CHARLESTON—A society that does not welcome God into its midst is going to know evil, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone told the congregation at a Mass for peace and justice that he celebrated Aug. 27 in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
Earlier in the week, the bishop offered his sympathies to the family of Shane Whiddon, 37, the executive chef at Virginia’s restaurant who was killed in Charleston. A dishwasher who had been fired fatally shot Whiddon and held another person hostage before the suspect was shot by police at the restaurant on King Street. This was only one of the acts of violence that has occurred in the past few weeks and has taken one or more innocent lives. The others include incidents in Charlottesville, Va., and Barcelona, Spain.
During his homily, the bishop told those present that today’s young people do not know life in a world before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. They do know a world that is filled with violence and hatred, he said, and are asking, “Where is God and how can God allow all of this to happen?” They are also asking what love is.
“One of the most helpful definitions, perhaps, to us as Christians is found in the Gospel of St. John and in the letter of St. John. God is love,” he said. “So, if we were to take that word ‘love’ and replace it with the word ‘God’ we might be able to say only God fills the empty spaces caused by evil.”
The bishop said there is a sameness to all of the violence that has happened around the world — that the power of evil appears strong.
“It seems every week another report of death and destruction, it seems every week that we’ve become a little more numbed to the fact that violence, terrorism, death, hatred, is just simply a way of life and just accept it,” he said, “For we feel there is nothing much we can do about it, and of course the question remains, where is God in all this? But then we come to a realization about that very question. We begin to realize that many people have told God to leave.”
The bishop said that God is not welcomed or present in the media, nor in schools.
“God has been told to leave,” he said, adding that prayer shaming has become the new trend.
He said society glorifies entertainment figures in sports, figures that are immersed in drugs and immorality; but a football player who talks about his faith, or who kneels and prays, is ostracized and criticized.
“People are offended when faith is publicly embraced. People are saying that they don’t want God in any way, matter, shape or form to be exhibited, to be lifted, to be addressed, to be embraced, because they are offended,” he said.
If God is not present in people’s lives it creates a void, the bishop cautioned, and the void will be filled by the power of evil.
As Catholic-Christians, we have to pray, he said.
“That is the reason for this day and why I have asked all the churches in the Diocese of Charleston to take either today or one of the Sundays of the next three weeks and devote them to prayers for peace, for justice, for harmony, hoping that the hearts of those who have eliminated God from their lives might be moved by the Holy Spirit to change that stance and to allow the presence of God,” he said.
“If Jesus Christ lays on the heart of people, there is no room for violence, there is no room for hatred, there is no room for terrorism, there is no room for killing,” he continued. “For Jesus Christ is love, Jesus Christ is the power of compassion and magnificent God. There is no room for evil.”
He said it is important for people to be aware, and not to get caught up in the trend of prayer shaming or complacency in their faith. He referred to the Gospel passage that day where Jesus asked His apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
“Peter gives the answer, and in a sense Jesus says to him ‘Now, go forth and let others know that’ — know that the presence of God in life makes all of the difference,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “And God continues to be present for those who believe. God continues to be present in those who are willing to accept Him. God is not going to put anyone on a string like a puppet. For those who choose to do evil, their free will is exercised by doing evil. God will not prevent it, but continues to invite and offer His grace and hopefully to offer His witness that we can give to ourselves.”
He referenced Pope Francis, who shares the message that justice, outreach to the poor, compassion, understanding, and tolerance is what is necessary to build a world of love.
“[Pope Francis] is doing precisely what Jesus asked Peter and his successors to do, to preach a word of justice, and peace and harmony,” Bishop Guglielmone said.
“It can’t be forced, because if God takes away our free will then love has no meaning. We cannot choose not to love, so two things are necessary. Number one, pray; number two, don’t get caught up and allow this trend to influence the way we live. Coming out of both of those, do what we can in love, and justice, and compassion to prevent the power of evil from overtaking our world,” he continued.
The bishop closed with a powerful reminder.
“People of prayer can overcome the power of evil,” he said.
Video: Miscellany/Juanita Bustamante: In response to all the violence in the world, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated Mass for peace and justice at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston on Aug. 27, 2017.