Making Sense Of The Senseless
Published: July 21, 2011
What can you say about a senseless murder? I just learned of the killing of Father Ed Everitt, OP, in Waveland, Miss. He was the priest who catechized me as I entered the Catholic Church in Holy Cross Parish in Atlanta many years ago.
I was stunned, and then I remembered how he impacted me.
Dominican Father Edward Everitt celebrates his silver jubilee of priesthood at Holy Cross Church, Atlanta, on May 21, 1993. (Photo by Paula Day)
Father Ed was a lively homilist. This is from one of his homilies in Atlanta: “This living and sharing in our community here at Holy Cross has been through the power, I truly believe, of the grace of Jesus’ sacrifice of His life for the sake of the world. We invite and we welcome. We reach out to one another in our needs, in our celebration, in our nourishment and encouragement of those who suffer.”
He also had a beautiful sensibility about church ritual. I have two distinct memories of his services. On Good Friday he would have the lights of the church turned down low, and in this dim light there was a large cross laid on the steps going up to the altar. Each member of the congregation would in two lines quietly approach the altar. They would bend and kiss the cross. They would then pick up a hammer and hit one of the large nails in the arms of the cross. The quiet of the church and the shuffling of the parishioners was thus interrupted by the occasional sound of a loud CLANK. What a sensation, what a reminder of how we have sinned, how we have separated ourselves from the living God.
The other memory is the hope and joy he brought to Palm Sunday. He would dip a palm branch in holy water and then fling the water at us. He would be smiling and laughing at giving this holy “shower” to the faithful. How he loved doing that.
The joy of Father Ed and all those he served has been broken by his slaying. The church handyman charged with killing him stole his wallet and car and drove to Orlando hoping to meet his ex-wife and kids to go to Disney World. The police who tracked him said that a child could have followed his trail. He had no chance to escape justice.
So why kill a sweet priest, a man of faith?
This is a question that will probably never be fully answered. What is the point of evil? The nature of evil is that it is pointless. Shakespeare in his play, “Othello,” has an evil character Iago who destroys every relationship and life around him. Why? He is asked that question at the end of the play, and he just blankly stares, not saying a word. St. Augustine compared evil to a tear in a shirt. Evil is not a thing but a lack of a thing, a lack of goodness, a void without meaning that tears apart that which is good.
So if we are to make sense of this act, we must look to Father Ed. The love of this priest touched many lives, and we can be thankful for our blessings. He created and built up the body of Christ, caring for those who were hurting or poor or in need. That makes sense. We can comfort one another and comfort his brothers in the Dominican order and remember how much he meant to us and how much we appreciate their faithful service to God. This makes sense.
And what of our response to his killer? The first e-mail from a Dominican priest to me was to thank me and to ask for prayers for the accused. While I know that is right, can I do it? It is a violation of a basic and primordial instinct for revenge, of retribution. Still, if my Dominican friends can do this, shouldn’t I? What would Father Ed want? This led to some quiet time to reflect. This accused killer had turned from God; he had killed those who trusted and cared for him. He was in the void, in the abyss of hate and violence.
But Jesus said, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek” and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
In my heart, I know these words are right. I must ask for mercy on the soul of the man who killed this good and faithful servant. The killer is a child of God, made in his image and likeness. He is terribly damaged, but he is also part of the goodness of God’s creation. Can we help him reach beyond the wall of his darkness to accept God’s grace? Or will he fling himself further into the abyss and away from God’s love? I will pray for him to turn back to the light, to account for his actions and to seek forgiveness and mercy.
It is by our actions that we can break a cycle of nothingness. Father Ed has his reward and an eternal liturgy of love. He is in good hands.
So what about us? Do we pick up the hammer or do we refresh our souls with the living water of God’s love?
We the living must honor Father Ed’s memory.
That makes sense.
Phillip Thompson is the executive director of the Aquinas Center of Theology at Emory University.