, but if violence is transmissible, just like a contagious disease, that might be good news." For, "public health has an incredibly strong and proven track record of successfully reversing epidemics."

He asks, "Could the methods of changing behavior and social norms that physicians use to reverse epidemics work in addressing violence?"

Slutkin founded Cure Violence in 2000. In doing so, he writes, he used "a science-based methodology to understand human violent behavior and successfully interrupt and prevent its spread."

He explains that "in most high-violence communities in the U.S., the social norms youths encounter virtually require them to respond violently to petty grievances, acts of disrespect and small financial problems." However, he believes that "if new norms rejecting the use of violence or existing norms opposing violence are communicated repeatedly to everyone in a community, these new norms gradually begin to create a barrier to violent behavior that becomes difficult to overcome."

Law enforcement, gun control and other traditional responses to community violence do not represent the limit of what can be done about this challenge, Slutkin suggests. "A truly comprehensive and effective solution to the epidemic of violence must include a scientifically grounded public health strategy based on the essential principles used to fundamentally reverse other epidemics," he says.

"To truly care for people and communities," he stresses that "society must move beyond the antiquated notion that violence is committed by 'bad people' to recognize that violence is committed by people who have been exposed to violence."

He writes, "Equipped with the knowledge that it is a contagious human behavior, health-sector professionals can help reverse the problem of violence by serving as visible advocates for change and helping shift fundamental thinking among both policymakers and the general public."

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

After Britain's June Vote to Leave the European Union: "One clear lesson of history is that, in times of uncertainty, people instinctively crave the familiar. But such fear must not be allowed to breed mistrust of 'the other.' So many of the political, social and economic consequences of the result of the European Union referendum remain unknown, but, in less than a week, increasing reports of intercommunal discord and racial hatred are cause for the gravest concern. . . . Every person has the power to conquer their own instinct to apportion blame to others for perceived injustice. Today we call upon every citizen of our great country to recognize personal accountability for their every action, rather than avoiding that responsibility by looking for scapegoats, and to challenge racial and communal prejudice wherever it is found and thus ensure that we are, more than ever, a country united." (From a letter published jointly in The Times of London by Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and Maulana Syed Alie Raza Rizvi, president of Majlis-e-Ulama Shia Europe.)

What the Cross Implies: "[The cross of Jesus] is not an ornamental cross or an ideological cross, but it is the cross of life, the cross of one's duty, the cross of making sacrifices for others with love (for parents, for children, for the family, for friends and even for enemies), the cross of being ready to be in solidarity with the poor, to strive for justice and peace. In assuming this attitude, these crosses, we always lose something. We must never forget that 'whoever loses his life [for Christ] will save it.' It is losing in order to win." (From remarks of Pope Francis for the Angelus in St. Peter's Square June 19.)

6. Pastoral Action for Real Marriages and Families

If the church's pastors and teachers follow the lead of Pope Francis when they discuss marriage and family life, they will "deal with reality -- not the family as we want it to be, but as it truly is," Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis wrote in a series of June and July columns on "The Joy of Love" (Amoris Laetitia), the papal apostolic exhortation released in April.

His columns appeared in The Criterion, the archdiocese's newspaper. In them he frequently quotes and paraphrases the papal document's many observations on the meaning of love in marriage and the concrete challenges confronted in marriage and family life today.

To the extent that the church's pastors and teachers "have presented marriage and family life as 'a lifelong burden' rather than what it truly is -- 'a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment' -- we are guilty of what" Pope Francis calls "idealization," the archbishop commented.

He pointed out that the pope concluded a chapter on "The Experiences and Challenges of Families" by thanking God for all the families that, as he put it, "are far from considering themselves perfect" but nonetheless "live in love, fulfill their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way."

He himself "grew up in such a family," Archbishop Tobin said. In his ministry, he added, he has "encountered thousands of these 'holy families.' They aren't perfect, but they are loving and forgiving (most of the time), as Jesus taught us."

Sacramental grace does not somehow make married couples "perfect or impervious to sin," and the church does not teach that it does, the archbishop explained. But that, he continued, is "why families that are serious about their love and fidelity to each other, and their witness to the world, are strongly urged to participate fully" in the church's sacramental and communal life.

Archbishop Tobin insisted that "we cannot shy away from the truth as we understand it, but we also cannot use it as a means of 'denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness.'"

He added that "openness to grace must always accompany our presentation of doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues," and that "we dare not give the impression that marriage and family life are too difficult to live faithfully today. God's grace and mercy are always with us."

7. Love Is Good, But Also Hard

The church views marriage "as a community of life and love, with love at the very heart of what it means to be a family," Archbishop Joseph Tobin wrote in his reflections on "The Joy of Love" (Amoris Laetitia) for The Criterion, the newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

"The Joy of Love" is the apostolic exhortation Pope Francis published in April. It reflects on and responds to the work of the world Synod of Bishops in its 2014 and 2015 sessions.

He commented, "For our purposes here, it's enough to say that the vocation of marriage and family life is to teach love -- both within the family circle and as a witness to others, including extended family, neighbors and friends, the larger church and society as a whole."

For, in the plan of God "the family is a 'school of love' and a 'domestic church' that bears witness to the intimate and loving relationship that exists between God and his people."

"Love," the archbishop said, "is good, but it's also hard." In marriage, he noted, love "requires patience, generosity and self-sacrifice." But while "love requires self-sacrifice," it never is "bitter or resentful." The reason is that true love "is filled with hope" in the future.

Thus, "love never gives up," but relies on God for strength when "our human weakness causes us to fail," the archbishop said.

"To be loving," he wrote, "means to look beyond our own wants and needs to the good of another -- especially when this kind of self-giving is difficult for us." And "love abhors the suffering of others," he wrote. "It responds with gentleness and compassion to all forms of injustice."