They Know Us by Our Love: A Reflection on the Riot at the U.S. Capitol

January 13, 2021

by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge

At some point in our lives, we all experience events that will be documented in history books. January 6, 2021, was one of these days.

Watching as large groups of people climbed over barricades and broke through doors and windows at the U.S. Capitol was shocking and saddening. Elected officials and staff members were told to shelter in place for a time, unclear as to what they might face as people rushed the building. Capitol police were overwhelmed as our elected officials worked to carry out their fundamental, constitutional duties related to certifying the results of the Electoral College. Tragically, due to the riot, four civilians and one Capitol police officer have died and we keep them and their families in our prayers.

The mutual respect we must have for law and order was disregarded. Rather than being treated with respect for the inherently noble work with which they are entrusted, police officers and federal agents in and around the Capitol buildings were, in many cases, attacked, injured and harassed in the line of duty. We should all thank them for their courage and service.

There is grave danger presented to us all when the U.S. Capitol and the constitutional process at the core of our democracy are the target of violent attacks and lawlessness. In many ways, fueled by social and news media, and harsh rhetoric at every level, America has declined in how we treat one another, and it has simply manifested itself in the most pernicious way in the political arena.

I pray that none of us ever witnesses such events ever again. But for us to move on from this event and chalk it up to yet another angry, violent demonstration, following a year of violence and chaos, would be a tragic mistake. Unfortunately we saw this kind of behavior in the past year, in which private businesses, federal buildings and state capitols were attacked. Last week, however, was a new, symbolic low due to the location and occasion of the riot. Consequently, we must reflect on what this means and how we avoid it going forward.

There have been many tensions growing in our country for quite some time, and our nation is desperately looking for a way out of this downward spiral. As men and women of faith, we have the answer! We know what is needed to point this great nation in the right direction. It is Jesus Christ and the truth of his Gospel, and we must be witnesses of his truth to bring about the conversion and civility this country needs. We must see Christ in one another, and, especially when we disagree, we must be respectful and loving. We also must be instruments of healing, reconciliation, and peace.

The question is not whether serious, passionate disagreement will take place within our legislative chambers, townhalls, city councils, school boards, and community associations. That will most certainly happen-and it should. The question is whether we all operate with the proper principles to guide how we treat one another.

St. John the Evangelist offers very sobering truths about how our love for one another reflects our love of God. “Beloved, we love God because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar’” (1 Jn 4:19). We simply cannot hold hate in our heart and love God at the same time. The two are incompatible with one another.

In Scripture, Jesus says, “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35). On social media, on the street, and during a peaceful protest, we show others whom we belong to by how we love, act, and speak.

When we experience outrage at an occurrence in the political arena, we must put on the mind of Christ and embrace the moment with both conviction and love. We never compromise what we believe, nor accept what is evil and unjust. However, we must always be willing to listen to our brothers and sisters and show that we love them. It is not enough simply to hold love in our heart; we must act with love as well. For, as Saint Paul tells us, “Love never fails!”

I ask all Catholics in the Diocese of Arlington, and people of good will, to join with your families to pray for this country on a regular basis. We know that any struggle or hurt we experience can be mended and healed by Our Lord Jesus who willingly gave his life for us. May we always retreat into his divine and calming arms, as we walk humbly with our God.

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