Wednesday, July 17, 2013


People have asked me my thoughts on the killing of Trayvon Martin and the trial/verdict of George Zimmerman, and here they are.  But this is not a coherent essay:  I have no coherent thoughts at all, only random reflections…

I have no idea what really happened that night when Trayvon Martin was killed, other than that George Zimmerman shot him.  Was it self-defense?  Was Trayvon high on “drank”?  Was it criminally liable over-reaction on the part of George Zimmerman?  I don’t know.

Did George Zimmerman “profile” Trayvon Martin?  Probably; sadly, so do I, all too often.  Do you?  The news media also profiled in their original pictures of a happy, clean-cut and young Trayvon versus a seedy-looking George Zimmerman.  Were they playing the “Here’s the picture; now you know the answer” game?

Could there not have been a conversation, that night, to the effect of “Hey, you—what’re you doing here?”  “Hey, man—I live here.”  “Oh. OK.”  Why did this conversation not happen?

Shooting seems extremely excessive in the context of a fight.  Was Trayvon on top?  How?  Was he unarmed?  Yes, but how badly must a person be beaten before he/she is justified in considering his/her life seriously threatened?  And how badly was George Zimmerman beaten, in fact?

I’m sure there was a procedural answer to this, but I don’t know it:  why only six jurors?  And why were they all women?  People think the jury was stacked in Mr Zimmerman’s favor, but the prosecution had rights to strike jurors—why were they satisfied with this make-up?

Would a lesser charge have been more “provable”?  I’m thinking reckless homicide, for example, rather than 2nd degree murder.  When someone is dead by mistake, it seems that there should be some form of punishment or retribution or recompense… (unless, of course, you are OJ Simpson:  “If the glove don’t fit…”)

Trayvon has been compared to Emmit Till and Medgar Evers.  The first comparison is a stretch; the second is ridiculous.

Was the cause of justice served by this decision?  Of course—“justice” is whatever the justice system hands down.  That doesn’t mean the cause of right was served. 

I love the comment of the Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida:  “I want to live in a world where George Zimmerman would have offered Trayvon Martin a ride to get out of the rain that night” (paraphrased). 

Once again, the bottom line:  I don’t know what really happened that night.  But I am terribly sorry that it did happen.  A boy is dead; his family is devastated; a man’s life is in shambles, and he is unsafe now, wherever he is.  No one wins, in spite of the verdict. 

Are we still racially focused as a country?  Of course we are (witness our greater obsession with Latinos as undocumented aliens).  We need to get beyond this kind of moral myopia.  Speaking of immigrants, Pope Francis’ comments are germane here:  “Where is your brother?” God asked Cain after the murder of Abel.   “Who was neighbor to the man who fell in with thieves?” Jesus asked the scholar of the Law.  We need to learn that different doesn’t have to involve a “better or worse” judgment; rather, one of complementarity.  What I need, you may well have.  St Paul, millennia ago, warned the Corinthians about this attitude:  the body must have many parts, all different, all complementary, in order to function. 

When he finally dies, I would love it if George Zimmerman had to meet Trayvon Martin and engage in a “truth and reconciliation commission” sort of sit-down as his “purgatory.”  Insofar as Trayvon is innocent and George is guilty, he’ll have to ask forgiveness, and Trayvon will be able to grant it; and if the situation is the opposite, the roles will have to be reversed.  But may they enter the Kingdom together, the two of them better off than most of us are here now.

Friday, July 5, 2013


This will not be the most popularly approved blog-post I ever write, but I hope at least that it will not generate hate-mail, even as it will generate posts that strongly disagree.  That’s OK.

Is it too fast for a declaration of the sainthood of Pope John Paul II?  My personal take is that the answer is yes, especially in the context of a Church for which “one day is like a thousand years…” (II Peter 3:8).  After all, it has been only 8 years since that April in 2005 when John Paul passed to the judgment seat of God and the throne of grace (Romans 14:10; Hebrews 4:16).  Blessed (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta has been dead since 1997, after all, and it was 66 years before Ignatius Loyola was “raised to the altars.” 
Some will object that John Paul is not worthy of canonization because of his failure to deal effectively and comprehensively with the evil of sexual abuse of minors by clergy.  And no doubt he did not, especially with regard to Marciel Degollado of the Legionnaires of Christ.  I am willing to entertain the possibility that this was less because of lack of moral fiber and more a matter of lack of understanding.  He was, in my mind, similarly myopic with regard to the plight of the sufferings thousands in Central and South America—too convinced that “preferential option for the poor” was Marxism ‘writ large.’  He had little time, for example, for Archbishop Oscar Romero.  And even after his martyrdom (I use the word deliberately) he somehow remained persona non grata at the Vatican.  A Polish pope would be expected to have no time for anything that resembled the philosophy of communism.  I will always wonder, though, when and to what extent the effects of the Parkinson’s really “kicked in” and deprived him of the focus, energy and acumen he’d once had—without which perhaps he could not face the problematic realities of the Church.  Even a cursory reading of his encyclicals shows this:  when he was in his fullest powers his writings were heavily philosophical (think Laborem Exercens); later, the encyclicals were more and more readable (think Centesimus Annus or Ut Unum Sint).

Nevertheless, I am also sympathetic to the point of view that people can be mistaken in their thoughts and behaviors and yet also holy people.  This veers dangerously into the area of personal piety as a “trump card” for public awareness and conduct, but the alternative is equally dangerous:  the thought that all saints must somehow be perfect in all things (and, by implication, on the basis of their own efforts). 
Yet there was an incredible charisma about Pope John Paul II—manifested in his world-wide pastoral visits and the beginning of World Youth Day.  I was in Rome for World Youth Day 2000, and I cannot begin to describe to you the emotional and spiritual impact I felt in watching the Holy Father at the evening vigil at Tor Vergata.  Nor will I ever forget watching the video of his climbing to the Western Wall in Jerusalem to place there a prayer asking forgiveness.  And I will remember as long as I live the day he was shot and almost killed.  I will savor with deep gratitude visual of his going to forgive and speak with Mehmet Ali Agca in prison.  He was deeply in love with the Blessed Mother and the Church (perhaps in large part because of the loss of his own family at so young an age?).  The devotion was infectious.

So do I have a “love-hate” relationship with Pope John Paul II?  No.  But I do have a “love-wait” relationship.  Let history play itself out a bit longer, I would have said.  But having said all that, John Paul II will forever also have an emotional place in my heart.  After all, I sang for him!  And I pray the inspiration he will effect in others’ hearts will be the full flower of his motto, Totus Tuus—I am completely yours, Lord:  no matter what the cost.