I write to you today with the heavy heart that we all must have after yesterday’s riot at the U.S. Capitol. As Wednesday’s events unfolded, I found myself moving from incredulity to astonishment to fear for people’s lives to anger and disgust and finally relief — relief because it could have been a lot worse. As the evening moved into early morning, Congress moved back into session, our democratic process worked, and the election of former vice president, Joseph Biden, to become our next president was affirmed.
Today we stand amid the detritus of the “morning after,” not so much asking, “Did this really happen?” but rather “How did this happen?” Lots of commentators are offering opinions about what happened. One phrase I hear repeatedly is “We are better than this.” These words propose that this is not who we are as a country. Sadly, though, we are not “better than this.” To quote one football coach, “You are what you are.” When your record is 4-11, you can’t say, “We are better than this.” You are a 4-11 football team. Right now, we, as a country, are not “better than this.” We are what we are – divided, angry, sick – both figuratively and bodily, fear-filled and lost. We may become “better than this” and I know we can be “better than this,” but right now, we are not “better than this.” We are what we are.
This is where you and I, my brothers and sisters in Christ, can rise up to be beacons of hope, encouragement and healing. A bishop sometimes serves as a type of spiritual doctor. I have obviously made a diagnosis of what is unhealthy and destructive in our culture. Now, as a good physician will, I offer one part of a prescriptive course back to wholeness and health. It is the way of Christ in the Catholic faith. You and I as Catholic disciples are not separate from our culture and our country. We are part of it just like everyone else. If our country is broken and in need of healing, we must ask ourselves, “What part am I playing in all of this?” Am I living as a citizen of this country first and foremost as a disciple who is striving to love God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and my neighbor as myself? In other words, am I living and encouraging others to become “better than this” or am I part of the problem that has brought us to where we are now? My prescription then for myself and for all of us is to do some serious soul-searching, to excise what is not of God, what is not of the good, and to become the healing cells for the body politic of our country.
We do not do this alone nor do we do it without help. We do so in communion with the Church and with one another. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit which we received when we were first baptized, we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the forgiveness of sins, and we have the incredible gift of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Cross and the food for the journey. Finally, in our daily prayer as well, let us offer prayers for our country, that we may live as brothers and sisters, not in silos of resentment and anger, but as “one nation, under God … with liberty and justice for all.”
May God bless America.
Bishop Christopher Coyne,
Diocese of Burlington VT
January 7, 2021