Sadly, Saturday a week ago, while we were enjoying our annual Parish Golf Outing (for the benefit of our school), the world was stunned by the news of what took place in a Pittsburgh synagogue on the Jewish Shabbat (or Sabbath). Once again, a crazed individual took upon himself the role of judge and executioner, passing sentence based solely on the hate in his heart. Eleven worshippers were killed, and several others injured as gunshots rang out in a setting that is normally set aside for prayer and worship of the one, true God. This past Tuesday, I was invited along with my fellow ministers, rabbis and imams and our city’s mayor to participate in an ecumenical prayer service at Temple Sinai in memory of those victims, as well as for peace, consolation and reconciliation. The following is the text of my address to the over 200 participants:
The words of the ancient Psalmist rise from our hearts: “I have become like a broken vessel. I hear the whispering of many – terror on every side! – as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God’.” (Ps.31: 13-15)
At this sad moment of our lives, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence — silence in which to remember; silence in which to try to make some sense of the tragedy which has befallen us — which contradicts the essence of being called “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” — silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible repetition of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’
My own personal reflections at a time like this recall repeated visits to the memorials of the Holocaust at Auschwitz and Majdanek in Poland, Dachau in Germany and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, recalling what happened when the Nazis tried to take away the goodness God created in men’s hearts and replace it with their godless ideology and anti-Semitic hatred upon too many innocent victims. Though more than half a century has passed since, terrible memories remain.
Tonight, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of all those who suffer the pain of loss. The voices of eleven men and women cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they experienced in Pittsburgh. It was at a time when they should have been at peace in God’s House, chanting and praising Him for the new life He created rather than screaming out in horror at the tragedy that the Evil One had unleashed instead. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can ignore what happened. No one can diminish its impact upon our society.
We wish to remember those eleven victims with a firm purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail. But each time we take two steps forward, it seems we fall one step behind. How could anyone have such utter contempt for man? Perhaps it is because he/they had reached the point of contempt for God. Only a godless person could plan and carry out the execution of so many innocent people who came on their Shabbat to worship their God, not knowing it would be their last one on earth.
But not even in our darkest hour is every light extinguished. That is why the Psalms, and the entire Scriptures, though well aware of the human capacity for evil, also proclaim that evil will not have the last word. Out of the depths of pain and sorrow, the believer’s heart cries out: “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God’.” (Ps 31:14)
Jews and Christians share an immense spiritual patrimony, flowing from God’s self-revelation. Our religious teachings and our spiritual experience demand that we work to overcome evil with good. For us, to remember is to pray and work for peace and justice, and to commit ourselves to their cause. Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the terrible crimes brought on by hatred and a virulent anti-Semitism.
As a Catholic, I am deeply saddened by any hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against my Jewish brothers and sisters at any time and in any place. I pray that our society will each and every day recall that the image of the Creator is inherent in every human being (cf. Gen 1:26). I fervently pray that our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people suffered in Pittsburgh will teach us to forge a better relationship between Christians and Jews. I hope that out of this tragedy will arise a spirit of mutual understanding that we are all walking together on a pilgrimage to God, albeit each in our own way, but conscious of the need for all to work together, making that path and journey easier for the generations to follow. I pray that there will be no more anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, or anti-Muslim feelings among people of good will, but rather the mutual respect required of those who adore the one Creator and Lord and look to Abraham as our common father in faith.
The world must heed the warning that comes to us from the victims of this or any life-taking tragedy. Let the memory of those whose lives were lost live on and sear itself onto our souls. It should make us cry out: “I hear the whispering of many – terror on every side! – But I trust in you, O Lord; and I say, ‘You are my God’.” (Ps 31:13-15)