March 24, 2019

Details continue to emerge from the tragic shooting at the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. As I read the accounts of this senseless act of violence, I think of my Muslim friends here in the Vancouver - Portland area. I wonder how someone could have so much hate in their heart to randomly kill people at worship.

It is the same question that I know my Muslim brothers and sisters ask when they witness an act of terrorism perpetrated by someone who uses Islam to justify a sick and heinous crime not unlike what we witnessed in New Zealand.

Sometimes this level of violence, and what seems to be the daily occurrence of it, can be overwhelming. As people of faith, how do we respond to this? That’s the question that emerged in my prayer this past Monday morning, and it was on my mind at Mass that day.

Our seminarian, Val Park, who is here at our three communities for his Pastoral Year this year, was scheduled to reflect on the scriptures that morning. As part of his formation, Val has begun reflecting at daily masses a couple of times a week. On those occasions I don’t preach a homily and, after communion, Val offers his reflections.

That morning’s Gospel was Luke 6:36-38. That passage begins, “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven…”

It was hard for me to proclaim those words that day. What about those who target and kill innocent people, people who are at worship? Surely their actions have to be condemned. Surely we judge this to be a crime of enormous proportions. Surely this is a crime that must be punished.

After communion, Val shared his thoughts on this passage. While he did not mention this attack, and may not have even had it in his mind, he said what I needed to hear that morning. Val gave me permission to share this in my column this week.

In his reflection, Val related a conversation he had with his spiritual director about getting along with difficult people. Val shared how easy it is for us when we deal with a difficult person to say, “Man, how can a person who acts like that possibly have Jesus in them. I surely don’t see Jesus in them.”

His director said to him, “It’s not so much about trying to find Jesus in others, but rather, it is about seeing others through the eyes of Jesus.” Val went on to make some other very good points, but what I needed that day was that line: “…it is about seeing others through the eyes of Jesus.”

Certainly the perpetrator of this crime (and it appears that it was one man) must face justice. His punishment will most likely be very severe. His victims and their families will carry a burden that is unimaginable. We hope and pray for those he killed.

As a person of faith, Val helped me that morning. His words, and the insight of his spiritual director, don’t answer every question related to senseless violence and those who perpetrate it. But he gave me something to pray about and reflect on. He gave me a way forward. It is about seeing others through the eyes of Jesus.

May our Muslim brothers and sisters in Christchurch, New Zealand, and all victims of violence, be comforted by God’s life-giving love.

Fr. Gary Lazzeroni