‘Disappointing” doesn’t even begin to cover the news lately. A man dies at the hands of police, and what could and should have been a righteous quest for justice broke out into destruction. What could have been a presidential prayer in sorrow and for wisdom and supernatural strength and protection became a profane misuse of a sacred text. And what was to mark progress in the United States of America’s commitment to some of the most persecuted in our world became an odd presidential visit, complete with misfired outrage, in response, from a spiritual leader who unnecessarily lashed out at one of America’s best charitable organizations.
This, needless to say, is a time of unrest. And one of the things that would seem to be bringing people together is the fact that black lives matter. May it be a stepping stone to a new appreciation that all lives matter, and that life is a precious gift.
But when you take a look at the Black Lives Matter website, you read an agenda that isn’t quite as unifying. There’s a hostility to the nuclear family — exactly the fundamental unit that I’ve been praying has been undergoing some healing during our coronavirus time together. We’ve seen a governor talking about the pricelessness of human life even while he has expanded legal abortion, kept abortion clinics open during a pandemic, and made decisions that proved to be grave for nursing-home populations (though they’re consistent for someone who supports assisted suicide). Our actions don’t always match our most unifying words. And in the case of Black Lives Matters, the “about” page on the website promotes a subversive agenda hiding behind euphemisms that somewhat brilliantly, if dishonestly, speak to the best of us.
And about that Bible photo-op: I can only hope they didn’t think this one out in the White House. There are so many disputes about what happened before, but to merely hold “a Bible” (not his, Donald Trump seemed to make clear) in front of the historic St. John’s Church that was torched the night before . . . Where was the black preacher to read from the Psalms? Where was the prayer for Divine assistance? Where was the quote from Martin Luther King Jr.? So many things could be done to help make a step toward peace, but, no. It was clear from social media that some did see it as a statement about religious freedom, but the communication wasn’t universally clear, to say the least.
Continuing with the awkward-at-best approach to these days, the president the next morning went to one of my favorite spots in the nation’s capital. Back when things were open to the public, I would often make a visit to the John Paul II Shrine to be reminded of the potential of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God. The exhibits there, thanks to the Knights of Columbus who run the Shrine, express the truth that all lives matter. John Paul II fought for us to see this, travelled the world so people could hear this. But when the president paid a visit there — which was originally to sign an executive order that could help uphold human dignity around the world, on the anniversary of John Paul II’s first visit to his suffering native Poland to proclaim Christ’s message of freedom — the White House cancelled the remarks that would have put it all in context. If you were watching live on C-SPAN, all you saw were the president and the first lady posing for pictures and looking at a statue outside the shrine. Only later did we see photos of them in prayer inside and speaking to a nun from the community to which St. Faustina Kowalska belonged, whose message is Divine Mercy.
Heaven help us, do we need mercy right now! We need to forgive one another and ask for forgiveness. How many of us have not been sensitive to the plight of our neighbor? How many of us have assumed things that aren’t quite true? Our expectations perhaps need to soften as we open up to walk alongside people in a new, more cooperative way. Black lives matter. Your suffering matters. And black and all lives deserve better than politically charged, civilization-upending agendas.
The Catholic archbishop of Washington said it was “baffling” and “reprehensible” for a Catholic institution to host the president that day. The event had been planned in advance, and after a few days of setting up the place, it would have been a breach of protocol, to say the least, to insist that morning that the president not come. The White House should have cancelled the visit for many reasons, including respect for the Knights of Columbus, whose commitment to the persecuted and the vulnerable of all colors and in all stages of life is a model for all of us, in any kind of leadership positions. Their commitment to black lives mattering includes the unborn, and the black community tends to be targeted the most by the abortion industry. (One of their responses to this week of unrest is a prayer novena for national unity and an end to racism.)
If we truly believe that black lives and all lives matter, we are going to have to consider what can unite us and quit being dishonest and bungling opportunities for healing. Reboot. Deep breath. Actually opening a Bible to pray. These are called for. These would help.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.