A Great Offense

by | Feb 28, 2017 | In the News, Justice, Spirituality

There is a lot of bad news going around these days. From trucks driving into parades to beheadings of kidnapping victims, one’s stomach can be easily turned at the sheer badness of things. Yet in the midst of all this evil, something particularly heinous caught my eye recently: about 100 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery had been vandalized.

The photos show the stones lying supine, seemingly crying out like the blood of Abel. This truly wrenched my insides. I had heard about the similar incident in St. Louis which prompted a visit from Vice President Pence, but I admit I had not seen the photos or read an article. After my initial reaction of shock and disgust, I reflected about why this, among all the violence and gruesomeness in the news, affected me in such a way. No one was physically injured and the damage seems easily repaired, but I venture to guess that I am not the only one so offended by this act of clear hatred.

Perhaps the purity of the hatred is why it strikes me as so evil. There is no other reasonable explanation for the act or benefit to those who committed it: no money stolen to feed poor children, no personal revenge or righteous anger. It seems to have been done only to cause emotional and spiritual harm.

These despicable acts are even more heartbreaking when seen as evidence of the re-emergence of that ancient and perduring evil of anti-Semitism. The Holocaust rightly serves as a collective reminder of the danger of ignoring this current of hatred toward the Jewish people.

I think another reason I was so moved by this story is that it offended my Catholic sensibilities. The dead hold a special place in the Catholic worldview and in the cultural milieu of my upbringing. Thinking of the dead and visiting graves are treasured traditions and tasks of the Church on earth. Praying for the dead is a spiritual work of mercy and we even set aside a whole month, November, to do it.

So when I learn of such a heinous act that dishonors the dead as well as attacks our Jewish brothers and sisters, I am moved to pray for the living and the dead. I am also moved from indignation to hope by stories of the response of some folks such as the Muslims who are responding by raising money for the cemeteries. Let us stand in solidarity.. If you are interested in donating for the repair of the cemetery also, I encourage you to visit the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia website. May the souls of all the dead rest in peace.


Image courtesy FlickrCC user MJM_999.


Brendan Gottschall, SJ

bgottschallsj@thejesuitpost.org   /   All posts by Brendan