Guns – Another personal (but darker) Story

Blog by Rev. Ron Kurzawa

Previously, I shared with you the story of a time when, at least for a few hours, I actually possessed a gun.

This is a second story and this time about a gun that “possesses” me.

These days as we recall gun tragedies in schools, our stories go back usually to beginning with Columbine and the student massacre that took place there. And while it is probably true that the horrid tales of modern day school massacres should be traced to Columbine, the reality is that  there is to be found a long history of gun violence in our schools.

And while this is not a tale of mass shootings or multiple deaths, it is a tale of a gun tragedy in a school and in our time. It is the tale that, for me, personally, marks the saga of modern day school gun violence.

This story unfolds in late April of 1984 on the West Side of Detroit in Precious Blood Grade School.

It was Holy Week and for the students Easter Break was right around the corner. In fact the final half day of classes before the Great Easter Break was coming to its final minutes. No doubt, with Springtime and Easter heavy in the air, the excitement among the students had to be running very high.

Minutes to go!

And in the eighth grade classroom one  young lad at that moment proudly decided to produce a unique token of his excitement.

He had brought a gun to school!

And this, minutes before that final bell, was the perfect time to produce this item and allow his friends to be properly impressed.

And, indeed, they must have been.

All the while, that is, until, somehow that gun went off. That weapon discharged.

A single bullet.

Just enough to tear across the room and lodge in the skull of an unsuspecting eighth grade girl, a young lady named Kelly.

And in an instant Kelly was gone.

Dead!

I was the pastor of Precious Blood Parish at that time and, thus, that school was directly in my care. One of “my kids,” Kelly, was dead and still another, perhaps a couple of others, responsible for her death.

In an instant what had promised to be a calm and quiet few hours before entering the Easter Triduum suddenly turned into nothing short of a nightmare not just for me but for so many.

There were grieving, shocked parents and frantic, fearful parents and bewildered, dazed boys and girls and sirens everywhere and police and media and questions – questions mostly  with no answers right then.

Try, just try and sit down on an evening like that with parents who have just lost their daughter and try, just try and find some words to make sense!

And the next day, with media still hounding and legal authorities still searching for answers, that day that in our calendar is called Holy Thursday, I and the faculty and the parish staff spent in sessions with grief counselors, all just trying to put our own spirits and souls somehow back together.

And on that Friday which we call “Good” there was the usual Service that focused on that long-ago cross and death even as we continued to deal with a right-here-right-now senseless death.

In the evening the church building was filled to overflowing, not for prayer and worship, although there likely was plenty of that present in  hearts and minds, but rather for a neighborhood and community meeting to gather and talk about what had happened and how some healing might begin.

And in Easter Week – the Funeral!

And a whole lot of years have passed  since that moment, those days and yet, in all honesty, every time a new story of a school and youngsters and a gun or guns emerges, well, for me it is like tearing a bandage off an old wound and opening it yet again.

I continue to be called to grieve and so I do.

And as I do, I can only imagine what some parents are going through and some kids and some teachers and some First Responders. Sandy Hook! Uvalde! And so many others!

And I can also suspect that, even after all these years, there are those who were part of this story who, likewise, still feel the pain and those wounds. This sort of hurt just does not heal.

A single bullet has taken one life.

It has also wounded countless others.

I know.

I continue to be one of those.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Reflection on the Scripture, Acts 15:1-2, 22-29

Blog by Pat Schnee, OPA

How did you feel when you heard the report that Ukrainian forces had sunk the Russian battleship, Makarov?

My immediate response was YES!  Then I heard a journalist reporting that though it’s easy to make jokes given the history of that battleship, “Still, there were 500 sailors on board and many of them are now underwater.”  It was an important reminder.

Like many of us, I was raised on good guys and bad guys, cops and robbers, heroes who saved the day with “POW” and  “BAM.”  Characters who brought peace and justice through violence.

Now, I believe that in Europe right now Russia is a violent aggressor. And I believe that Ukrainians have a right to protect their homeland. And I believe that it is incumbent upon us to support them.  But I am also reminded that “War is Hell” and always to be mourned.

In today’s gospel Jesus tells his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” The peace that Christ gives is more than the cessation of violence, but a world where all share in the gifts of our Creator. It is an interior peace that grounds us in the knowledge that we are held in God’s hands and sustains us in the hard work for justice.

What can we do? Certainly, we can pray for peace at the international level. We can support political leaders who understand that the long-term effects of climate change makes large areas of the world unlivable and plants the seeds for violence. We can work at the local and national level to dismantle the structures of greed and racism which make human thriving difficult and peace impossible.

And we can remember the important truth that peace on earth begins with each of us. We can build bridges of dialogue with those with whom we disagree. We can speak our truth without being hurtful and belittling.

Today’s first reading tells us about an early controversy in the Christian community. And how staying with the conversation, dialog, and listening led to a resolution. Imagine how different Christianity would look today if Paul and those early Gentile converts had simply taken their marbles and gone home!

Posted in Associate Blog

Reflection for May 5, 2022 Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

Reflection by Anita Davidson, OPA

Acts 8:26-40
Jn 6:44-51

You’ve known Dennis and me now for 21 years and here’s something you never knew about us:  one of our children, Al, is non-binary.  That is, they identify neither as male nor female and prefer the pronoun “they.” This has been a very long process for them (and us) and a very difficult struggle  – within and without. They are now to the point where they will be having surgery to make the outside of the body match what they know to be true in the inside. Al has felt all their life that they are an outlier, not fitting in anywhere because they knew at some level that the way others saw them was not the reality of who they are.  Now that their outside presentation matches better the real Al, they find themselves an outlier for different reasons.  People simply aren’t comfortable with their androgynous look.  Once at a restaurant, we heard people nearby debating about Al’s gender – “Is that a boy or a girl?” Clearly, they were uncomfortable with Al and didn’t mind that Al or others around them knew it.  I know this isn’t an unusual experience in Al’s life. They hear things like this, and even more disparaging comments besides, on a regular basis.  The difference now is that who Al is presenting to the world is who they really are and they have much greater inner freedom and confidence.  We’re very proud of our beloved child.

Al’s story came to mind as I’ve been pondering our reading today from Acts – Philip’s encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch.  This unnamed person is Ethiopian which, in Greek, literally means “burnt face” and refers not to the country we know by that name, but to anyone with dark skin from a different place.  We have a word in English that I won’t say but it carries the same connotation. At best it means an outlier.

This person is a eunuch, a man whose genitals are removed, either by choice or not, so they can serve in the Royal Court of their country. This practice was designed to make them “safe” to be around the royal women. So considered not male, nor female.  An outlier.

We know this traveler is a Jew, or at least a Jewish inquirer, that is leaving Jerusalem after going there to worship. But because they are a eunuch, it probably means they were not able to participate in the same ways as typical Jewish men or women.  This person fit nowhere yet still chose to make the trip. A faithful outlier.

Philip himself is a bit of an outlier, too.  A few chapters before this he is chosen as one to serve at table rather than as a minister of the word.   Yet he feels called by the Spirit to go to a deserted road, chase after the chariot and speak to whomever is inside.  It’s not in his job description, but his deeper call is to serve the Gospel, so he follows his heart and his call not knowing if Peter and the others will support him in this or not; not knowing how open the traveler will be to what he has to share about Jesus.  He is drawn by a force stronger than those concerns into something beyond what he could have imagined.

Philip’s conversation partner is a person of wealth and authority as a member of the court and educated as they are reading aloud from the prophet Isaiah. Yet they are humble enough to admit that they need some guidance in understanding fully the meaning of the passage. And they accept Philip as a guide. Why? I suggest it’s because they recognize in him passion, excitement and deep faith in Jesus and his way of life.  They see Philip for who he is at his deepest level. Philip sees the traveler’s deep desire for Truth and understanding and speaks so eloquently and persuasively that the traveler is the one who says “What is to prevent my being baptized?”  I hear it almost as a challenge from someone who has been excluded for so many reasons.  Philip recognizes conversion when he sees it. He knows Jesus would never exclude this person for ANY reason and so jumps in the water and baptizes this newly minted follower of Jesus.  One can only imagine Philip’s surprise as he is transported to a distant location to continue preaching the Gospel.  How his ministry must have been transformed by this experience!  And we’re told that the traveler continued on their way with great rejoicing.  And why not?! Finally, they had experienced acceptance and inclusion.  They belonged to Jesus and his way of life. Their life was forever transformed by the Truth shared by Philip.

The God who sent Jesus drew Philip to the chariot and drew the traveler to Isaiah, then to Philip, then to Jesus who tells us in today’s Gospel: “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.” And “…whoever believes has eternal life.” And “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” EVERYONE. WHOEVER. NO EXCEPTIONS.

This has profound implications for us 21st century Christians as we live in a very divided, polarized world and find our church in the same state. Political candidates are claiming God as an endorser, and people of deep faith have differing opinions on nearly every issue. Christian denominations are finding themselves literally breaking in two over who can and cannot be ordained, and who can and cannot be married in their churches. Some Catholic bishops have weaponized the Eucharist by denying faithful members of the community the very Body of Christ because of what the bishops have judged as sinful opinions, and some clergy have used the pulpit to tell people who they must vote for if they are to be considered “good Catholics.”

We, as individuals, as followers of Jesus, faithful Catholics, and good Dominicans must, like Philip, hear a higher call.  We are Jesus’ body – hands, feet, eyes, voice – and as such, our responsibility is to reach out and share the Living Bread in whatever small ways we can with EVERYONE, WHOEVER we meet, and especially those, like our Al, who are considered outliers for a whole host of nonsensical reasons.  Somewhere, way down below all of our political, religious and personal differences, we are one.  We are, each one of us – gay, straight, celibate, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, black, white, Asian, Indigenous, Latinx, male, female or non-binary – we are all beloved children of God.  And that’s the message that we are called to preach with our lives.  There is no “them”, there is only “us”.  No outliers, only family members.  All are welcome here.

Posted in Associate Blog

Associates’ Blog

Blog by Karen Martens, OPA

The Bethany Mutualities, one of the oldest OPPeace Dominican groups, currently has 16 members. One of the members, Betty Schlotterer, recently shared the group’s history. In the early 1980s, Sr. Noreen Malone asked Betty and her husband George to serve on a committee charged with determining where God was leading the Dominicans and associated lay people in Columbus. The committee’s work led to a one year pilot program and the Bethany Mutualities was born with participants known as Affiliates.

In 2002, Betty wrote an article about the group’s history and Dominican Spirituality. In preparation for a Bethany Mutualities gathering, Betty read A Fresh Look at Dominican Spirituality by Donald Goergen, OP. While in prayerful reflection on the 4 pillars of Dominican life: prayer, study, ministry/preaching/service and community, she she found herself drawing an image of a tree. This gave her an insight about how these 4 elements are dynamic and grow together to form strong roots. These roots, she realized, are essential and enable branches of change, growth and possibility to open wide so as to stretch and feel God’s joy.

Through many years, Bethany Mutualities has also changed, grown and opened its arms wide to embrace new members. Currently, about half of the members are founding members. During the pandemic, the group met monthly on a Sunday afternoon using zoom. The format continues to be one of reflection and sharing. We take turns in leading the group in contemplative prayer by having a reading or reflection, often begun with a musical selection.

The most recent gathering was lead by Associate Marybeth Auletto who opened the session with a Sikh song called Peace. Together, we read reflections from Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions taken from Love Poems from God: 12 Sacred Voices from the East and West by Daniel Ladinsky. These diverse resources resulted in our usual deep and meaningful sharing which has kept this group vibrant, growing from its strong roots for so long.

The many years together have brought growth through change, yet stability. While we miss being able to meet in person, we remain thankful we have been able to be together using the Zoom technology through these challenging times.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Ready for Healthier?

Blog by Rev. Ron Kurzawa, OPA

This is that time of year for us, especially us Catholics, to ask ourselves if we are ready to get healthier.

And as I set those words down, I can almost hear her voice.

It was a long time ago, a very long time ago.

She was one of the members of that season’s RCIA group.  And for those not familiar with those letters – RCIA –  Try Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It is a process whereby adults, perhaps sensing some movement of God in their lives, enter into a discernment process. Is God calling them? Asking something of them? Leading them somewhere they as yet, perhaps, have not fully been. And dare they respond to such a call. What may it cost? What are its risks? What might happen to their lives from that moment on?

RCIA involves some study, more reflection and much, much more prayer. It can be a difficult and challenging life movement.

Anyhow, so many years ago, I was leading one of the study sessions for the RCIA group and Lent was approaching and so I decided to spend some time presenting some background and history behind the development of the season we now call Lent. As I came into more contemporary times, I talked about some of the communal Lenten practices:  fasting (which meant no food, nothing, nada between meals and two small daily meals (sufficient to maintain strength but both, together, not having as much food as the one, allowed main meal.) Food consumption was reduced greatly during those Forty Days. And then there was abstaining from all meats and meat by-products.

Fridays (Lent and all year long) were days of total abstaining together with a number of additional days throughout the year, which meant on those designated days there would be no meat or those meat by-products. But back in the day, when Monday through Saturday every week in Lent were days of fasting, that also meant at least partial abstaining. Meat only at the main meal and never in between all week  long.

As I described these Lenten dietary regulations, one voice spoke up. The RCIA lady, a professional nurse. And she asked the question. “Why did you quit all of that?” she asked. “It sounds very healthy to me!”

And, of course, she was right.

Too many of us eat too much and we definitely eat too much meat.

And that got me thinking.

And more than thinking. It got me acting.

For a good number of years, every Lent, I tried  to get “healthier.” Monday through Saturday for me became meatless, totally meatless. I allowed myself some bacon at breakfast on the Sundays and also some of that meat and meat by-product stuff through the day, but those Lenten weekdays became meatless.

It was my Lenten “body cleanse.”

In more recent years I will confess to putting that practice aside.

However, as this year’s Lent approached, I began to hear that voice again, yes, even after all of these years. “Why did you quit?” Only this year I am hearing it with a new and richer meaning.

If you haven’t been paying attention, lately studies have been demonstrating how our prodigal consumption of meats is negatively impacting our environment. What it takes to raise, feed and maintain those animals that are slaughtered tor our dinner tables is harming the health of Mother Earth and Sister Air and Brother Water.

There is much now being said and written about Catholics going back to at very least forgoing meat again on all Fridays throughout the year. Something called meatless Mondays is also beginning to get some attention. And the meatless call is going out even beyond Catholic boundaries.

(If you want a quick glimpse of what studies are showing, check this article out: America Magazine: Catholics and Meat.)

And it is, as that very wise RCIA nurse declared, healthier!

Not just for us but for the world in which we live.

Reducing the amount of meat we consume is proving to be healthier for us and for our environment.

So, for Lent again this year, I will be passing on the meat and meat by-products.

I invite you to consider joining me. Maybe you are not yet ready for the Monday through Saturday regime but how about adding one or two additional days to the already set Fridays together with Ash Wednesday? And going a step further, how about considering a more permanent lifestyle change and reducing your consumption of meat even outside of Lent?

It just may make you healthier.

And it will make our beautiful but suffering world healthier.

Oh! And if this may be your concern – go ahead. Enjoy that corned beef on St Patrick’s Day!

Posted in Associate Blog, News