Dear Friends,

On behalf of the clergy, religious and faithful in the Diocese of Scranton, I take this opportunity to send heartfelt greetings to our Jewish neighbors who will begin the Passover holiday on Saturday evening.

In the Jewish liturgy, Passover is known as the season of freedom. At this sacred time of year, even in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, please be assured of my prayers for all of you during these Holy Days as I rely on your prayers for me.

I reaffirm the recent words sent by Pope Francis to the Jewish people of Rome: “May the Almighty, who has freed His beloved people from slavery and led them to the Promised Land, accompany you even today with the abundance of His blessings.”

Blessings and peace,

Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera
Bishop of Scranton

 

 

 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous grief and fear in our country and world over the last year, leaving more than 500,000 dead in the United States alone.

“I want to be clear and concise in my pastoral guidance regarding COVID-19 vaccines. Given the grave danger this virus poses, it is morally acceptable to receive any of the current COVID-19 vaccines that have been determined to be clinically safe and effective. This position is supported by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“People should not delay getting a vaccine. Receiving a vaccine not only protects an individual’s health but also serves the common good by protecting the community – including the weak and vulnerable.

“While fully recognizing the complex moral and ethical issues involved in vaccine development, at this time, most people are not being given a true choice of which vaccine they receive, and likely won’t be able to make such a choice without a lengthy delay.

“Given that risk to public health, the faithful can in good conscience receive any of the current vaccines.”

To view the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s December 2020 Note on the Morality of Using some anti-COVID vaccines, please click here.

 

PCC ISSUES STATEMENT ON VACCINE

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference today responded to questions that many people have asked about whether it is permissible to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

When people have no choice about which COVID vaccine to receive, it is morally acceptable to receive any vaccine they are offered. This is based on the December 2020 guidance from the Vatican, stating that “when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”

The position of some bishops in Pennsylvania has been inaccurately reported in some news media, resulting in confusion among Catholics and the public.

Our position has never changed, nor has that of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which said, “While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”

In essence, we recognize that at this time individuals are not given a choice of which vaccine to receive and that this should not prevent Catholics from getting vaccinated as soon as possible.  Catholics may in good conscience, receive any vaccine, in order to protect themselves.  Once again, being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is based in Harrisburg and is the public affairs arm of PA’s Catholic bishops.

 

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

A year ago, as we prepared to celebrate Ash Wednesday and our annual observance of Lent, we were just beginning to come to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic that was quickly enveloping our world. By the end of the Third Sunday of Lent – barely mid-way through this season of conversion and hope – life seemed to come to a standstill. We were forced to embrace traditional Lenten observances in unique ways from our homes instead of in our churches. We struggled to find a way forward in the midst of global suffering, pain and uncertainty.

For me, one of the first glimmers of hope that we experienced during those initial days of the pandemic emerged from a unique and singular moment in the life of our Church that you may recall. On the evening of Friday, March 27, 2020, on the threshold of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Pope Francis walked alone into an empty, rain-slicked Saint Peter’s Square for an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi Eucharistic Blessing of the people of the City of Rome and of the entire world.

Reflecting upon the passage from Saint Mark’s gospel that found the disciples in a boat that was being tossed about by an intense storm and Jesus, asleep, with them in the boat, Pope Francis recounted the words of our Savior, “‘Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’”

The Holy Father continued, “Lord, you are calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. Your call reverberates urgently: ‘Be converted!’ Return to me with all your heart.’”

Brothers and sisters, this Lent the Lord extends the same invitation to us: “Be converted! Return to me with all your heart! Do not be afraid!”

This invitation is even more compelling, given what we have experienced during the past year. While countless numbers of us have known untold physical and emotional pain, loneliness and, in some instances, the grief that comes from the loss of those we love, our very ability to reflect upon the past twelve months is a powerful sign of God’s presence in our lives. Jesus has been and continues to be with us in the midst of the storm, consoling, sustaining and assuring us of his abiding love and mercy.

How vital it is that we use these sacred days of Lent to deepen our relationship with Jesus, who first called us to journey with him through faith! In his 2021 Lenten message to the Church, Pope Francis reflects upon this unique moment in human history, “In these times of trouble, when everything seems fragile and uncertain, it may appear challenging to speak of hope. Yet, Lent is precisely the season of hope, when we turn back to the God who patiently continues to care for his creation.”

Our hope is strengthened and our relationship with Jesus is deepened in a particular way through our embrace of the traditional disciplines of Lent, as noted in the sixth chapter of Saint Matthew’s gospel, proclaimed each year on Ash Wednesday. The simple practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving become profound reflections of our efforts to embrace the example of Jesus’ selfless love in our own lives.

On the First Sunday of Lent, we will once again welcome catechumens into the ranks of the elect; those from our midst who have begun the journey of conversion and who will soon experience the saving power of Jesus in the Easter mysteries of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. Their “yes” to the Lord’s call gives us hope and should encourage us to recommit ourselves to the vows that were made at our own baptism. Their “yes” reminds us that we too are called to look beyond ourselves to something more in life.

Finally, one of the great gifts given to us by the Church to assist us in our response to the Lord’s invitation to conversion and renewal is found in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To provide for the celebration of this Sacrament in a generous manner, once again, all of the parishes of the Diocese of Scranton will participate in The Light Is On For You. While ensuring that every effort is made to continue to keep our people safe, on every Monday evening during the Lenten season, beginning on the first Monday of Lent, February 22, and continuing through Monday of the last full week of Lent, March 22, confessions will be heard in every parish from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. – or at a time that best suits the needs of a particular parish community.

My friends, Lent calls us during these challenging times to recognize that God is ever faithful and present, particularly amid the storms that envelop our fragile world and broken lives. May we be humble enough to open our lives to God’s merciful presence and walk with him on a life-giving journey of conversion and renewal.

Please know of my prayers for a fruitful observance of Lent.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton

 

Statement of the Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, on Inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

January 20, 2021

As our Nation inaugurates its 46th President, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and Vice President Kamala D. Harris, I encourage the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton and all people of goodwill to join me in praying for our Nation and its new leaders.

At a time when our country is facing not only a global pandemic, but also division and hostility, we must all pray for peace and unity. No matter our differences, we are one human family, our brothers and sisters keepers.

As Catholics, we are called through Baptism to imitate the servant leadership of Jesus Christ. May our Merciful God grant all of our leaders the wisdom, courage and compassion to protect and defend religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the rights of all citizens, especially the most vulnerable.

Together, let us pray to our Heavenly Father that President Biden, a native son of Scranton, may have the strength and courage to carry out his duties and lead our nation in ways of peace.

 

Statement of Bishop Joseph C. Bambera

As Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, I am delighted to extend prayerful congratulations to Bishop-elect Larry J. Kulick, who has been appointed  by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to become the sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg.

As a native of the Greensburg Diocese, Bishop-elect Kulick has proven to be a humble servant of the Lord Jesus. He will undoubtedly continue serving the faithful with a genuine and caring heart as he assumes his new ministry.

I join with the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton in praying for Bishop-elect Kulick.

Pope Francis Names Monsignor Larry Kulick of Diocese of Greensburg as Bishop of Greensburg

Msgr. Larry J. Kulick, the diocesan administrator of the Diocese of Greensburg, Pa., is seen in this undated photo. Pope Francis appointed him bishop of Greensburg Dec. 18, 2020. (CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Greensburg)

December 18, 2020

WASHINGTON—Pope Francis has appointed Monsignor Larry James Kulick as the Bishop of Greensburg. Monsignor Kulick is a priest of the Diocese of Greensburg who has been serving as Diocesan Administrator of the diocese since September 2020.

The appointment was publicized in Washington, D.C. on December 18, 2020 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. The Diocese of Greensburg has been a vacant see since July 2020 following the appointment of Bishop Edward C. Malesic to Cleveland.

Bishop-elect Kulick was born on February 24, 1966 in Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania, and ordained to the priesthood on May 16, 1992 for the Diocese of Greensburg. Monsignor Kulick graduated from Saint Joseph High School in Natrona Heights. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy (1988) and a Master’s degree in Theology (1992) from Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and a Licentiate in Canon Law (JCL) from The Catholic University of America in Washington in 2012.

After ordination, Father Kulick was assigned to Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg as parochial vicar where he served until 1995; he was assigned as parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception parish in Irwin from 1995-1997. In 1997, he was named pastor at Parish of the Good Shepherd in Kent, where he served until 2004, and pastor at St. Joseph parish in New Kensington from 2004-2008.

From 1996-2001, Father Kulick served on the diocesan Priests’ Council as a consultant on priestly vocations. From 2008-2012, he served as co-episcopal master of ceremonies, co-director of the Office of Clergy Vocations and co-director of the Permanent Diaconate Office for the Diocese of Greensburg.

Since 2012, Bishop-elect Kulick has been pastor of Saint James parish in New Alexandria, while also serving as a judge, defender of the bond, and advocate in the diocesan tribunal. During the same period, he has also served as vicar general, moderator of the curia, and acting chancellor for the diocese. He received the title of Monsignor by his office as Vicar General of the Diocese of Greensburg on May 21, 2014. Bishop-elect Kulick has also served as a member of the Administrative Board for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and as chaplain for the Council of Catholic Women.

The Diocese of Greensburg is comprised of 3,334 square miles in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and has a total population of 659,596 of which 126,649 are Catholic.

 

 

November 16, 2020

In response to the Holy See’s publication of its report on former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, issued the following statement:

“The long-awaited report from the Holy See is an important document that brings greater transparency and accountability to the decision-making process regarding Theodore McCarrick. I am grateful to Pope Francis for following through on his commitment to make public this two-year investigation, despite its difficult content. I believe it is critical that we have an honest accounting of what transpired.

This report is yet another reminder of the sin of sexual abuse within the Church. The release of this voluminous report has rightly sparked a wide range of emotions, ranging from shock to anger to frustration. Even one case of sexual abuse is one too many. No matter one’s rank, privilege or prestige, nothing gives them the right to abuse their power.

This report will no doubt be upsetting to those who have suffered sexual abuse, as well as their loved ones and friends, given the failures and missed opportunities that are outlined. I believe this report highlights and emphasizes the need for all of us to take seriously any rumor of abuse or improper behavior.

I remain committed to supporting all survivors of sexual abuse. I hope all people of good will join me in praying for healing and reconciliation within the Church. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Scranton I encourage you to immediately contact law enforcement. Survivors are also encouraged to reach out to the Diocese’s Victim Assistance Coordinator.

 

 

Dear Friends,

As we prepare for our annual celebration of Respect Life Sunday on October 4, 2020, we do so at a moment that is unprecedented in its focus on care for the human person.

For over eight months, our world has waged war with a virus that has currently attacked more than 29 million people and has left close to a million deaths in its wake. In the process, we have engaged behavior that has isolated us one from another and prompted actions from wearing masks to shuttering churches, schools, stores and factories, all in an effort to protect and preserve human life. In the midst of such upheaval and pain, as a nation, we have also been forced to confront the ongoing reality of racism, which continues to raise its ugly head and tragically disregards the same lives that we are trying to protect from the global pandemic.

Ironically, these challenging realities that prompt us to focus on efforts to preserve and respect life continue to unfold in our own land amid a climate of polarization that has bitterly set lives against one another. And all of this division is fueled by an election cycle that only seems to complicate our search for truth and justice for all.

The theme for this year’s Respect Life commemoration is Live the Gospel of Life! Sadly, a reflection on the current reality of life in our land reveals that as a nation and people, we have yet to embrace and respect human life in its totality as we should. In an introductory letter to the US Bishops’ teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholics, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Bishops quote Pope Francis’ words taken from his exhortation, Gaudete et exultate, as he addresses our role as disciples of Jesus in confronting the struggles of our time:

Your identification with Christ and his will involves a commitment to build with him that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace. … You cannot grow in holiness without committing yourself, body and soul, to giving your best to this endeavor.

The call to holiness that the Holy Father references requires that we, as Catholics, stand firm in our respect and reverence for the human person as the very foundation of a moral vision for society. As such, in that same letter, the US Bishops affirm that “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed. At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”

The Bishops stress that “our efforts to protect the unborn remain as important as ever, for just as the Supreme Court may allow greater latitude for state laws restricting abortion, state legislators have passed statutes not only keeping abortion legal through all nine months of pregnancy but opening the door to infanticide. Additionally, abortion contaminates many other important issues by being inserted into legislation regarding immigration, care for the poor, and health care reform.”

The upcoming election provides us with a vital platform through which we, as Catholics, can give voice to core Gospel values rooted in the dignity and worth of every human person, having been created in the image and likeness of God.

While Church leaders have often been accused of siding with one party or another, the fact remains that no one candidate perfectly reflects the broad and encompassing social and moral teachings of our Catholic Church. As such, it is incumbent upon us as Christians that, regardless of party affiliation, we thoughtfully and prayerfully vote for those candidates for office who not only personally reflect but clearly support legislation upholding our obligation to live the Gospel of Life.

In examining our consciences and in seeking to inform them in a responsible manner according to the tenants of our Catholic faith, may we be encouraged in our efforts by the words of Saint John Paul II in his encyclical, Christifideles Laici:

The right to health, to home, to work, to culture is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

Brothers and sisters, our responsibility as disciples of Jesus is clear. We are called to live the Gospel of Life. We do so, however, not solely by speaking of our resolve to respect human life or by self-righteously criticizing those whose beliefs may appear to be different than our own. We do so by treating one another with reverence, respect and dignity as children of God. We do so by serving the broken lives and hearts that God has placed in our midst, whomever they may be. And this year, in particular, we Live the Gospel of Life by exercising our right to vote for those candidates who best respect the dignity and worth of all those lives that will be entrusted to their care.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton

 

Dear Friends,

As we prepare for our annual celebration of Respect Life Sunday on October 4, 2020, we do so at a moment that is unprecedented in its focus on care for the human person.

For over eight months, our world has waged war with a virus that has currently attacked more than 29 million people and has left close to a million deaths in its wake. In the process, we have engaged behavior that has isolated us one from another and prompted actions from wearing masks to shuttering churches, schools, stores and factories, all in an effort to protect and preserve human life. In the midst of such upheaval and pain, as a nation, we have also been forced to confront the ongoing reality of racism, which continues to raise its ugly head and tragically disregards the same lives that we are trying to protect from the global pandemic.

Ironically, these challenging realities that prompt us to focus on efforts to preserve and respect life continue to unfold in our own land amid a climate of polarization that has bitterly set lives against one another. And all of this division is fueled by an election cycle that only seems to complicate our search for truth and justice for all.

The theme for this year’s Respect Life commemoration is Live the Gospel of Life! Sadly, a reflection on the current reality of life in our land reveals that as a nation and people, we have yet to embrace and respect human life in its totality as we should. In an introductory letter to the US Bishops’ teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholics, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Bishops quote Pope Francis’ words taken from his exhortation, Gaudete et exultate, as he addresses our role as disciples of Jesus in confronting the struggles of our time:

Your identification with Christ and his will involves a commitment to build with him that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace. … You cannot grow in holiness without committing yourself, body and soul, to giving your best to this endeavor. 

The call to holiness that the Holy Father references requires that we, as Catholics, stand firm in our respect and reverence for the human person as the very foundation of a moral vision for society. As such, in that same letter, the US Bishops affirm that “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed. At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”

The Bishops stress that “our efforts to protect the unborn remain as important as ever, for just as the Supreme Court may allow greater latitude for state laws restricting abortion, state legislators have passed statutes not only keeping abortion legal through all nine months of pregnancy but opening the door to infanticide. Additionally, abortion contaminates many other important issues by being inserted into legislation regarding immigration, care for the poor, and health care reform.”

The upcoming election provides us with a vital platform through which we, as Catholics, can give voice to core Gospel values rooted in the dignity and worth of every human person, having been created in the image and likeness of God.

While Church leaders have often been accused of siding with one party or another, the fact remains that no one candidate perfectly reflects the broad and encompassing social and moral teachings of our Catholic Church. As such, it is incumbent upon us as Christians that, regardless of party affiliation, we thoughtfully and prayerfully vote for those candidates for office who not only personally reflect but clearly support legislation upholding our obligation to live the Gospel of Life.

In examining our consciences and in seeking to inform them in a responsible manner according to the tenants of our Catholic faith, may we be encouraged in our efforts by the words of Saint John Paul II in his encyclical, Christifideles Laici:

The right to health, to home, to work, to culture is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination. 

Brothers and sisters, our responsibility as disciples of Jesus is clear. We are called to live the Gospel of Life. We do so, however, not solely by speaking of our resolve to respect human life or by self-righteously criticizing those whose beliefs may appear to be different than our own. We do so by treating one another with reverence, respect and dignity as children of God. We do so by serving the broken lives and hearts that God has placed in our midst, whomever they may be. And this year, in particular, we Live the Gospel of Life by exercising our right to vote for those candidates who best respect the dignity and worth of all those lives that will be entrusted to their care.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton

 

June 5, 2020

In the immediate days following the brutal killing of George Floyd, the world reacted with horror to the images of his struggle to breathe and to hold on to life. Countless numbers of individuals from throughout our country and world offered words of condemnation, sorrow and grief. I penned my name to a statement along with six other U.S. bishop chairmen of committees within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Peaceful protests ensued in cities and towns throughout our land with participants crying out for an end to the injustice of racism and the hatred associated with that sin.

For me, however, the message and power of this time of upheaval and pain were most vividly captured in the visit of Terrence Floyd to the makeshift memorial located at the site of his brother’s killing. Floyd knelt for a moment and then, surrounded by signs that simply said “Black Lives Matter,” rose and addressed the gathered crowd with these words, “My family is a peaceful family. My family is God-fearing. … Let’s do this another way. Do this peacefully, please.”

Terrence Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, reacts at a makeshift memorial at the spot where he was taken into custody in Minneapolis June 1, 2020. Demonstrations continue after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video May 25 pressing his knee into the neck of George Floyd, an African American, who later died at a hospital. (CNS photo/Lucas Jackson, Reuters)

The combination of Terrence’s spoken message with those three words, “Black Lives Matter,” teach a lesson that we would all do well to sear into our minds and hearts. Floyd challenged the crowds to speak to the injustice of his brother’s death “peacefully,” echoing the very words of Jesus in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” The silent, printed words proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” captured an essential component of the Gospel message. Black lives do matter. For black lives, like every life, are made in the image of our Creator. And as such, peace will only come to pass when every life is treated with respect and dignity as the gift of God that it is.

As I watched George Floyd’s brother continue to address that crowd in Minneapolis and challenge them to a peaceful way forward, I couldn’t help but wonder what so many of those who listened to his words were thinking. I wondered if many of them feared to walk in their neighborhoods simply because of the color of their skin. Considering our history, particularly in recent years, I cannot imagine what it would be like to grow up as a young black man in America today.

It occurred to me at that moment, more than ever before, that Terrence Floyd’s call for peace in the face of the brutality and sin that so mercilessly snuffed out the life of his defenseless brother, far from being political or ideological as some might suggest, was nothing short of a plea for justice in our land. His words were a reminder to all of us that as a people who have proclaimed so boldly the absolute value of human life from the moment of conception until natural death, every life in between is just as deserving of respect and reverence.

We Christians are proud to assert our commitment to life. Sadly, however, we often lose our focus upon this noble cause – by the violence, looting and destructive elements that have infiltrated the peaceful efforts of so many who rightfully seek justice and equality – or by a host of other distractions that many of us do subtly or even unknowingly until we turn inward and examine ourselves. In turn, we can begin to pick and choose what is worthy of respect and what is not, at least in our own minds. Yet, nowhere in our faith tradition is it ever suggested that we are meant to determine who is worthy of redemption and who is not. That is a task left to God alone.

May we be humble enough in the face of division to admit our need for conversion as we seek to confront the evil of racism in our land. May we resolve at this moment in our lives and in our history as a nation to embrace the call of Isaiah the prophet to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks and so labor for God’s gifts of peace, reconciliation and unity. And may we finally begin to live with authenticity the one command of Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

 

Catholic priests from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis join African American clergy June 2, 2020, to march and pray at the site where George Floyd was pinned down May 25 and died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Bishop Joseph C. Bambera’s Reflection on George Floyd’s Death
June 5, 2020

In the immediate days following the brutal killing of George Floyd, the world reacted with horror to the images of his struggle to breathe and to hold on to life. Countless numbers of individuals from throughout our country and world offered words of condemnation, sorrow and grief. I penned my name to a statement along with six other U.S. bishop chairmen of committees within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Peaceful protests ensued in cities and towns throughout our land with participants crying out for an end to the injustice of racism and the hatred associated with that sin.

For me, however, the message and power of this time of upheaval and pain were most vividly captured in the visit of Terrence Floyd to the makeshift memorial located at the site of his brother’s killing. Floyd knelt for a moment and then, surrounded by signs that simply said “Black Lives Matter,” rose and addressed the gathered crowd with these words, “My family is a peaceful family. My family is God-fearing. … Let’s do this another way. Do this peacefully, please.”

Terrence Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, reacts at a makeshift memorial at the spot where he was taken into custody in Minneapolis June 1, 2020. Demonstrations continue after a white police officer was caught on a bystander’s video May 25 pressing his knee into the neck of George Floyd, an African American, who later died at a hospital. (CNS photo/Lucas Jackson, Reuters)

The combination of Terrence’s spoken message with those three words, “Black Lives Matter,” teach a lesson that we would all do well to sear into our minds and hearts. Floyd challenged the crowds to speak to the injustice of his brother’s death “peacefully,” echoing the very words of Jesus in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” The silent, printed words proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” captured an essential component of the Gospel message. Black lives do matter. For black lives, like every life, are made in the image of our Creator. And as such, peace will only come to pass when every life is treated with respect and dignity as the gift of God that it is.

As I watched George Floyd’s brother continue to address that crowd in Minneapolis and challenge them to a peaceful way forward, I couldn’t help but wonder what so many of those who listened to his words were thinking. I wondered if many of them feared to walk in their neighborhoods simply because of the color of their skin. Considering our history, particularly in recent years, I cannot imagine what it would be like to grow up as a young black man in America today.

It occurred to me at that moment, more than ever before, that Terrence Floyd’s call for peace in the face of the brutality and sin that so mercilessly snuffed out the life of his defenseless brother, far from being political or ideological as some might suggest, was nothing short of a plea for justice in our land. His words were a reminder to all of us that as a people who have proclaimed so boldly the absolute value of human life from the moment of conception until natural death, every life in between is just as deserving of respect and reverence.

We Christians are proud to assert our commitment to life. Sadly, however, we often lose our focus upon this noble cause – by the violence, looting and destructive elements that have infiltrated the peaceful efforts of so many who rightfully seek justice and equality – or by a host of other distractions that many of us do subtly or even unknowingly until we turn inward and examine ourselves. In turn, we can begin to pick and choose what is worthy of respect and what is not, at least in our own minds. Yet, nowhere in our faith tradition is it ever suggested that we are meant to determine who is worthy of redemption and who is not. That is a task left to God alone.

May we be humble enough in the face of division to admit our need for conversion as we seek to confront the evil of racism in our land. May we resolve at this moment in our lives and in our history as a nation to embrace the call of Isaiah the prophet to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks and so labor for God’s gifts of peace, reconciliation and unity. And may we finally begin to live with authenticity the one command of Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).