It was like what we read in the Gospel at the approaching death of Jesus on the cross. No exaggeration. The clouds were closing in; the thunder began to occur in the distance; the clouds were rapidly lowering and deepening in darkness; there were bright streaks of lightning literally dancing all around us; it was already about 5:45 p.m.; rain began to fall and then came in buckets...the prayer service was underway...we were all drenched to our underwear. No exaggeration. It was like we had stepped into the scene of the crucifixion as narrated in the Gospels and the weather of that moment was the weather of our moment yesterday.
We were about 40 on the bus taking people from Our Saviour Parish, Our Lady of Lourdes in Daytona, other folks who are part of the FAITH project in Volusia county and folks from the parish in Palm Coast. Once arrived at the site for the prayer vigil we totaled about 50. Had we - the Catholic parishes of the Diocese of Orlando - not gone, it would have been a very weak presence and witness. The media would have been hard pressed to depict any opposition to the execution of Mark Asay.
God bless Phil Egitto for staying the course over the years. God bless his parish staff for all their attention to the detail to make this happen.
One feature of the prayer service is the tolling of a bell, which had a very deep resonation. Each toll could be heard by the inmates in the prison. They would know that God was present with a different opinion relative to what was unfolding.
Apparently it was a flawless execution. Mark Asay was pronounced dead at 6:22 p.m. At the same time, for sure, our presence sought to recognize the deaths for Robert Lee Booker and Robert McDowell and what must be an interminable suffering on the part of their families. Notwithstanding, none of this ritual solved anything. If anything, it adds to the culture of violence, sanitizing it and normalizing it - even more concerning, "blessing" it.
This can't be the last word. I can only hope that, if this insanity continues in our state, we will be less and less hesitant to stand out - either in gatherings in local parishes, in our homes, at our schools, through our communications with elected officials, by our engagement in how communities and nation function, in the field across from the death chamber - with a commitment to being a lot smarter about how to live with each, and live for each other, faithful to our likeness to God.
Fr. Fred Ruse