‘At three a.m. I need a gun to be ready’

Conscience Formation for the Election
By Father Bernie Survil

We lined up inside Mersinger Hall, Ascension Parish, Jeannette, PA waiting to pick up our spaghetti supper carry-outs. Former pastor Fr. Paul Lisik mixed with the people, all properly masked but no social distancing observed despite posted notices.  I struck up a conversation with the guy behind me. That turned him on as a non-stop talker. I listened. What I heard was foreboding.  BLM was suspect for him. For the first time in his life he had bought a gun. “If it’s three in the morning and I hear someone downstairs, I want to be ready. It used to be we never had to lock our doors. Things are very different today.”  If he had given me the chance I would have reminded him how Father Pernatozzi, Ascension’s pastor in the late 1960’s had woken up in his darkened bedroom to hear a voice saying: “Where’s the money?”  He was referring to the raffle money. After the assailant tied him up, he frightened priest told him where to find the money who then made off with it. Myself, I never heard a thing from my bedroom down the hall, nor did Mary Masciantonio, the housekeeper in her quarters on the first floor. 

What came of that? Did the Diocese propose rectory residents get a gun?  No, it ruled money be bank deposited the same day it came in. Alarm systems were installed. In 2020 things are indeed different. Fear has been sown in people’s heads from the highest perches in The Land. It’s not fear of Covid, but of other people. Try as he may from his perch in the Vatican Pope Francis is reminding us that Fratelli Tutti: We are All Brothers. Our national leadership preaches the contrary. It has increased spending on the biggest gun in the world: Nuclear Weapons which supposedly protects us from “the other.”  PNC Bank is a financial enabler of the US corporations that make and maintain these weapons which is why we say the Pittsburgh-based bank can do better by divesting nukes. (www.abetterpncbnk.org)

In the 1960’s when Ascension rectory was robbed, the nuclear arms race was in ascendency. Monk Thomas Merton, cited by Pope Francis in his address to Congress in 2015, as a great American, said that fear is the basis of war. It’s that same fear that has people in Jeannette preparing for a domestic war, not a principled civil war, but an irrational war pitting people with guns against whomever might enter my house at three in the morning. Like it happens all the time in Jeannette.

Earlier that same, October 27, the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought held an outstanding online Public Dialogue on Election 2020: The Moral and Public Obligations of Winners, Losers, and the Rest of Us. It was a serious and hopeful conversation and great turnout with over 3,300 viewers who joined live. The panel included a black Republican supporting Biden; a white Republican Woman. A black Catholic journalist; a white member of the first Obama White House Team that transitioned from the Bush Administration without incident. Most were Catholics. The host, John Carr had worked with the US Catholics Bishops’ Conference for decades. It was a high level conversation demonstrating that as Americans we can be, we have to be Fratelli Tutti. A brother doesn’t carry a gun out of fear of his brother.

In these days leading up to and following the national elections of November 3rd, I urge my fellow Catholic clerics to counsel their people to put away their guns,  put away fear, opt for political candidates who will bring us together.  Let a nonviolent Christ-formed conscience, not fear, be one’s guide.

Fr. Bernard Survil    bsurvil@uscatholicpriests.us   Ph:  724-523-0291    28 October, 2020