This past Saturday we witnessed a scene that has become all too familiar. The casket was opened for the viewing of a young man. Mourners were weeping in the front pews and holding one another for support. The family, with whom we have gathered for several funerals this month, was dressed in memorial t-shirts for the victim. A screen-printed picture accompanied by a prayer reminded the family of their lost loved one. This time, though, they placed pictures of two victims on one t-shirt side-by-side. In a sad state of efficiency, they will re-use the t-shirt for next week’s funeral, also of a young man from the family who had been shot and killed. The family sang, read the obituary, listened to the eulogy, gave personal remarks, and viewed the body one last time.
What struck Br. Jim and me was the uniqueness of this funeral. The first thing we witnessed was a “friend” of the victim being chased out of the church. In this case the victim and the shooter were in the same gang, so there were conflicting loyalties. The person who came was a friend of both the shooter and the victim, so while he came to pay his respects, some thought he had other motivations. Anger, hurt, and fear ebbed and flowed through the crowd.
The atmosphere in the church shifted drastically to a hushed piety. The victim had been hospitalized for six months and while he was able to communicate he had lost the use of most of his body, breathing by machine until he passed. The relative who led the service desired to express the victim’s conversion from a gang banger to a man who accepted Christ into his life and forgave the one who shot him. The funeral continued along this theme of hope.
The problem with this is that the victim went through a number of emotions concerning the person who shot him. While he did try to forgive, he would also stew in anger. He named the shooter, but would not tell the police. He asked for prayers and scripture readings and had a positive disposition, but he also expressed his frustration that he could do absolutely nothing for himself. He grappled with his current experience, but he also wanted his old life back.
The complexity of the victim’s emotions is a human reality. While we strive for one desire, other intentions creep in. While we know and may seek the moral high ground, our actions do not always match this will. The relationship between the friend of the victim mentioned earlier to both him and his shooter represents this complex tension. Within one person there are conflicting emotions.
Brothers and Sisters of Love enters into situations of extreme pain. In this case, healing will not take place for awhile. The family wants to believe that the victim was saved and is enjoying paradise, but this comfort does not erase the wounds. There seems to be no justice for the crime, for the guilty continue to prosper. From the family’s perspective, the death is void of meaning for the community. Therefore, their perception of heaven is in conflict with their reality in this world. Part of the problem among gangs is that the pain from these murders is carried for a long time and affects the community in negative ways.
God sees these conflicts and still loves all of us; our virtues and the parts we wish to hide. In times of tragedy, in order to find hope, we often put our best foot forward before God and suppress our true emotions. We fear displeasing an all-powerful God, and as a result, we limit God’s love for us, the very tool that has the power to transform our situation. Presenting our true hurts and desires before God liberates our concept of God from a God who needs to be pleased to a God who understands our situation, healing us and bringing hope for the future.
–Megan Sherrier and Br. Jim Fogarty, BSL
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