June 21, 2020

Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jer 20:10-13, Rom 5:12-15, Mt 10:26-33

The theme of our readings today seems to be, “Do not be afraid.” Our gospel reading begins with, “Jesus said to the Twelve: ‘Fear no one.’ “ And a few lines later Jesus repeats, “So do not be afraid.” The prophet Jeremiah in our first reading describes a situation that ordinarily would induce fear. He writes, “ ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” But with his exemplary faith and trust he is able to rise above the fear and state, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.”

I recently read an article on Lifesite News written by the wife of a policeman who was on duty during the riots. The author’s name was Lisa Stover and she works for Lifesite News. She and her husband have two small daughters.

Early in the article, she states, “The recent actions of Officer Chauvin against George Floyd were despicable and horrible. . . . I don’t know anyone out there saying that what he did was right or justified—because it wasn’t. His actions are a stark example of the mental health crisis in law enforcement that has been left unchecked and ignored for far too long. The mental health and PTSD resources available to law enforcement officers and their families are severely lacking.”

And regarding the topic of “fear” that is in our Mass readings today, Lisa had this to say, “The death threats that families of law enforcement officers are receiving, the threats of instigators terrorizing the homes of law enforcement officers, and the complete hatred of what police officers represent has instilled an incredible fear in me as a wife of a police officer that I cannot shake.”

She describes how when she heard of the riots in Minneapolis she never dreamed it would affect things in other cities too, and especially her city and neighborhood. Her husband left for work the day after the Minneapolis riots. Lisa writes, “I hadn’t heard from my husband for a few hours since he left for work, which was unusual. I had just put the girls to bed when I saw the announcement that civil unrest had broken out where my husband works. My mind immediately went to the worst-case scenario.”

Mrs. Stover continues, “Shortly after I learned what was happening, I began receiving messages from other police wives asking if anyone had heard further details on what Officers were working the riot, what was happening, or when we might expect to hear from our husbands. It was terrifying. I was shaking. I was in tears. I couldn’t sleep. I was trying to put bits and pieces of information together to figure out what was going on.”

The riots in that area subsided at 3:00 am and she finally heard from him. He had been hit by rocks and bottles that had been thrown at him and the other officers as they held the line. He was sworn at, yelled at, flipped off, and spit on. He got home from his shift at 8:00 am, slept for three hours, and then had to return to work to hold the line again at the riots.

Lisa shares, “The unknown of what was about to happen was draining. I scrolled social media and saw news reports, stories, and pictures of what riots in other cities had done. My husband’s parents went for a walk in their neighborhood where they came across graffiti that read, ‘Good cops are dead cops,’ ‘Kill cops,’ and ‘Save a life. Kill a cop.’ I was overwhelmed with the weight of hatred and division that had taken over our country overnight.”

The article continues:

I heard of rioters targeting the homes of police officers by tracking down their addresses and marking homes that showed signs that a police officer lived there. Their goal was to terrorize the homes of officers and threaten officers and their families. This was my new reality.

That night, while my husband was holding the line at the riot where he works, a riot two miles from our home went south and there were rumors of the rioters’ plans to come into our neighborhoods. A shelter-in-place order was issued for our area until morning. It was especially terrifying because a few of our neighbors are police officers, which made our neighborhood a target. My fear was no longer just for my husband’s safety on the frontlines, but for my kids’ safety. I was terrified and yet at the same time had to find the strength within me to protect my family if the rioters came into our subdivision. I put my girls to sleep in my bedroom with me, since it’s on the backside of the house, and grabbed our guns and extra ammo to keep at my bedside in case I needed them for self-defense.

Could this same mob violence and hatred that Lisa Stover experienced toward her husband and all law officers be directed someday toward Catholics? Could Catholic churches become the target of looting and pillage and burning? Might we one day have to flee our buildings and go hide in the woods? I was talking to one of the monks here and he said the thought of Catholic churches being attacked flashed across his mind when he saw news coverage of the recent rioting. Because we take a hard stand on issues like homosexuality, abortion, transgenderism, fornication, divorce, and remarriage, artificial contraception, masturbation, pornography, maybe we would be seen as something that was inhibiting them from doing whatever they wanted, like police officers? Of course, it would be framed in terms that on the surface seem to justify their violence, like “Catholics hate gays” or “Catholics oppress women”. The way things are going, especially with the latest Supreme Court’s decision regarding discrimination for sexual orientation or sexual identity, we might find ourselves having to live out in the woods sooner than we think.

So, should we start worrying about that and let fear grip our lives? The main message of our readings today is No! Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows. Don’t fear those who can kill the body only and not the soul. Fear God who has the power to destroy both. If we are on the same side as him and following his commandments and teachings, we can live in peace of mind and banish all fear and anxiety.

It doesn’t mean that there won’t be any persecution. Jeremiah experienced it in our first reading. The Apostles experienced it. The first three centuries of the Church experienced it. There are plenty of Christians today who are experiencing persecution, like in Pakistan and China. God will give us the grace and fortitude and courage and wisdom that we need when the time comes. In the article, I cited Lisa Stover took courage in the example of St. Maximilian Kolbe. We too can have our confidence buttressed by the heroic witnesses that have gone before us and that the Church holds up for our example and inspiration.

So, do not live in fear and anxiety. Keep a clear conscience and live in tranquility.