Sometimes it feels as if we are prisoners of evil.
As a nation we seem to lurch from one tragedy to the next, from Columbine to Virginia Tech; from Tuscon to Aurora and on to Sandy Hook Elementary School.
And before we’ve even had time to process the killing of 20 children and six adults at that elementary school in Newtown, Conn., before the collective wound has had time to form an emotional scab, the “Breaking News” icons flash on the screen in front of us and we are told of another horrific place, another senseless act of violence.
This time it was in Boston, with scenes of carnage and photographs of a dead little boy and two young women whose lives ended just as they were beginning to live them. This time there are stories of lost limbs and a staggering number of victims — as well as tales of selflessness and heroism.
This time, in the midst of this most recent New England tragedy, we also learn that an apparently angry man has sent letters that might be poisonous to a U.S. Senator and the President of the United States. We also learned last week from the Southern Poverty Law Center, that in the years since 2009 the number of so-called “hate groups” in the country has increased by a staggering 600 percent.
The person who mailed the ricin-laced letters is being sought. One of the bombers has been killed; the other is facing terrorism charges. We’ve also learned that in the wake of the Boston explosions, some of our society’s greediest vultures — evil in their own right — started fake charities intended to line their own pockets. Then there was the horrific explosion in Texas.
It’s almost enough to make a person give in to despair and abandon hope altogether.
But our faith teaches us that hope is resilient; that hope does, in fact, spring eternal.
In a newspaper column last week, the Rev. Joseph Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church, noted that the planted bombs in Boston “force those of us who live in generally safe and happy worlds to consider how we contend with the presence of a rage that is bent on destruction for no explicit or implicit reason.” We face that rage, he noted, with the tools God has given us — faith, hope and love.
Hope “plays the long game,” the minister wrote, “and is not dependent on winning every skirmish in the battle. It reminds us that we are part of a whole that will continue long after our work is done.”
And love, he added, “is heaven’s lightning in a bottle. It illuminates the atrocity, exposes the evil and, like the sun, activates life.”
Last week while the Boston tragedy was unfolding, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz was in Birmingham where another cause for hope, some additional evidence of progress against an evil, was on display.
The archbishop was attending a meeting organized by Christian Churches Together to recognize the importance and impact of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s famed “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” That letter was written in April of 1963 and was Dr. King’s response to religious leaders who had urged him to negotiate and wait for courts to act to curb civil rights abuses.
Dr. King’s response — all 21 pages of it — was published in newspapers and magazines; it was never mailed to the religious leaders who had counseled restraint. In it Dr. King wrote words that became a mantra for those who fought for civil rights — he said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
In his remarks to the Christian Churches Together gathering, Archbishop Kurtz noted the work of the Catholic Church to overcome the evil of racism and quoted from the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Racism. It said, “racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God … and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”
“This gathering allows not simply a response in writing (to Dr. King’s letter) but also one given in living witness,” the archbishop noted. “Our living witness has three elements. Thus today, we must ask forgiveness for past wrongs, be grateful for words that have already borne fruit, and be resolved for more action.”
The churches represented in Birmingham have worked to overcome one form of evil, just as the rest of us must work to overcome the other evils that provide our lives with tribulations.
We would all do well to remember the words of Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good (people) do nothing.”