We don’t judge anyone for anything.
“Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Pardon, and you shall be pardoned. Give, and it shall be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will they pour into the fold of your garment. For the measure you measure with will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:36-38)
Every Christian knows Christ’s teaching when it comes to judging others. We are called to the high standard of forgiving as the Father forgives, while leaving the judgment to Him. This is a difficult task to accomplish. Many times I struggle with this, as not judging another doesn’t mean condoning sinful actions. Perhaps a good example is the recent shooting in Colorado. Christians should speak out loudly against crimes of violence, but it is not our place to judge the man who committed this crime. Our job is to pray for those who mourn the loss of loved ones and to do what we can to support them. We should also pray that whatever has been broken in James Holmes will through God’s grace once again be made whole so that he may repent for what he has done.
Whenever there is a shooting like the recent one in Colorado, it brings back memories of the morning June 10, 2002. That morning I received a call from Bill Reed, whose son is a monk of Conception Abbey in Missouri. Bill shared his distress at the news that a gunman was reported to have entered the monastery and shots had been fired. Later in the day, following hours of anxious waiting, we learned that Bill’s son was safe, but that Br. Damian Larson and Fr. Philip Schuster were dead and that Fr. Kenneth Reichert and Fr. Norbert Schappler had been injured in the shooting. Lloyd Jeffress, the man responsible for the shootings, had also taken his own life.
A few days later, I traveled to the Abbey for the funeral, where I experienced a powerful witnesses of forgiveness from the monastic community. To this day I find strength in the words shared by Fr. Albert Bruecken at the wake service for Br. Damian and Fr. Philip.
Monday, two monks were killed. The real tragedy here is not that Fr. Philip and Br. Damian are dead. We all come to the monastery to die, and it begins in the novitiate with humble jobs like cleaning bathrooms. Every act of obedience is a dying to self in service of Christ as seen in the brothers in the monastery and the people who come here. We feel their loss, their seemingly senseless loss. But in the last analysis, that is not the real tragedy, because their lives and their faith in the resurrection prepared them for this moment. No, the real tragedy is that Lloyd Jeffress came here troubled and without peace, and he shot the very people who might have helped him find it.
Was he fighting depression? In Br. Damian, he shot a man who had fought his own battle with depression and was winning. A man who though gruff in appearance was fragile himself and sensitive to others, who could laugh at himself and his foibles, and bring others into that circle of laughter and delight. In sharing his struggles and laughter one could find the beginning of a cure for depression.
Did Mr. Jeffress harbor a grudge against someone or something? Did he need to experience forgiveness and/or reconciliation? In Fr. Philip, he killed someone whom people sought out as a confessor and confidant, one who served as a father figure to many because of his wisdom and compassion which was experienced by many both young and old. That is the tragedy: that the peace of Christ which we have cultivated here for almost 130 years, he did not find, but only brought violence and destruction.
When I say that the real tragedy here is not that Fr. Philip and Br. Damian are dead, I do not mean to minimize the loss that our community has experienced. We have lost two excellent monks, the kind of men one does not replace.
I do not wish to judge Mr. Jeffress – we pray for his soul as well, perhaps above all. But what he did disrupted our peace, invaded our lives, violated our home and left us helpless before the great loss he wreaked. Why this happened, I do not know – God will reveal that in time. But the evil he did must not triumph, must not define our lives henceforth. We need to find a way to forgive, heal, and move on, though right now the pain makes it difficult.
It was clear to me that day that monks of Conception Abbey had been prepared for this tragedy through their life long practice of forgiving each other and their daily struggle to leave the judgment of others to God. They knew how to forgive when it was most difficult. They showed me that forgiveness is something we learn by practicing it every day with those around us.