O, this is the poison of deep grief; it springs
All from her father's death. O Gertrude, Gertrude,
When sorrows come, they come not single spies.
But in battalions!
(Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5)
In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the killing of Polonius produced insanity in Ophelia and an insane desire for revenge in Laertes. In 2020 America, the murder of George Floyd has likewise unleashed long pent-up rage which has plunged our already devastated and conflicted country into an analogous poison of deep grief. The grief is deepest, of course, for the direct victims of institutionalized violence, for their families and friends, and for the African-American community in general, which has endured this for so long. Beyond that, however, there is the deep grief of an entire society, suffering from this self-perpetuating poison of racial and communal hatred.
Particularly poisonous too has been the scandalous manipulation of religion in the service of power, domination, and control, exemplified in the decades-long unholy alliance between one political party and a poisonously politicized deformation of American religion and Christian faith. Hence the righteous religious grief expressed by Washington's Episcopal Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde in response to the use of the famous Saint John's Episcopal Church across the White House for a profane presidential photo-op, preceded by institutionalized violence against peaceful American citizens in Lafayette Park. Hence the righteous religious grief expressed by Washington's Catholic Archbishop Wilton Gregory in regard to the presidential photo-op at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine:
I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree. Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.
As we thankfully reopen our churches and shrines to the public, it is good to remind ourselves why we have sacred places, what they represent, and how easily religion can be misused.
Photo: The President and First Lady pose outside the St. John Paul II National Shrine (CNS photo/Tom Brenner, Reuters)