Monday, December 12, 2011

Neighbors Apart

At 2:20 a.m. this morning, an armed robber shot a New York City police officer in the face while attempting to escape the scene of the crime. The police officer died four hours later at the hospital.

The murder happened at 25 Pine St. in Cypress Hills, one block to the north and west of Blessed Sacrament Parish, where the brothers and I go to Mass twice a week.

The police officer's name was Peter Figoski. He was 47 years old. He had four teenaged daughters. And he lived in my hometown, West Babylon.

The suspect's name is Lamont Pride. He is 27 years old. He has been arrested five times previously, served over a year in prison, and is wanted in North Carolina. I do not know where he made his home.

I have been praying for and thinking about these two men all day. They are both a part of my community.

My sister, who teaches art at West Babylon Junior High School, probably had all of Figoski's daughters in her classes at one time or another.

Perhaps my brother, who worships at Our Lady of Grace Parish, passed the peace to Figoski at one time or another.

Maybe Neighbors Together, where I volunteer, served lunch and dinner to Pride at one time or another. If Pride passed through our doors this fall, then maybe I took his meal ticket and gave him a tray or take home package.

These men are a part of my communities -- the place where I grew up, and the place I have adopted. In a better world, these men would have been neighbors. Instead, they met as strangers in the basement of a Brooklyn row home, both of them far from home. One of them is now dead. The other one is committing spiritual suicide.

I have no anger against Pride in my heart. I have no desire for our criminal justice system to visit revenge upon him. Retribution will save neither him nor us.

You will object, "How arrogant, how self-centered of you! You're an innocent bystander to the crime. You have the luxury of saying these things." I will answer: "No, I am a guilty bystander. And as a Christian, smug or not, I must say these things." There is nothing left in this world that can terrify a hardened man like Pride -- all you can do is terrorize him and destroy him. Only God's grace and mercy can terrify him into believing he cannot live a day longer in this world without love, and that he will die for all eternity unless he accepts that love.

It will be strange to go to church and receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ knowing that mere hundreds of feet from the altar, human blood was spilled. But then, the passion of Christ goes on all around us. The wounded members of Christ's body go on mutilating themselves while piercing others.

And it will go on like this until the end of time. Grace removes sin, but it does not remove the cross. Either we take up our cross or we lay it down upon others.

I will pray for the repose of Figoski's soul, asking God to look kindly on his work to serve and protect a people whose trauma he carried to his death.

I have no words to comfort Figoski's daughters, or his spouse. Only God can give us the words and gestures to console the sorrowful. God will work wonders of compassion through the loved ones who remain.

For the rest of us, we can mourn in silence -- mourn deeply and broadly for a shattered family, for a brutish and mortally endangered soul, for neighbors a world apart, and for communities damned by fear and violence. What we cannot restore, let the healing power of the Spirit set right.

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