By Barb Arland-Fye, Editor
Father Jim Vrba, a retired diocesan priest, gave a homily last weekend with a poignant reference to a grieving mother whom he believes exemplifies a Beatitude in Matthew’s Gospel: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” The mother, RowVaughn Wells, called for people to protest peacefully in response to the death of her son, Tyre Nichols, following a brutal beating by Memphis police officers. Her request, made in the depths of searing pain over the loss of her beloved son, challenges us to take the Beatitudes off the pages of the Gospel and to live them in our daily lives.
Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, father and FedEx employee, died Jan. 10 in a hospital, three days after the inexplicable beating. Five Black Memphis police officers have been fired and charged with murder and other crimes related to Nichols’ death. Bodycam and surveillance videos have been released that media outlets say show an unprovoked attack. Father Vrba appeared to choke back his emotion as he described Wells learning that her son, beaten just a short distance from her home, had cried out her name and she didn’t hear him.
Yet, she did not choose vengeance or hatred to assuage her grief. During a candlelight vigil on Jan. 25, the day before the release of the videos, Wells told the gathering: “We want peace. I want each and every one of you to protest in peace. If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully. …” During a news conference a day later, her husband, Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, said, “We do not want any type of uproar, any type of disturbance. That’s what [the] family wants. That’s what [the] community wants. Please, please protest, but protest safely” (LA Times, Jan. 27). In that same news conference, his wife asks plaintively, “What happened to humanity and kindness?”
We live in an era of intransigence, where few people are willing to compromise for the sake of the common good. We live in an era of suspicion, where the other person or other party’s motives are always suspect. A commitment to living out our Catholic faith — in deed and not just word — in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Christ, is the way out of this quicksand.
In a Jan. 22 diocesan presentation on the Eucharist as a source of solidarity, professor Micah Kiel of St. Ambrose University in Davenport quoted St. John Paul II. The late pope observed that reception of the Eucharist gives us “the strength to commit ourselves ever more generously, following the example of Christ. …” Thus, “One’s neighbor must therefore be loved, even if an enemy, with the same love which the Lord loves him or her; and for that person’s sake one must be ready for sacrifice, even the ultimate one: to lay down one’s life for the [other]” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, No. 38, 40).
Last Sunday’s Gospel (Matt. 5:1-12a), introduced Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which we will listen to during weekend Masses for the next several weeks. In our preparations for Lent, we ought to re-read and reflect on the Beatitudes. Bishop Robert Barron, reflecting on the Beatitudes in his Jan. 29 Gospel reflection, said, “At the heart of Jesus’ program are these Beatitudes: ‘Blessed are the merciful’ and ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ These name the very heart of the spiritual program, for they name the ways that we participate most directly in the divine life.”
No one said that Jesus’ teachings are easy. We may fail in our attempts to be peacemakers, to practice mercy, to be clean of heart. We continue to pick ourselves up, as Jesus did under the weight of his cross and as RowVaughn Wells is doing under the weight of the loss of her beloved son.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor