As I woke up to a cool morning here in Tenosique, my heart was jolted back to the United States at news of the horrible massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Churches, movie theaters, schools, and office parties have been par for the course when it comes to organized mass shootings, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before a gay club was attacked by the same breed of hatred and senseless violence that has targeted young children, students, and so many of others. And yet, there was something even more painful for me about this occasion. Something about the Orlando shooting elicited a visceral, sucker punch of a reaction.
Perhaps it was the sheer number of victims – 50 dead and just as many injured makes it the worst shooting spree in U.S. history. Perhaps I am just fed up by the ongoing violence and the obstinacy of gun-rights advocates who, while holding the Bible in one hand, clutch their AR-15s in the other. Perhaps it was the identity of the gunman, 29 year old Omar Mateen, who, while professing Islam, perpetuates the violent fundamentalism and terrorism of ISIS. Or perhaps I am just heartbroken by the realization that this most recent attack has targeted a group that is already so marginalized and vulnerable, looked down upon and judged by so many people, including people of faith.
Since arriving here in Tenosique, I have made it a priority to attend daily Mass, to share in the Eucharist with the humble people of this town. I do this for many reasons – but among them I’ve taken to using that moment of Communion as a way to bring the lives of our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters at La72 to the Table of the Lord, since so many of them cannot attend Mass for one reason or another. However, in the two weeks that Casey and I have been here, I have heard no less than three occasions of homophobic and anti-LGBT homilies from the priest at the parish. On a personal level, this has been heartbreaking for me who, having come to the Table, am confronted with bigotry, judgment, and ignorance. However, my heart, initially filled with anger and indignation at these offensive words, has been moved to pity. I do not fault or judge my brother friar priest for his insensitivity for I truly believe that if he knew the spiritual, mental, and physical violence inflicted on our LGBT brothers and sisters by his words, I am certain he would think twice.
And yet, I will not and cannot hesitate to condemn that same mentality of bigotry, judgment, and ignorance as the culprit behind the senseless violence we saw early this morning in Orlando. On the contrary, now more than ever, homophobia, bigotry, and violence must be decried and rejected by people of all faiths. It is a mentality of cowardice, of arrogance, and of hate. Whether said in pulpits, synagogues, mosques, or the office-water cooler, homophobic hate-speech inflicts and perpetuates spiritual and emotional violence against so many of our gay, lesbian, and transgender brothers and sisters. And as we so clearly saw this morning, it inflicts physical violence as well.
Similarly, our country’s over reliance on and affection for guns has reached pathological heights. How many more bodies must be identified and buried before we come to our collective senses and mourn at the loss of so many innocent lives? How many lovers and friends eulogized? How many children buried? Charleston, San Bernardino, and now Orlando – all of them and everything that led up to them is contrary to the Gospel of Life that all lovers of Christ follow.
The reactions from leaders and politicians after the Orlando shooting have spoken volumes. Many who are gun-rights advocates and who have levied judgment and condemnation against LGBT in the past have now emerged with similar tones of self-righteous, congratulations, and glee. Donald Trump has taken this occasion to gloat humbly, saying, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” Meanwhile, Lt. Governor of Texas tweeted, “Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Both of their responses, exhibiting a conceited sense of triumph and false humility, are devoid of true Christian compassion, empathy, and mercy.
Compare their responses to Pope Francis, who, being horrified by this event, condemned it shortly thereafter. According to the Holy See, “The terrible massacre that has taken place in Orlando, with its dreadfully high number of innocent victims, has caused in Pope Francis, and in all of us, the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation, of pain and turmoil before this new manifestation of homicidal folly and senseless hatred. Pope Francis joins the families of the victims and all of the injured in prayer and in compassion. Sharing in their indescribable suffering he entrusts them to the Lord so they may find comfort. We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence which so deeply upsets the desire for peace of the American people and of the whole of humanity.”
Matthew tells us, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.” And so it is the case with all of us when we are confronted with massive tragedies such as Orlando. Has our faith moved us to bear the fruits of sorrow, mercy, and compassion – or have we born fruits that rejoice at the death and violence faced by so many innocent lives?
May all Christians be so similarly moved to horror and condemnation at such senseless violence. May we reject the rot of homophobia and bigotry that infiltrates our spirituality, our faith, and our Church, and which bears the fruits of violence and hate in our lives.
To the victims of the Orlando shooting, to their friends, families, and loved ones, to the people of Orlando, and to all of my gay, lesbian, and trans brothers and sisters, I cry for you. I cry with you.
Amidst the poverty and suffering of the migrants and refugees during my time here in Tenosique, Psalm 130 has occupied a special place in my heart.
And so amidst the suffering and loss of Orlando, I offer it again.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord, hear my voice!
O let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleading.
If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,
Lord, who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness:
for this we revere you.
My soul is waiting for the Lord,
I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord
more than watchman for daybreak.
Let the watchman count on daybreak
and Israel on the Lord.
Because with the Lord there is mercy
and fullness of redemption,
Israel indeed he will redeem
from all its iniquity.