Today, April 16, 2021, marks the fourteenth anniversary of the devastating shooting on the campus at Virginia Tech. Back in 2007, I was a seminarian. In the wake of the shootings Bishop DiLorenzo summoned almost all the diocesan seminarians to Blacksburg to assist with pastoral care, and I have many powerful memories from that time.
Sadly, since 2007, our country has dealt with the impact of many more shootings. The circumstances are somewhat different, but in every case, survivors are left with serious physical, mental and emotional wounds, and families are left mourning the violent death of a loved one. They constantly need our prayers.
One factor which sometimes motivates individuals to act violently is their hatred of other people based on their ethnicity, background or skin color. In recent years the lingering presence of racism in our society has surged into the headlines and into our consciousness, and as Christians we are compelled to respond. An essential part of our mission is to cooperate with our Lord in bringing about the full realization of His Kingdom, and Scripture is clear that authentic, lasting peace is part of that. We praise God that He made ALL of us in His own image and likeness, and we’re called to recognize and affirm that beautiful reality in ALL those around us. (I encourage you to read the very brief document from the USCCB regarding systemic racism by clicking here.)
Recently, in this Easter season, I’ve been thinking about the theme of witness. It comes up often in our Scripture readings, especially in the Acts of the Apostles, which is our source for the first reading at most Masses during this season. The apostles have a very clear sense of their mission, which is to go and share the Good News of what Jesus accomplished for us through His suffering, death and resurrection. Of course, to speak effectively, they first had to listen. To communicate such an awesome witness in a way that would actually resonate with others, they first had to listen to what those others were facing. Expressing the Gospel message in response to the prevailing cultural situation has always been an essential component of evangelization.
We have the same apostolic mission, to communicate the saving message of Jesus Christ to those around us—and, like the apostles 2000 years ago, we also must listen. So as we share our witness, we also need to listen to the witness of others. It’s important to recognize the tremendous diversity that characterizes that witness.
I am not now, and will never be, black, Asian, female, Jewish, Hispanic, etc. For those people described by one or more of these or similar terms, I know they experience the world differently than I do, in large part due to the response from other people. I need to listen to the witness of different people—in fact, we all do. By profoundly listening to one another with open hearts, eager to receive and understand their witness, we’re laying the foundations for authentic peace where we live and justice and solidarity.
I see God from my own point of view. When others see God from different places, they have other perspectives, and can see things about God I can’t see. By listening to them, by understanding and incorporating their perspectives into my own faith, I’m better off, because I know much more about God than I did before. Let’s open our ears, minds and hearts to really, radically listen to the witness of others, and therefore be better witnesses of Jesus Christ because of it.