Helicopters are roving above my youth ministry office mid-afternoon on Holy Thursday. Our parish secretary makes an announcement through the intercom that our pastoral coordinator is putting us on lock down until further notice. There is an active shooter near us.
"Again?," I say quietly as I notice myself becoming more tense. It was only three months ago that this very same thing happened. I was here in this office during the San Bernardino shootings in December when helicopter after helicopter hovered above us searching, waiting, and watching for the wedded terrorists who were now in Redlands. I tried to keep myself preoccupied with work, but I just couldn't do it. Again? I had just lost a dear friend from the last shootings. Who was I going to lose now?
I began praying the Divine Mercy chaplet. It has been my go-to prayer since I started serving in youth ministry. It reminds me to be merciful to myself and merciful to others especially during times when it is very difficult to be...like now.
The first decade, I pray for the hostage the shooter is threatening to kill that she may be set free. The second decade, I pray for all those around him that no one else is harmed. The third decade, I pray for all of us currently in our office that we, too, can be safe from all evil especially the threat of violence. The fourth decade, I pray for the shooter that he may be merciful to the hostage and all the people around him, and the fifth decade, I pray for myself that I can learn to forgive the unforgivable. Does not God forgive us for everything we have ever done? Are we not, also, called to extend our mercy to those who have hurt us? Who have confused us? Who have terrorized us? Who have shaken our worlds to the core? I know very well that the answer is YES.
We encounter evil every day. Some we are fully aware of. Some not. Some we choose to ignore, and some, we have even done before. With all the darkness we experience in the world around us including within ourselves, the question that plagues many of us is the one that I had to pray through on Holy Thursday- Where is God?
My faith in Him was not shaken. The question itself does not reveal a lack of faith, but instead, it reveals a yearning for Truth, for Love, for Hope. I knew that He was here in this moment and in all moments, and that He has not left me, the hostage, the victims, and yes, even the shooter.
Where is God? My mind kept probing the word where. As I pondered this very question, St. Teresa of Avila's inspired poem came to mind:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Where is God? He is here among us. He is in me. He is in our friends. He is in our enemies. He is in the stranger, the poor, the immigrant, the mother, the son, the store clerk, the waiter, the downcast, the joyful, the rich, the powerful, and the weak. He is in the hearts of every person He has created. He is in YOU.
God has created each and every one of us after His own image and likeness (Genesis 1:27), and His Spirit dwells within us. For it is written, "I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them" (Ezekiel 36:27), and "...I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jeremiah 31:33).
Evil exists not because God has abandoned us. Evil exists because we have abandoned God. Each time we give in to temptation, we reject love, we reject goodness, we reject peace and ultimately, we reject God. We choose darkness over light and hatred over love. Our desires become more important than others and more important than God. Evil exists because many of us continue to allow it to prevail over our hearts.
God gives us free will- the freedom to choose between right and wrong, good and evil. Although God has placed His Spirit within us and have written His law of love in our hearts, each one us has the freedom and responsibility to choose to ignore Him, reject Him, or love and obey Him. Our choices have consequences as enumerated above. Our choice to gossip breaks the spirit of the person who is being slandered. Our choice to view pornography distorts how we see people and detrimentally affects our future relationships.
What is the Good News? Just like our immoral/bad choices have negative consequences, our moral/good choices have positive consequences. Our choice to visit our aging parents/grandparents lifts their spirits and renews their purpose in life. Our choice to forgive frees us from the bonds of hatred, bitterness and resentment and provides a pathway to peace and reconciliation.
The Good News is that God is here and He has never left! The brutal death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday was not the end of His story and certainly, not the end of ours, His Church and His Body. The reason why Easter is the holiest day of our liturgical calendar is because Christ rose from the dead! If any of His followers still doubted that He truly is the Son of God, His Glorious Resurrection was and is the greatest sign that Jesus Christ is what He professed to be- the Son of God and God, Himself! Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana. He miraculously healed lepers, the blind, and the sick. He conquered death and brought forth life. In the midst of darkness, He did not lose faith, hope, or love. Instead, He became the embodiment of them all. He did not succumb to darkness; He used it as an opportunity to bring light into the world through His Divine Love and His Divine Mercy!
The Good News is that Jesus gave us His Spirit at Pentecost so that we, too, can be a light in this world of darkness! "'God is Love' and love is his first gift, containing all others. 'God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us'" (CCC 733). We are called to continue His mission of sharing love and mercy to every one we encounter, even those we find most difficult.
Where is God? He is in us, but we have to choose to allow Him to live through us. We, the Church, are His body! Yesterday, Pope Francis' Easter message was this: to use the "weapons of love" to combat the evil of "blind and brutal violence." God has given us these "weapons of love" through the power of the Holy Spirit and through His sacraments. We have everything that we need to shed light on this world that often seems so dark. We can be the difference, and we are not alone in this fight. Christ already paved the way for us. We just have to choose to follow Him by picking up our own crosses and living each day and each moment with love.
Where is God? He is in YOU. Every time you choose to be kind to a stranger, you are shedding His light and dispelling the darkness of this world. Every time you choose to give to the poor, you are sharing His love with them. Every time you stand up for those who are being bullied, discriminated against or abused, you are acting out His need for justice. Every time you forgive the unforgivable, you are revealing His mercy to those who need it most.
May our struggles with the darkness of this world be transformed by the love and mercy of Jesus who shows us through His Passion how to forgive and through His Resurrection how to live with great love! May we conquer evil with love and be emblems of His light now and forever!