Editor's Note: We also pray for the victims and their families in the wake of the Nice, France, attack. May God comfort all in need.
As Americans reacted to news that a black gunman killed five white police officers in Dallas, reportedly in retaliation for recent, controversial police shootings of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, President Barack Obama sought to calm the surge of fear and despondency that swept the nation.
“I’m here to say we must reject such despair. I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem,” said Obama in his address at the July 12 memorial service for the slain policemen.
Former President George W. Bush also gave voice to the stunned horror sparked by the killings. “The shock of this evil still has not faded,” said Bush in his remarks at the Dallas memorial service.
“At our best, we honor the image of God we see in one another,” Bush continued. “At our best, we know we have one country, one future, one destiny. We do not want the unity of grief, nor do we want the unity of fear. We want the unity of hope.”
We all yearn for hope as we witness the darkness that can capture a man’s soul and lead him to plot the death of innocent people. And a hunger for hope fuels our search for a political savior worthy of our trust, a man or woman who can put our broken nation back together again and secure our place in an uncertain world.
During perilous times, it is natural to turn to our political leaders. But if there is any lesson to be found in this difficult time, it is that politics is not ultimate: The real Source of our hope will be found far from the corridors of earthly power.
“[L]et us gather at the cross of Jesus. Our Savior suffered at the hands of humanity’s worst impulses, but he did not lose hope in us or in his Heavenly Father. Love overcomes evil,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offering the Church’s response to the tragic news.
The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ remain the foundation of our hope, not only because we, the faithful, believe that the Son of God has conquered sin and death, but because his word and ministry affirm the love of the Father for his people. When we face the reality of evil in the world, or confront the crushing fear that our beloved nation is headed in a downward spiral, Scripture tells us of the Father’s care for each human person, the only creature “made for its own sake.”
Yet the daunting events that overshadow this Jubilee Year of Mercy test our trust in the Father. Christian leaders grappled with these and other challenges earlier this month at the annual Napa Institute Conference, which helps Catholic leaders defend their faith in “today’s emerging secular society.” Timothy Gray, the president of the Augustine Institute, a Denver-based apostolate that forms Catholics for the New Evangelization, suggested in his Napa address that our doubts arise from a failure to trust in the merciful heart of the Father. We turn to Jesus, but we fear the Father’s wrath, and so keep our distance when we are most vulnerable.
Key events in salvation history reveal “how Divine Mercy was central” to the Father’s plan for his people, said Gray.
In the Book of Exodus, after the Israelites forgot the Lord and worshipped the golden calf, Moses went back up Mount Sinai to receive this striking message: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7).
That celebration of God’s mercy is repeated throughout the Bible, yet modern believers continue to fear God. People don’t question “God’s intelligence,” Gray pointed out. Instead, each of us ponders “whether or not God cares for me in my weakness and anonymity.”
Answering this question is not only central to our own faith life, but a necessary first step to evangelizing a culture that has drifted away from God, yet yearns for the hope that only he can provide.
The story of the golden calf offers insights into the Father’s ways that are applicable to our present predicament, said Gray: “It is precisely when the people of God have been stripped of their pride and self-sufficiency that God can do great things.”
There was a time in this country when a shared belief in God and his teachings provided the glue that secured our experiment in ordered liberty. Indeed, faith leaders, from the 19th-century abolitionists to Martin Luther King Jr., inspired the nation to overcome slavery and defend the civil rights of black Americans.
Today, however, polls suggest that Americans are more likely to place their trust in the things of this world and ignore the inconvenient truths that demand sacrifices for the sake of the common good. We worship the golden calf of self-sufficiency, even as we witness the unraveling of our republic.
It is an old story. Providentially, this Year of Mercy helps us remember that our deepest trust belongs to the Father.
“We fail to realize that the cross is the effect, not the cause, of God’s mercy,” said Gray. “The cross is the Father’s plan, not a change in his plan of justice and wrath, but the fruition of his mercy.”
Divine Mercy, perfectly revealed in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, leads us to affirm the divine image in others, whether or not they are of our race, economic status or political party. Our conversion of heart will send us on a path to share this saving truth with others in ways that can inspire real changes in their own lives and in the culture. Most importantly, it will give hope.
“Our hope does not lie in the man we put in the White House,” said evangelical pastor Rick Warren, the best-selling author of The Purpose-Driven Life, who also spoke at the Napa Institute. “Our hope lies in the man we put on the cross. No party has ever elected a savior for me. Only Jesus is our Savior.”