Throughout our beautiful state, people of faith are uniting this week in prayer. Chastened and humbled by graphic reminders of our spiritual, social and physical vulnerabilities and the evil of which human beings are capable, the best in us and among us — dare I suggest, the life that God has breathed into us — is alive as we come together to praise and give thanks to the God of life. This week our houses of worship are open once again. Never before have we needed more to be united in prayer to the one God who is the source and summit of all that lives and all that is good.

We rejoice together, united in faith and prayer, as we pray for deliverance from the seeds of evil that a common Enemy has sown in the garden of God’s good Earth, our common home, which God destined as a place where all of us would live in peace. That, at any rate, is what we hope for. But there is no peace. For peace, we know, begins with justice. Justice is not built on slogans or virtuous-sounding declamations. Only God knows hearts well enough to decide what is in them. Justice means giving every person their due. And the first thing owed to every human being is the same respect to which one is entitled oneself. How does that happen? It must begin somewhere.

No human being has the right or privilege to dominate another, to make of another person a serf or a pawn, an object of his or her desire. This is based on the fundamental principle of order in any civilized society, the equal dignity of every human being, that it cannot be enhanced or diminished by any aspect or qualification of the person’s identity, be it a matter of race, age, wealth, ownership, ethnicity, sexuality or any other indicator of rank or status.

Our recent experience during the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed numerous injustices, some apparently systemic, in how people are valued and treated differently. So also, the viral and often violent explosion of aggression by some over others not only in the horrifying video that recorded the death of a man in police custody, but other examples of violence toward persons, often with racial overtones, that we have seen and that continue.

While there seems to be a growing consensus that some forms of violence are systemic and applied in such a manner that impacts on racial minorities disproportionately, justice requires that evidence be produced in individual cases if we are to have a process based on law and equity toward all, that is, a system where justice is blind to the status of the perpetrator or victim of violence and that such actions judged by a common standard for all.

The common standard that it seems most Americans can agree on is that there must be a common standard, and that every person is equal under that standard and presumed innocent until proven guilty. This has always been the standard upon what is called Anglo-American law is based, and has been adopted by most democracies throughout the world. Historically, where different standards have applied, the likelihood of violence has only increased, as in the case of Nazism in Germany, slavery in all of its forms, including by race in the United States and citizen status in the Roman Empire. Even today not only do vestiges of such historical atrocities persist but in many places people are subject to different forms of servitude through, for example, human trafficking, and that oppression that falls on entire groups of people due to sexuality, ethnicity or other factors accidental to their fundamental human dignity.

The Abrahamic traditions, among others, view every human being as a child of God and in some way made in the divine image and likeness. Last weekend, we of the Catholic faith celebrated Trinity Sunday. Our belief is not only in the equal dignity of every individual human being, such as our legal systems of justice strive to protect, however imperfectly, but that the fundamentally social nature of humanity is rooted in who we believe God is, a community of three persons, equal in essence and nature, yet different in person.

No one, not even Catholics, understands this mystery. Yet, aside from the certainty of faith, it seems that some evidence of this mystery can be found in nature and in experience. Anyone who has experienced the love of true friendship knows the feeling of a desire to will the good of the other, even at great personal sacrifice, including death itself. The same interpersonal love, in turn, generates a mutual desire to make that love known. In holy matrimony, that love opens itself to the procreation of other persons, bearing a remarkable — sacramental — expression in the third person, the child, that is born of that union. In that sense, the image of a God we believe to be a Trinity is beautifully reflected, though that communitarian, societal or social nature of God that is reflected wherever people come together and organize for the common good.

That “common good” has been defined or articulated in different ways, notably in the social teaching of the Catholic Church. It is more than the greatest good for the greatest number in some purely materialistic sense, but the creation and reform of society in such a way that conditions exist where everyone is free to profess and practice their faith, speak and act on their conscience, and earn and own the means of their livelihood through individual and organized activity. Societies who value and protect these rights and freedoms — most fundamentally the right to life itself — tend to be peaceful.

Giving every person their due is one way that individuals can check their own behavior as a member of a just society. This begins not only with how we treat one another in our daily relations but also how we behave in groups, whether organized or spontaneous. People will often do things in groups that they would never do alone or to a loved one. Our faith teaches us that love is an act of the will that, at its most basic core, begins with the intention not to bring harm to any individual or group of individuals.

Prayer is sometimes thought of as just words we say to God. This view may be too narrow. Our faith perspective, mine as a Christian in particular, also sees prayer as a way of being “caught up” in the unity of this God we believe is always calling us into a relationship of love with one another, who are embraced by this loving God. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says repeatedly that he has come to do the will of his Father and that “I and the Father are one.” What does he mean? He longs to draw us up into this eternal love that exists and that he knew “before the world began.” He is so sure of this Love — which he identifies, personally, as his Father, that he will die a violent death for it. Peacefully. “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

While this belief gives Christians united in prayer a particularly strong sense of mission and purpose when they pray, the words of last Sunday’s Gospel, from Chapter 3 of St. John, may perhaps resonate with many others who can hear the good news that God does not condemn the world, but wills that it be saved. Our faith is based on our belief in a Savior that not only wished the world well, but also died — as ultimately love will do — so that every human being might be drawn in this love, therefore “saved,” and have eternal life.

This then becomes our prayer, that no one will be lost. What patience it may require to take this conviction into practice may be that of a saint in the very chaotic world we are living in. But we have no other world in which to become that saint except the one into which we have been born. And we may find some unity in lowering our signs and fists and voices, if not once or twice a day, then at least once a week, to hear a call to prayer, at the mosque, or the temple, or the church we find a home in. Every space can become a safe space when two or three are gathered in prayer — in God’s name. It is impossible to be united in prayer and not be at peace at the same time, and for the same reason.

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