Cop Killers and Christian Discipleship
Last 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.
There 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. From 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.