Colorado Springs November 2022: Violence and Response: “Would you at least listen to me?”
I just moved from Colorado Springs, Colorado this past summer. I ministered among people for nine years at Sacred Heart Parish, from 2013-2022. I listened to people’s pain. I sat among folks who were estranged from family, friends, and from the Church. I celebrated and grieved. I listened and consoled. I worked as any pastor does, in the unexpected and chaotic moments of people’s lives. I was honored to be present to people in Colorado.
I also lived and served there in 1984-87. At that time, AIDS was beginning in Colorado. I found myself confronted by a young man who came to my office. He stood in the threshold of my office door. I invited him into my office. He said to me, “I have asked three other priests to listen to me. They would not listen.” Then he asked me, “Would you at least listen to me?”
I acknowledged his question and he came into my office and we talked for three hours. He died of AIDS a few short months after our conversation. That question became the core of my priesthood. I hold it in my heart. I have prayed with that question for nearly forty years. It has become an instrument for Jesus’ presence in my life.
That question also led me to becoming a founding board member of the Southern Colorado AIDS Project during my time there. I used this man’s insistence to listen to other people’s stories, to hear with newness the pain that they experienced. I remember the mothers of the men who died. The mothers wanted me to listen to them with the same awareness and compassion. The mothers, most especially, needed the presence of the church. They leaned on me to console them and to walk with them to the gravesites of their sons.
The question posed by a man dying of AIDS also led me to other cities and ministries among people surviving AIDS. I ministered across the country among families grieving much loss for the first twenty years of my priesthood. The question has not died. The question is a birth place into God’s deep compassion for people.
Colorado Springs is facing another tragedy. A man walked in a gay bar wielding a rifle on Saturday night. Many people were killed or wounded. He faces murder and hate crimes of five people. Somehow, we need to listen. We need to listen about our freedoms to carry guns from the families who have lost loved ones. We need to listen to the grieving families, especially the mothers, who have lost a gay child. We need to listen without our preconceived notions about who we think people are in this world. We need to listen because our world depends on us believing in the power of God’s love for all people. In death, divisions among us should cease. Love must bind us in grief and loss.
We need to listen to people who educate us about mental illness that causes a man to kill people without mercy. We need to listen to people who just want a space to live freely. We need to listen, period. I noticed that many of the wounded were brought to Catholic hospitals. The Church is there as it is for anyone. Yet, we need to listen even more deeply to the wounded and help them survive the tortures they face.
I ask everyone to listen from these events in Colorado Springs. Perhaps we can join our hearts in prayer and our lives in works of justice so that the fruit of our listening may be known throughout our neighborhoods.
God, give our beloved dead, peace.