Deacon Brandon Justice On Chattanooga, Sheepdogs and the Triumph of Christ

The following is from a homily preached by Deacon Brandon Justice at St. Mary’s parish near Silver Spring, Maryland a few weeks ago in the wake of the unprovoked terrorist killings of 5 US military men in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My good friend, Zmalfoy, was in attendance, and asked Deacon Brandon for a copy of his words, knowing that I’d appreciate them (and others, as well). Thank you Zophiel! And thank you Dcn. Brandon, for your permission to spread your good words. They are especially meaningful to me as I write from a hotel just a few miles from Chattanooga, tonight.

Cart_sheepdog1In 2008 I was, as a police officer, involved in a gunfight where the other person lost his life. This was the fourth time since 1994 that someone shot at me, but this time it was different. This was the only time since becoming a husband and a dad. It was also the only time I returned fire at someone, and I was in my third year of deacon studies by this time.

During the 8 weeks I was off waiting for the grand jury to convene and decide its ruling, I was given a book to read by a fellow officer and veteran of the 1991 Gulf War. He knew I was struggling, and a book titled On Killing by Col. David Grossman was his suggested remedy. One particular chapter was called On sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. In his book, the ‘public’ are sheep, and those who perpetrate evil are the wolves and people like me, who protect the sheep from the wolves, are the sheepdogs. Grossman explained that the masses needed those of us who could kill to occasionally do so for the greater good.

From military high school, to ROTC in college, my time in the Naval Reserves and a police career that began in West Baltimore, I pictured myself as a sheepdog – a man, as Grossman writes, with a capacity for violence. As such, I was one of those charged with protecting the sheep, who are inevitably viewed as helpless, fearful and potential victims. I took pride in being the guy who would meet evil with force. “If I have to, I will kill for you” was my pledge.

As time went on, this part of my psyche confused me. My identity as a Catholic father, son, husband and deacon were at the front of my mind, but to regulate my fear I needed to feel like a sheepdog. To be a “lamb among wolves” seemed ridiculously unrealistic to me. Even though I read about Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Archbishop Romero, I never related to exactly how they resisted injustice or faced down evil. Was King a scared sheep? Did Romero run from the wolves like a sheep? Would we consider Gandhi a helpless sheep in the midst of violence? Each of these men bravely protected his flock, not as a sheepdog, but as a shepherd. I began to see non-violence as a duty when, for so many years, I understood it to mean weakness.

John 10 expands on Mark’s gospel: the Good Shepherd. None of us are called to embrace violence, or to celebrate having the capacity to kill. We’re called to be shepherds FIRST – held accountable to how we guide, teach and protect those around us. As Catholics, we must confront evil non-violently with our faith, hope and love. Sheepdogs, like wolves, kill; except one is evil and the other is hired. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.

In 2012 I took a fellow clergyman of mine, Fr. Harry, to see Of Gods & Men – the story of the seven Trappist monks who, in 1996, not only refused to leave their sheep but also refused armed protection from the sheepdog – in this case the unjust Algerian army. In the end, the Islamist terrorists kidnapped and beheaded all of the monks. Afterwards I asked Fr. Harry what he would have done. He, too, had military training in his background before becoming a priest. Would he passively go with kidnappers or fight back? He surprised me, saying “I would like to think that as a man of faith, I would respond peacefully with love.” I began to realize that if he could shed the desire to be the sheepdog, then so could I. Instead of “I will kill for you,” my pledge became “I will die for you”.

Such is the calling for clergy, as I have chosen to become. It remains a sad reality, however, that the sheepdog pledge and the sacrifice of police officers, deputies, soldiers, sailors and marines are necessary as long as some men continue to choose evil. Non-violence may not be an option for all of us. Pray for these men and women who choose to be sheepdogs. They are targeted, not just in Asia and the Middle East, but now in St. Louis and Chattanooga.

But this is also a time of unprecedented martyrdom in our Church. More faithful shepherds are being sacrificed than ever before. Nonetheless, this evil, this hatred for Christ, will eventually collapse – just as the genocidal regimes have all done before them – not by force, but by love. We will ultimately triumph – not because we killed greater numbers, but because we sacrificed in greater numbers: not by inflicting, but by enduring. This is the victory of the Cross that is fulfilled through the calling of the shepherds.

13 Comments

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13 responses to “Deacon Brandon Justice On Chattanooga, Sheepdogs and the Triumph of Christ

  1. chrissythehyphenated

    Thank you so much for posting this Grunt.

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  2. chrissythehyphenated

    Texted link to Mama Buzz: “Thank you! Wonderful post!”

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  3. I’m so glad you posted this, Grunt. It’s not often that a sermon speaks directly to me, but this one did. As I say in the pews, I was thinking “This is the most real homily I’ve heard, ever.”

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    • I hear yah. BTW, do you think this copy is faithful to his words that day? He wrote down “95%” of what he thought he said, and since he wrote it out quickly, I had to edit a fair amount of it for grammar and to express the meaning I was pretty sure he meant in his brief statements.

      Hey, I meant to text you today, but I left your phone # at home. Gruntessa and I are in New Orleans tonight. Your old stomping ground. Dd you have any recommendations? We’re going to mass at St. Louis Cathedral tomorrow, then Cafe du Monde. Ate at Copper Monkey tonight. Any tips? Thanks!

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      • Yeah, it was quite representative of what he said. I think he had a few more works in the “live” version, but even that was pretty short and to the point, and all the points that hit me from then were made in the written version.

        Regarding New Orleans: I’ve not been back since ~2003 (so, before Katrina), but Cafe Du Monde is definitely on the checklist. I dunno if the little cafe in Pirate’s Alley is still open, but that was always a fun place to go for a chocolate croissant and and Orangina. If they still exist, I would also recommend Nirvana for Indian food, and Juan’s Flying Burrito (on Magazine Street) for Burritos, quesadilla’s, etc. . . If you’re uptown near my old school, the Camellia Grill at Riverbend was pretty good.

        French Quarter Gem and Lapidary was always a pretty place to roam (back when I would wander it, it was called New Orleans Gem and Lapidary). They close at 6pm, so you’ll need to wander their direction sooner than later.

        Otherwise: Stay off Bourbon Street, especially after dark, as it gets kinda gross. Immerse yourself in Zydeco at your own risk, I’ll not be responsible for headaches. I’ve heard the hurricanes at Pat O’s are still good, but I wouldn’t know, as I’d never had one. Most of what you will find in the tourist shops is fake, which is good, but still be careful–I know of a case of a stupid guy bought an incense burner from a Quarter gift shop that should not have been for sale to anyone, much less no-nothing muggles. I was one of those who had to try to contain the mess. It still irritates me, because the guy was stupid and should have known better, but noooo~ooo!

        If in your wanderings through the French Quarter, you should stumble across a certain shop on Rue Dumaine with angelic sigils scrawled in sidewalk chalk at the entry, please keep in mind that for all the touristy stuff shown (as an intentional diversion), this is not a tourist-oriented shop, and so should be approached with caution. [Lady Mimi was a kind woman in a time of great confusion for me, and an off-hand comment of hers once kept me from getting terribly lost. I’ve no doubt she has no memory of me, for I only visited a few times (being a poor college kid), but I am grateful for that one thing she said.]

        If I were you, I would avoid it all together (unless you’re looking for something specific, in which case Dear Grunt, we need to talk). Just keep walking.

        The Cathedral is beautiful. Make sure to get a pic of St. Jeanne D’Arc, and check if the LaFitte park/ museum is still open. Because, pirates!

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        • Great tips, Zoph. Thanks! Is the Pirate Alley right next to the Cathedral? I was just there, but didn’t see that cafe. I’ll check again later. I did notice the Trashy Diva Lingerie Shop right there by the church. Hmmm.

          No need for fortunes told. I already know how messed up my life is. 😉 I’ll check out the pirates! Thanks! 🙂

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          • Yeah, right alongside the garden in back. I don’t remember a trashy lingere shop next to the cathedral.. . those were usually farther down.

            Good luck with the pirates!

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          • Oh, and FTR, I’ve never in my life had someone tell me my fortune. Lady Mimi’s comment was during a wine and cheese reception for an author, and we were discussing. . . .things . . . and she, offhand, asked “Well, were you properly baptized, Father, Son and Spirit?” I said yes, and she continued “Then unless you go to some effort to repudiate that baptism, that mark and that protection stays with you. If you’ve half a brain, you’ll cling to His protection and never let it go. You stick to Him, He’ll never lead you wrong.”

            Those words came back to me much later, and explained a lot of the loneliness and sometimes “out-cast” feelings of my college years. I am now thankful that I had His protection in such perilous circumstances.

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            • Amen! I’m with you on that. And, that certainly IS a powerful encouragement from her. If I may ask, what is the danger at this particular place or this woman? Spiritualism off the rails?

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              • It’s where all the local occultists, witches, alchemists, and “other” go to stock up on various things. She also hosts seminars, classes, and other gatherings in the back room and courtyard. Since she’s close enough to the touristy areas, she does stock some items exclusively for them (to distract, really. Those items are shiny and as harmless as the buyer), but most of her business is from more, er, serious folk. I’ve never known or heard of her selling anything dangerous (aside from certain books), but some of her clientele . . . I wouldn’t trust them with a wooden penny. New Orleans is (or at least, was) very attractive to the worst of people. So, it’s really the people shopping there that are the danger, not Lady Mimi or the store itself.

                [Do keep in mind that I haven’t been there since my Pre-Katrina, wayward college years, so things might have improved a bit. . . but I doubt it. . .]

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        • Hit Lafitte’s blacksmith shop bar tonight and will go to the Lafitte museum tomorrow. That cafe on the Pirate Alley is no longer there. Just a bar. Sorry!

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          • At least the museum is still there!

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          • Too bad that the little cafe is gone– it was a fun place to visit! Especially when you and your besties have been in the alley since midnight, hoping to get a glimpse of the 3am appearance of Capt. Lafitte ghost, but all you end up seeing is cats following and begging treats from the air, and it’s now 7am and you really need some coffee and croissants before going back to your dorms . . . 😛

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