Bishop's Column

Run the Race Well

After 26 miles, there is no room for insincerity at the finish line. I’ve run five marathons and crossed five finish lines. One never forgets the feeling. On May 5, I’ll run the Lincoln Marathon in an effort to raise a chorus of prayers for vocations. With any luck, and by God’s grace, I’ll cross the finish line again.

Runners work months to finish marathons, often under difficult circumstances or because of personal challenges. Finish lines are places of raw emotion. They are places of triumph, of celebration, and often, places of exhaustion. It is common to see elite runners—grown, professional men and women—bawling at a finish line.

The finish line is a special and very personal place for any runner who crosses it.

Last week, the bombers at the Boston Marathon targeted a finish line. The triumph of the runners, and the raw emotion of the place, was disrupted by an evil act of violence, of cowardice, and of hatred. Fear replaced all other feelings at the finish line.

Tragically, three people were killed by the bombings in Boston. Over a hundred more were injured: many lost limbs or suffered organ damage caused by shrapnel. We should all commit to prayer for those who lost their lives, for their family members, and for those who were gravely injured. We should also commit to prayer for the city of Boston.

I lived in Denver at the time of the Aurora movie theater shooting last summer. I know that an act of unforeseen violence can devastate a community. In Denver, for weeks after the shooting, families were on edge. The crime dominated our conversations, and our quiet thoughts.

Prayer mattered. I’ll never forget a prayer rally I attended just two days after the shooting, at which tens of thousands turned out to pray with one another. A small group held up a sign: "Angels walk with those who grieve." The consoling presence of Jesus Christ was instrumental in bringing healing to the people of Denver. I pray that Boston, too, will know the consoling presence of Our Lord.

The two suspects in the Boston bombing have been killed or apprehended, and all signs point to their guilt. Doctors report that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may recover from his injuries; but he may not be able to speak, or to stand trial for this act of terror. We may not discover the genesis of his hatred, the particular kind of evil and misguided ideology that led to the killing of innocent people. The perpetrator may leave many questions unanswered.

One answer is clear, however. God is calling us to respond to the violence that has come to characterize our culture. He is calling us to respond with love. At a memorial service in Boston last week Cardinal O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston, was clear. "We must build a civilization of love," he said, "or there will be no civilization at all."

Cardinal O’Malley was right. Acts of terror remind us that our world is a timeless drama between the forces of evil, of hatred, and of violence, and the forces of love. The evil one finds ways to entice us towards violence. Perhaps the bombers in Boston felt that they were serving justice, or their nation, or serving God by their actions. It doesn’t matter what they thought—what matters is that Satan is at the heart of all evil and sin. And only love is strong enough to defeat Satan.

Our call is to learn from acts of violence that the world needs God’s love and mercy. To recognize that without Jesus Christ, we will suffer from the entropy of sin that leads to chaos. Our call is to root out from our own hearts the whispers of the evil one, calling us to sin. And then to proclaim the Gospel—in our words, in the witness of our lives, and in our love for one another.

Finish lines are special places. If we love with the love of God the Father, we will reach that finish line which matters most. We will, as St. Paul says, have "run the race well," free, and unhindered, by following the truth.

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Bishop Conley

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