September 9, 2016
St. Peter Claver
I remember many great milestones in my life. I'm sure many people do. There are important moments in the lives of people, or groups of people, or even entire communities and nations that we can point to as being memorable and transforming moments.
I recall being a little boy and getting my first little league baseball jersey. I was so proud to be part of a team, and to be able to imitate my professional baseball hero, Chicago’s own Frank Thomas, also known as “The big hurt.” I remember entering middle school, and then high school. I finally felt like I had moved out of my childhood and into young adult hood. I got my drivers license and I was free. I turned 18, and against my parents wishes I took full advantage of my legal rights and I bought a pack of smokes. We all know what happened a few years later when I turned 21. Oh boy. Lord have mercy! And the most important milestone of my life happened on July 26, 2014 as I was given the gift of solemn profession of vows as a Capuchin Friar.
On the evening news here in Chicago two nights ago, the top story reported that Chicago had achieved a milestone of its own. We just passed our 500th gun related homicide this year!this means Chicago has more gun related deaths than Los Angeles and New York combined. Unlike many milestones, this is one we should be ashamed of. During the recent Labor Day holiday there were another 22 shootings. One of the several fatalities in this group was an 80 year old gentleman who lived in a retirement community. The killing seems random and totally indiscriminate. The possible targets range from small children sitting innocently on their front porch enjoying the summer heat, to the elderly who are finding respite from the heat in what should be a safe community setting.
The milestones in my life have all been fairly benign and generally happy experiences. Here in the city, the souls of our children, and our brothers and sisters are being harvested well before their prime. These children will never get to experience their first little league game, or the adventures that a 21st birthday extravaganza can supply. More importantly, they have been robbed of the opportunity to reach an age where they can reflect back on significant milestones in their lives. This has all been snatched away from so many of God’s children here in Chicago.
I don't presume to have the answer to this problem. Anything I can say would most certainly be unsatisfying, especially to the families living day to day in these violent war torn streets. What I pray for is that we can figure out some way to usher in a new era of healthy milestones that speak of peace and reconciliation. Perhaps, with Gods help, the headlines in 2017 and beyond will tell us about the marked decrease in violence and deaths, and will highlight community leaders who have emerged to help call forth the gifts of their peers in a way that provides hope and security. Until then, the only thing my brothers and I can do is to insert ourselves into these communities to encounter these people. We assure them they are loved and are beautiful in God’s eyes. Perhaps a quick sandwich and hug. Perhaps a small act of simple mercy will be a milestone someone can remember fondly.
St. Paul tells us that we need a renewal of our minds, and we must not conform to this age (Rom 12:2). Conversion of hearts and minds is the only way out of this mess. We need to bring to reality Pope Francis’ revolution of tenderness in a city and a government that seems content with hearts of stone (Eze 36:26). Our babies are dying. Our future leaders are dying. Let us ask for the strong intercession of St. Peter Claver to intercede for the city of Chicago, and all places of this world that are being destroyed by evil.