Cop Killers and Christian Discipleship

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Thin Blue Line BadgeLast Sunday morning, I woke up to the news that in Auburn, Mass. a police officer had been shot 5 times and killed during a traffic stop. Officer Ronald Tarentino, Jr. was 42, and had a wife and three children. The killer had a rap sheet that included at least 84 cases in court and multiple assaults on police officers. After a lengthy attempt to capture him alive, the suspect was shot to death when he opened fire on State Troopers (sending one to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries).

On Facebook, I read this comment: “rest in peace Officer Tarentino,” followed by a reference to the dead criminal, “burn in hell.” A number of people “liked” the comment by this graduate of a Catholic high school. My heart sank. I won’t put a hyperlink to the story because pointing fingers and judging people isn’t my intention.

My dad was a policeman for over 40 years before retiring in 2007. Six of my brothers and some cousins are police officers too. I personally worked for the Sheriff’s Office as a summer temporary correctional officer in my college years. So, I understand the feelings the writer expresses. There is not a single bone in my body that feels any sympathy for the shooter. I don’t feel bad that he is dead. I feel terrible for the wife, family, and friends of Officer Tarentino. He did nothing to deserve his fate. He was simply doing the job of protecting the public.

Love Your EnemiesThere is something about Christianity, though, that demands an ethical response that rises above feelings. Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them… But rather, love your enemies and do good to them… then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for [God] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-36, NABRE). This is the most difficult teaching of Christ. Love your enemies. It is also at the heart of this Year of Mercy that Pope Francis proclaimed.

Wishing the shooter to burn in hell is clearly not in line with the mind of Christ. As difficult as it is emotionally, we must pray for the repose of his soul. It is not politically correct to do so, however. It seems like a betrayal. Does that carry over into our Christian communities? At Mass, we prayed for Officer Tarentino; we did not pray for his killer. I fear that we are only loving those who love us in return and not fulfilling the depth of Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies. But we must. So, until this point, I have not named the shooter. I will now. He was Jorge Zambrano, 35 years old. He was our brother too. A brother I dislike to the core of my being. Can I be Christ’s follower now? Can I love my enemy?

Today, we celebrate Corpus Christi. We are reminded of two essential truths of the faith. First, Christ is really present in the Eucharist. “I am the living bread come down from heaven, says the Lord; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” This truth about the Eucharist could lead us to a highly privatized, and therefore distorted, faith if not balanced by the second truth. Jesus said, “Give them some food yourselves.” “Mass” means being sent into the world to be the Body of Christ. “Receive what you are,” said St. Augustine, “and become what you receive.” We receive Christ in order to be one with Christ and to be, as St. Teresa indicated, the hands, the feet, the eyes, and the compassion of Christ in the world today. Eucharistic SacrificeFrom the Cross, Jesus demonstrated his own teaching, saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, NABRE). If we are the Body of Christ in the world, we cannot wish evildoers to hell. We can’t ignore them in our prayers as if they were not worthy of our mention. This will require courage, which Pope Francis reminds us is given by the Holy Spirit, whom he calls the “motor” of the Church. If we dare to call God “Our Father,” then it is by the power of the Spirit who makes the bread and wine and us into the Body of Christ, the Son of God. As such, we are called to love all our brothers and sisters, including our enemies, to give witness to the love and mercy of the Father. Rest in peace, Officer Tarentino. Rest in peace, too, Jorge Zambrano. By the mercy of God, rest in peace.

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10 Comments
  • Dianne Gustowski
    Posted at 22:00h, 26 May

    Wow. So well said, Kevin. Beautiful reminder of what it really means to be Christians.

    • Kevin Dowd
      Posted at 12:26h, 27 May

      Thank you, Dianne. We keep reminding one another.

  • Marion Collins
    Posted at 22:52h, 26 May

    Fantastic blog, Kevin! With so many family members and your own experience it must have been a very difficult topic to tackle. Furthermore you did it with absolute honest feelings and still gave us a truly Christ like perspective on how we should respond. You challenge us to follow your lead and pray for the killer–so very difficult with the Avalanche of policemen and women being shot in recent months.
    Thank you also for the beautiful reflection on the celebration of Corpus Christi. It reminds us that as we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus we become one with Him and in doing so we Must follow His example to love our brothers and sisters and truly reach out to them with His Mercy.
    Another aspect of your Blog that I am really enjoying is the way you remind us of sayings of the Saints,, this week Augustine and Teresa. Even if we have heard them and even used them in our educational pursuits it is very good to have them refreshed and used together for a renewed emphasis for ourselves and others.
    Thank you Kevin Dowd and Bayard.

    • Kevin Dowd
      Posted at 12:27h, 27 May

      Thank you, Mamie. I appreciate your kind words and I’m glad you’re getting a lot out of the blog.

  • Paula Skonieczny
    Posted at 15:54h, 27 May

    Thank you Kevin for your beautiful reflection on Corpus Christi. Some times we forget that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. In this year of Mercy we need to not only seek mercy for ourselves but to show mercy to others..
    I look forward to your blogs every week.. You are a breath of fresh air in a sometimes stale world.

    • Kevin Dowd
      Posted at 23:33h, 27 May

      Thanks, Paula. You know that the feelings are mutual. It was good to see you the other day.

  • Ryan Josti
    Posted at 15:25h, 28 May

    Wow…great article, on a tough topic that is very relevant today.

    • Kevin Dowd
      Posted at 18:12h, 28 May

      Thanks! It was difficult to write.

  • Valarian Mensgk
    Posted at 14:52h, 31 May

    Fantastic article. It really makes you think.

    • Kevin Dowd
      Posted at 15:00h, 31 May

      Thank you, Professor Mensgk!