‘It happened to me!’
May 20, 2011
Over the course of the years my good friends have dubbed me a “newsaholic.” I devour the news, be it via the newspaper, TV or magazines. On the local level, news reports in the morning and at night often recount crimes committed. We hear them, read about them or see crimes reported so often that they become almost ordinary.
Unless something truly horrible takes place, a crime report becomes just another part of the litany of the trials and tribulations of modern times. I know that I am certainly susceptible to that litany. These sad events become simply a backdrop for us. We are like distant observers, disconnected from their effects and how they touch people’s lives. Our passive response to crime seems to be the routine of life.
Until that routine is broken and the crime involves either you or me.
If you saw the newspapers or watched the local news last week, you know that it happened to me!
Issues of justice
Every morning it is my joy to celebrate Mass with my brother priests and seminarians at St. Paul Seminary. Every morning I routinely don the vestments used for Mass, finished off by my zucchetto (the magenta-colored beanie worn by bishops in liturgical ceremonies) and my pectoral cross.
The pectoral cross is worn over the neck and rests on the center of the vestments near the heart. It is symbolic of a bishop’s love for Jesus and his church.
Last week, I went through my usual routine and, when I opened the drawer where my zucchetto and cross are usually stored, the cross was gone. First, I thought I may have accidentally misplaced it. Then I noticed that a portion of the green and gold cord upon which it hangs around the neck was deliberately snipped with a remnant left behind. It became pretty clear to me that something deliberate had happened. The pectoral cross had been taken. It appears to have been stolen.
Now as you can well imagine, I was terribly upset. Not simply because of the monetary worth of the cross, although that is not slight. The cross bears significance for me. It was a gift given by my mom and dad upon the occasion of the 30th anniversary of my ordination as a priest in 2005. As a matter of fact, it was the last ordination anniversary gift given to me by my parents before my mother’s death. Moreover, it was blessed by Pope Benedict XVI on the very day he was elected pope on April 19, 2005.
When a crime happens to someone else, we feel sorry for the person. We hope they get their property returned. We might even hope the thief gets what he deserves in justice. Or we just shrug and shake our heads.
But when it happens to us, we get a different understanding of how painful crime can be. And issues of justice — and issues of forgiveness — take on a whole different perspective.
Since I discovered my own loss, I have given a great deal of thought to how it feels to be the victim of a crime. I must admit over the course of these days I have become far more compassionate with so many people who have been the victims of crimes far worse than the one that left me so. I began to sense ever more deeply the true grief that comes with that experience.
I also began to realize that the news reports you and I hear each morning and each night, the reports of crime that we read in our newspapers or see recounted in news magazines, ought not to be for us as followers as Jesus Christ simply a matter of “news.” These reports are meant to call forth in each of us a deeper sense of compassion — and I might add compassion not only for those who are victims, but also for the victimizers.
The question of why
As I began to think for a moment whatever might have prompted whoever it was who took my pectoral cross, I reflected that such an action is not at the basic foundation of who God has created us to be. God has made us in his image and likeness. God has given us the capacity to love. God has afforded us the opportunity to do good. And when anyone — including you and me — does something that goes against the nature of which God has created us, there must be a serious, albeit disordered, reason.
In the case of the one who took the cross, could it be a matter of being addicted to drugs? Could it be a need for money to pay rent or buy food? Could it be a result of some sort of anger? On the other hand, could it simply be greed?
Only God knows! But it seems to me that it is up to you and me, followers of Jesus Christ, to continue to look for ways that help decrease crime and to be compassionate with those who are victims of crime. But we must also support whatever it takes to rehabilitate those who are inclined to commit crimes.
We are called to forgive those who harm us. But in so many ways that forgiveness is meant for us as well. Forgiveness can help to ease our hurt, ease our grief. The forgiveness of those who have victimized us does not free them from the responsibility for their action. As we know in the sacrament of penance, forgiveness begins in our recognition that an action was wrong, our admission to that wrong and our expressed desire not to take part in that wrong again.
Over the course of these days, my mind went back to where my thoughts were several Fridays ago when you and I had the opportunity to hear, reflect and pray over the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember the criminals on either side of the Lord? To both, Jesus sought to show compassion. But he also sought to help them admit their wrong and turn away from it.
That action on the part of Jesus is repeated over and over and over and over again in your life and mine. With compassion God looks at the wrong we do, hopes that his grace will help us to admit it, and encourages us with his love to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
Yes, “it happened to me!” Please pray for me, that I may use this painful experience in my life not to condemn, but to become much more like our dear Savior, whose cross stands for something far better.
P.S.: At this printing, while the detectives are following some leads, the cross is still missing.