Saturday, March 31, 2018

Forgiving the unforgivable

I stepped inside the cavernous, historic Chicago basilica. It was just after noon on Good Friday of this week. Having ducked into a nearby market to grab a few of my old world Polish favorites for our Easter table, it was time to  honor the solemn day that Christians have relived for more than two millennia.

You could hear a pin drop as I moved around the rear perimeter of the near empty, 124-year-old  church. A brightly lit grotto dedicated to "Our Lady of Sorrows" beckoned me to visit and ponder the day. The scene was larger than life. It featured the body of a crucified Jesus draped across his mother's arms and lap, a la Michelangelo's "Pieta." She gazed upward as if to beg the divine for an explanation.

Her eyes said, "Why? How do I go on? How do I forgive those who savaged my son?"

The sculpted face bore the indescribable pain every mother or father endures when they lose a child to violent death. On the battlefield.  In unselfish service to save others, fighting crime. The victim of gunfire in a suburban classroom or in an alley where street gangs run the neighborhood. Wherever, for whatever reason, the loss is the same to the parents. A piece of them has been mercilessly destroyed. They wonder about how their loved one endured the vicious assault or tortuous death and there is nothing they can do to make it better.

Except forgive. And sometimes you have to forgive God.

I've met a Chicagoland priest who introduced a mother in his parish to the gangbanger who shot her son. The shooter lived in prison at the time the met. She found the grace to forgive and free her soul of the poison that is vengeance.

I once met a little girl whose brother was murdered by the Boston Marathon bomber. Her parents would later testify in federal court and beg the judge for leniency and the bomber's life. They fought against revenge and the death penalty.

St. John Paul II once met and forgave the man who attempted to assassinate him while he was pope. They formed a lasting friendship.

Remember years ago, when a crazed gunman massacred children at an Amish school in Pennsylvania. The murderer killed himself after his crime. The parents of the dead children attended his funeral and consoled his wife and family, extending their forgiveness.

I could go on with many other stories. Check out Azim Khamisa's response to the brutal, senseless murder of his son at the "Forgiveness Project":

Whether you believe in the resurrection of Jesus or not, there is something miraculous about the example he set during his crucifixion. From the cross he said, "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing?" Try to imagine the courage it takes to turn the other cheek when someone is torturing you to death or cutting off your head.

Many iconic peacemakers have been credited with this piece of wisdom: "Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." Choosing reconciliation over revenge, even if only in your heart, is the way mere mortals gloriously rise above the power of death and triumph over our sorrows.  Happy Easter!

Monday, March 26, 2018

The price of doing nothing

"What are you reading?" the maid asked me as I hustled along the motel hallway returning from the gym. "I love to read," she added.

"It's Immaculée's book about the Rwandan genocide," I replied, holding out the paperback so she could clearly see the cover of "Left to Tell" by Immaculée Ilibagiza, the prayerful, young Catholic survivor of inconceivable crimes against an entire people.  In just 100 days in 1994, Hutu extremists slaughtered 800 Tutsi men, women, children and babies. Many of the murderers used machetes to commit their insanity.

"I can't wrap my mind around it," I told the maid as she checked out the cover. "And I grew up with war stories of Nazi-occupied Poland." I explained that my parents were kids and experienced the invasion and that holocaust first hand.

The maid nodded. "My grandfather was German," she said. "He was only 14 when the Nazis barged into his home and forced him to join the Hitler youth. He kept a journal about it and how terrified he was."

The 18th century British statesman, Edmund Burke prophesied, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." 

That's what happened in World War II, a global hysteria that followed the unthinkable massacre that was World War I, supposedly "the war to end all wars."

Life needs the strong, unshakable voice of truth to protect it. If we hold our tongues and allow some life to be compromised, eventually all life is expendable. When you give people the right to choose who lives and who dies, then we've opened the door for the intoxication of vengeance, sin and mania. 

So, America has looked away as millions and millions have aborted the unborn. And now young children and other innocents continually fall victim to our unbridled love affair with guns and the right to own them. It's gotten so out of hand that the youth themselves have stepped up to protest and demand change, even if their parents and their parents chose to do nothing. 

But it's not enough for us to choose our favorite cause in this fight for life. We must unite to fight for all life. We can't ignore a holocaust in a distant place and scream about abortion here at home. We cannot accept a "pro choice" culture and demand gun control. Nor can we welcome the death penalty for criminals while we object to euthanasia for the terminally ill or those trapped in dysfunctional bodies. 

We must fight for all life. The March for Life must join the March for Our Lives and vice versa. 

It's time to March for All Life and fight to end the insanity. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The pen is powerless without the people.

The other day, I was rummaging through my collection of pins and buttons to select a few favs for St. Patrick's Day.

"Where's my 'Irish ... Almost' button, honey?" I asked my wife, not really expecting a response. I reached for my rarely-opened valet and searched it, too. Nope, no button in there. But I did discover a long forgotten treasure. My graduation ring from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

It no longer fits over the knuckle on my right index finger so I slipped the green and silver momento on my pinky and wore it loosely for the day. The first thing I noticed was the tiny gold emblem across the stone. It's a quill representing journalism, my major. Classes, professors, projects, textbooks and internships rushed through my mind. Just by looking at that little quill. It signified the power of the pen and all the responsibilities that come with it.

Journalists are the protectors of a free state, indeed the profession is known as the fourth estate, enshrined by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, immediately following religion, and speech and one semicolon before "the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances."

Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

In the late 18th century, this was a very liberal concept but now has become integral to our democratic republic. Unless of course we allow it to wither.

You see, the First Amendment is about thought, expression and change. It is insufficient to think great thoughts  without action. No matter what a free press uncovers and scorches with the disinfecting brightness of truthful sunlight, if we stay on the couch or post selfies until the cows come home, we will continue to step in the manure of lies, oppression and squandered lives.

Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. They run together for a reason. Morality demands we speak up and write and gather to build consensus and demand change, peacefully.

Thankfully, America's youth have figured out what happens when citizens cry and complain but fail or refuse to act in the face of undeniable, objective dysfunction. So, this week, high school and middle school kids across the U.S. had their 17 minutes of fame while walking out of classes in a unified civil disobedience to protest legislative inaction on gun violence. And some in Parkland, Florida realized that 17 minutes wasn't enough to protest the insane butchering of 17 schoolmates with a weapon of war. So they ran off campus and extended their efforts to two hours.

Civil disobedience is what it took for women to win the vote, for African-Americans to win desegregation and equality, and what it will take again for we citizens to win the attention of our duly elected representatives.

Remember, one of the key reasons the colonists fought the American Revolution was "taxation without representation." We're paying lots and lots of taxes today, but our representatives aren't listening. Does it really matter if we elect them when they refuse to hear unless someone greases their palms?

Well, next Sunday is Palm Sunday and Saturday is the March for Our Lives. This global event will involve at least 819 locations to demonstrate our grievances and demand new policies in gun safety and effective action to reduce gun violence. You can find your nearest gathering at  It's time to turn the presses of protest until the lubricant oozes and flows through the halls of Congress and loosens the wheels of justice to respond to the cries for change.

Sadly, I'll be at my dear brother-in-law's funeral next Saturday, so I have to postpone participating in this campaign to petition our Government to redress. But make no mistake, one worldwide event will not begin to solve this issue, anyway. Flip through the history book on your shelf or Google "civil rights movement" and see how hard people fought to prevent change, forcing fellow citizens to use a different toilet, sit at a separate lunch counter, ride the back of the bus and never learn in the same school.

A slogan popularized by the National Rifle Association (NRA) is "from my cold, dead hands." You can imagine how long it will take to change minds as long as bribes are considered campaign contributions and the U.S. Supreme Court rules that free flowing political money is equivalent to free speech.

See you at the next protest. And the one after that.  If we decide not to join in, we might as well not read, watch or listen to the news.

Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. They're joined at the hip. It's time to march, press for truth, and fight for what's right. People are dying.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Remember Me Day.

I knelt in front of the photos. The display featured the names and faces of 24 people, men and women, younger and older, studying to join our faith community.

Crouching down, it took four group shots to capture all the images of the four-panel display in front of the church pulpit. Our pastor, Fr. Sam Mukundi,  had asked us to "do something good with your phones" and take pictures of the display in order to pray for each of the featured people, one person a day until Easter vigil. That's when they would be baptized, receive other sacraments and become official members of the Church. We would remember them in prayer, asking for God's grace in their spiritual lives.

After 9-11, some people said, "Never forget." I wonder how many of us take time each day to remember the victims and their families. Time to think about them compassionately. I wonder how that daily prayer discipline would impact our approach to keeping world peace. To working for solutions to terrorism and policies that help to diffuse violent ideologies. We may remember the numbers who die in tragedies but not the names and faces. Nearly 3,000 murdered in the U.S. in one day by 19 highjackers armed with box cutters. Those who knew and loved the victims remember them as three dimensional individuals. The rest of us remember the headcount but, unfortunately, not so much the souls.

How many of us know the names of those slaughtered recently at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida? We know 17 died, but I haven't looked up their names and studied their faces recently. What about the Las Vegas concert massacre? Fifty-eight dead, 489 wounded ranging in age from 20 to 67. How many faces can we identify? How many names do we recall?

At an Orlando night club, a gunman took 49 lives.

At Virginia Tech University, 32 died and then the shooter killed himself.

Other outrageous mass shootings  include 26 dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School, plus the killer and his mother, and nine murdered church members at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

We can count the hits and may always remember the names of the shooters like Dylan Roof and Stephen Paddock. But what about the victims and their loved ones?

The Web makes it easy to find the facts of each of these horrors. Google anything you remember about the tragedy and the powerful search engine will take you there. Images and names are clicks away.

And it's just a little more challenging to find those who are shot on America's streets and in U.S. homes, day after day, including cops.

Each year, on Memorial Day we remember those servicemen and women who died in U.S. warfare. Sadly, in the last 50 years, more Americans have died on U.S. soil, killed by guns, than in all our wars combined. What about memorializing those Americans killed by Americans? A special day like that would be controversial and take a long while to enshrine in our culture. Meanwhile, we can search the online cemetery and visit the virtual headstones and crypts of our fellow Americans whose lives are taken by guns, day after day.

Will we remember?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Perishing by the sword.

When cars were more like land yachts, circa 1980, America recorded 51,000 highway deaths. By 2015, that number had plummeted to 35,000, a whopping 31% reduction. How did America make it happen? In a word: safety. Over the years, we bought and drove many more vehicles, while they became smarter and fewer people died.

Regulators, law enforcement and technology companies combined to help make vehicles safer and encourage drivers to behave better.

No car company will refer to a collision as an accident. I wrote auto safety stuff for years and the engineers and lawyers hammered the word "crash" into my head. You see, well over 90% of car collisions are due to human error. They're not accidents. They're due to people making mistakes like driving to fast, braking too late, drinking, sleeping or texting behind the wheel. Only a fraction of crashes are caused by mechanical problems or road failure. If you've been driving during a wreck, you know it was either you or the other guy who failed to grasp the situation and exceeded the laws of physics under the circumstances.

So now cars come equipped with their own set of human-like senses and instincts, such as radar and infrared systems that read obstacles in the road in front and behind drivers. There are sensors that detect wheel speed and the relationship between the driver's intended steering direction and the actual path of the vehicle. And with this knowledge, the intelligent automobile or smart car can warn the driver of a hazard or even instantaneously and seamlessly intervene, applying brakes, pumping them more rapidly than any human can, even decelerating an engine without you or I doing a thing.

These instinctive technologies are some of the magic that is making it possible to imagine and create self-driving cars. So safety technologies not only save lives, they are helping reinvent the way we think about traveling. Technology companies imagined a car that could not crash, and driverless vehicles could make that dream come true, or pretty close. Remember, only a tiny percentage of vehicles incidents occur due to vehicle failures.

When we added the "Click-It-Or-Ticket" campaign enforcing mandatory seatbelt use, plus cops and judges leaning hard on DUIs, we made progress. And it's no longer a badge of honor to drive drunk and make it home from the party. "Friends don't let friends drive drunk" -- right? We changed the way we think about driver responsibility. We took ownership of our common safety.

Now I had that background and insight when I recently read a debate on Facebook about America's epidemic of gun violence. One friend said something like: "Cars kill more people than guns do, we don't outlaw them!" What followed was an avalanche of arguments but not so many facts.

Here are a few. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, we average about 13, 000 gun deaths a year in the U.S. while more than 26,000 people are injured by bullets. What if we took the approach that we did with cars and made guns safer and smarter while encouraging a change of owner behavior? As a first step, what if we began working on reducing unintended injury and death?

Consider this: about 5,700 kids a year suffer accidental gunshot wounds and 1,300 die. These are preventable. It's very hard to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill, but what about children? What if guns were smart enough to determine a child was holding the weapon and not its owner? What if a gun owner could use a remote control to disable a weapon he discovers is in the hands of a child? Anti-theft systems make that possible with cars today.

Americans own over 300 million guns, that's about one weapon for every man, woman and child in our country. Hundreds of thousands of them are stolen each year and used in crimes. Yet only 11 states and Washington D.C. require owners to report missing or stolen weapons. Why only 11? What if we leveraged the technology that allows us to pinpoint the location of your stolen car to find a stolen gun? What if every state required reporting for every stolen or missing weapon?

While under physical attack, Jesus told his apostle, Peter, "Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)

Divine advice. Every weapon requires an owner who loves life and a sheath for safety. Without that, we die and lose our minds and souls.