Valentine’s Day Massacre

On Valentine’s Day, 1929, in Chicago, when tension between organized crime gangs and city police exploded, there was a bloody massacre that is still talked about today.  Four years later in June, at Kansas City’s Union Station, another bloodbath occurred when local mobs and what later became the FBI tangled in a similarly notorious shoot-out.  That original Union Station Massacre raised our nation’s conscience that crime had spiraled out of control.

This year’s Valentine’s Day Union Station Massacre is raising our nation’s conscience once again.  Feuds between gangs or disputes between neighbors, misguided youth and mentors, infiltration of deadly drugs through cartels, guns in the hands of bad actors, mental illness, thoughtless deeds by ignorant people, and other factors contribute to a society that angers and embarrasses many of us.  The spotlight on Kansas City this week illustrates some of the best and worst aspects of our modern society.  So blessed and happy to honor and salute the Super Bowl champions and to be part of Chiefs’ Kingdom, nearly a million people gathered to rejoice and pay tribute.  The world champions deserve to let loose and celebrate after their hard work resulted in another victorious season like few teams or cities have ever experienced.  Though many wish players would temper their language and drinking in the presence of fans that lift them up as heroes and children who worship them for their athletic greatness, others delight in their delirium.  But when jubilation turned to chaos as shots rang out on Valentine’s Day at Union Station, and as triumph turned into tragedy through the death of an incredible woman and the hospitalization of so many children with gun shoot wounds and trauma, we sober quickly to the reality of a broken world that seems to have lost its way.

Decades ago, when I was first assigned to an inner-city parish, an older and wiser priest told me to remember that the poor have poor ways while another told me that where the need is the greatest our response should be the strongest.  Through the years, I have learned that material poverty is one of many, along with spiritual poverty and the poverty of bad behavior, callous attitudes, and inappropriate actions.  The coincidence that Valentine’s Day and the Victory Parade landed on Ash Wednesday this year challenges many Catholics to contemplate what role faith ought to play in society.  Though many don’t want to mix religion with politics, we believe that faith values are closely tied to moral values, family values, community values, and all that we hold dear.  The illegal behavior of shooting, killing, injuring, attacking children and other innocents, is beyond reprehensible.  I don’t know that religion, faith, or basic values can place a dent in it, as gun violence in Kansas City has also spiraled out of control recently.  I happen to be part of a parish that, each Sunday, reads the names of those who died in our city streets due to violence—and each week there are, unfortunately, plenty of names to read.

I don’t have answers but trust that religion and faith and basic values can be a factor in healing our city and helping us rediscover our way knowing that the greatest need deserves the strongest response.  At the very least we can help raise our national conscience by talking with those we love about our society’s spiritual poverty and paths that lie before us.  For Christians, we seek to find the way by turning to Jesus, who we attest to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  In Lent, the liturgical season that begins with Ash Wednesday, Christians are challenged to be a sign for others to follow the way, to be a witness to values that can get us back on track, and to take seriously the mark of ashes as a reminder of our fragile life, immanent death, and belief in life beyond human suffering.

Without an answer for how we heal from the tragedy of our earthly kingdom here in Chiefs’ kingdom, I do believe it involves pointing to the heavenly kingdom.  And knowing that “answer” means “response,” I want to encourage all, especially Christians, to respond in word and deed by living out the faith-filled values that we know and hold dear, and by going to Christ whose merciful heart and healing hand can show us the way.  Let our city that is now spotlighted for a horrible massacre after a massive party be a sign and witness that we can move from physical tragedy to spiritual triumph by helping our friends and neighbors find our way back to the path God has laid out for us.