Bishop David G. O’Connell speaks with parishioners in Los Angeles in 2015 (OSV News photo/CNS file, John Rueda, The Tidings).

When David O’Connell was named Auxiliary Bishop in 2015 for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a press conference was held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. It was my first year working at the cathedral, and we were already planning a major episcopal ordination for not one but three new auxiliary bishops: Joseph Brennan, Robert Barron, and David O’Connell. Bishop O’Connell was noticeably nervous. The setting didn’t help: it was the middle of the workday and so the press conference took place in front of only a few people apart from those who worked at the cathedral. After some opening remarks, Archbishop José Gómez invited O’Connell to offer some of his thoughts. He said, “I read somewhere recently that Pope Francis, speaking to some newly named bishops, told them, 'don’t take this as an honor or even as a title or even as a reward for good work.' This call to be bishop is an invitation to follow Jesus more closely and to serve his people with more fervor, so I am very humbled and touched very deeply by the fact that somewhere Pope Francis saw my profile and has named me to be an auxiliary here in Los Angeles.” I recall being touched by his humility and nervousness. This was the day I met Bishop O’Connell for the first time. The next nearly eight years proved to be a testament to the invitation he described. He was a bishop who never stopped being a priest; he was a priest who understood human frailty; he was a compassionate human being.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles began the Lenten season grieving Bishop David O’Connell’s loss. He was murdered on February 18 in his Hacienda Heights home. I learned of his death through a text message. That afternoon we thought he had died of natural causes. Later that night I received another text with the news that he had been shot to death. It came as a shock, and it also brought back painful memories.

Something similar is happening among the people in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. One feels a sense of tenderness, a gentleness that some of us perhaps have not felt for many years.

In the summer of 2011, my mother’s sister was murdered by her husband. He shot her in their home in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Our families were close; their two oldest children were around my age, and we would visit then every summer into my adolescence. So my aunt’s death was a devastating wound, a shared familial wound slow and difficult to heal because of the sheer injustice of it, and because of the rupture of trust. When someone is taken from us our sense of shared experience is also lost. Yes, the memories are there, but they can feel lonely or incomplete, because they’re missing the perspective the other person brings to them. Indeed, it feels like part of us has died as well. So we do our best to  breathe life back into those intimate moments we do recall, and this can help. I like to think of my aunt serving lunch to me and my cousins after a morning of play. I think of her laugh and her humor, so similar to my own mother’s. If tragic deaths can keep us stuck in the moment of loss, recalling special moments in this way can pull us out of the darkness and back into the beauty of those lives.

When I learned that Bishop O’Connell had been shot by his housekeeper’s husband, my heart sank. Those close to parish life know the trust given to rectory housekeepers. Although a motive has not yet been confirmed, I can imagine the devastation of a woman whose husband committed such a crime. He had access to the bishop’s home because the housekeeper, his wife, had access to the home. It’s an injustice too great and a trust so deeply broken. In the time that’s passed, people in the archdiocese and beyond have shared their memories of Bishop O’Connell, including local authorities and political leaders who held him in such high regard. It has come as a surprise to some that a priest so humble made so many contributions to the community.

As I reflected on the readings for this Second Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading of the Transfiguration took on a new meaning. The experience the disciples shared on the mountain was a memory that they kept to themselves. Witnessing Jesus transfigured and Moses and Elijah at his side changed the disciples, but it wasn’t until after Jesus’ passion and resurrection that this experience was shared with others. We could say that the Transfiguration reading, and all the Gospel readings, are shared memories. The experience of sharing a memory after someone has passed is so different from sharing a memory of someone who is still with us. Remembering  the deceased is an act of hope. The sharer of the memory seeks to have others live vicariously through their retelling and, through that sharing, create a new bond. It’s a reminder that although we may pass, our actions continue to reverberate.

In the aftermath of my aunt’s murder there was a season of reconciliation among my mother’s siblings. After all, conflicts abound when there are eleven siblings. They knew no one could understand their pain as they could, since siblings share so much of their lives together and they loved their sister in a way that no one else could. Something similar is happening among the people in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. One feels a sense of tenderness, a gentleness that some of us perhaps have not felt for many years. We know in an immediate way who and what we have lost. And though there are many wounds the church has inflicted on itself, we are invited to enter a season of reconciliation. Sharing our faith and our experiences and taking those stories and perspectives seriously will perhaps pull us out of the darkness and into the beauty of Jesus’ life.

Claudia Avila Cosnahan is the Mission & Partnerships Director for Commonweal and an instructor and consultant for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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