The first thing I noticed when I recently flew into Texas is the flags at half-staff. The second thing I noticed is churches with open doors. In Dallas, where I happened to be a few days after the Sunday shooting in Sutherland Springs, a funeral was going on when I walked through the doors of St. Catherine of Siena Church, looking for a midday Mass. It was holy business as usual, as it continues to be in churches throughout the country, many of them united in prayer with their brothers and sisters in Christ, who suffered the largest mass shooting in a church in United States history.
Listening to Frank Pomeroy, the pastor of First Baptist, the site of the shootings, we seem to see the antidote to evil: The witness of people of hope. Because they’ve encountered redemption, they have a freedom from fear, even as they confront some of the greatest of human fears. In the hours after the shooting, which included the murder of his youngest child, Pomeroy declared an act of faith in his most vulnerable state, still leading his church with example of trusting in God’s providence, telling reporters: “I don’t understand, but I know my God does.”
Speaking of that Christian hope on display in Pomeroy, the now pope emeritus Benedict said in 2007: “It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love — a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free.”
On Thursday morning at St. Dominic’s in San Francisco (I was moving around a bit this week), the priest celebrating the 8 a.m. Mass said: “This is a safe place, where you can commune with God.” Days after the massacre in Texas, to anyone who just happened to be walking in without context, it may have sounded like an act of defiance or a tempting of fate. His homily explained the significance of the day on the church calendar, marking the dedication of the basilica of John Lateran in Rome, the official seat of the bishop of Rome — the pope. This year, it seemed to have so much more added meaning — about why we have such sacred spaces and what they’re meant for: a strengthening of mission, to show the world why faith is important and what it’s all about.
Pope Francis visited Colombia this summer, and one night while in Bogota, a group of children and teenagers waited for him as he returned to where he was staying. One girl named Maria said to him: “We want a world where vulnerability is recognized as essential in the human. That far from weakening us, strengthens and dignifies us. A place of mutual encounter that humanizes us.”
“Vulnerability is the essence of the human person,” he responded to her, visibly moved. “We are all vulnerable,” he said, “all of us. Inside, in our feelings, there are many things that do not work inside us, but no one sees them. And others we see, all of them. And this vulnerability needs to be respected, caressed, healed as far as possible, so that it bears fruit for others. We are all vulnerable.”
Faith and hope mean seeing the world as it is and the human person as it was created, and wanting to love people while helping them reach that same understanding. We’re all united with the people of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in our vulnerability, and don’t we pray to display the same kind of hope in the face of all evil?