Here’s what I think: It’s a spiritual problem

Westside Middle School, Jonesboro, Arkansas.

James Parker Middle School, Edinboro, Pennsylvania.

Thurston High School, Springfield, Oregon.

Columbine High School, Littleton, Colorado.

Lake Worth Middle School, Lake Worth, Florida.

Santana High School, Santee, California.

Red Lion Area Senior High School, Red Lion, Pennsylvania.

Ricori High School, Cold Spring, Minnesota.

Red Lake Senior High School, Red Lake, Minnesota.

Campbell County Comprehensive High School, Jacksboro, Tennessee.

Platte Canyon High School, Bailey, Colorado.

Amish School, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

Central High School, Knoxville, Tennessee.

Discovery Middle School, Madison, Alabama.

Millard South High School, Omaha, Nebraska.

Chardon High School, Chardon, Ohio.

Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, Connecticut.

Sparks Middle School, Sparks, Nevada.

Arapahoe High School, Centennial, Colorado.

Reynolds High School, Troutdale, Oregon.

Marysville Pilchuck High School, Marysville, Washington.

Townville Elementary School, Townville, South Carolina.

North Park Elementary School, San Bernardino, California.

Freeman High School, Rockford, Washington.

Aztec High School, Aztec, New Mexico.

Marshall County High School, Benton, Kentucky.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida.

27 school shootings in the last 20 years. And this does not include suicides, gang related violence or deaths that resulted from interpersonal troubles.  Let that number sink in for a moment.  27 school shootings in 20 years.  An average of a little more than a school shooting a year.  Nowhere else in the world is there this level of violence in schools.  Nowhere.  Whatever is happening here in the United States simply does not have any other countries to compare to in terms of this issue. 

And this is just schools.  This does not include the Las Vegas shooting, the Pulse nightclub shooting or the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.  Just schools. And the pace of these school shootings is escalating.  Fifteen have occurred in the last ten years. Ten have occurred in the last five years.  That is two a year.    

We have a school shooting problem.  We have a shooting problem.  We have an incarceration problem.  And, once again, little is likely to come from this latest school shooting.  There will be no honest discussion about a complex problem, because we will cling to our tired clichés.  There will be people who will pray, and while spiritually beneficial, all too soon there will be another incident where we will be called to pray again.  We will hear again that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  We will hear again that simply banning automatic weapons will solve the problem, when the gun responsible for the most deaths is the handgun. And once again, no meaningful search for a solution to a problem will happen.

Why? Because before we discuss solutions, we must admit the problem.  It is not just a gun problem. We have a spiritual problem.  I am not simply discussing a problem related to going to church or belonging to a religion.  We have a spiritual problem because in too many instances we sell our values for short term gain.  And it is not just Republicans.  And it is not just Democrats.  It is what arises from politics that have become tribal. It is what arises when people stop using words like evil and sin. 

When we do not believe every human being has a right to be born, we create the seeds of violence.  When we refer to immigrants as criminals, rapists and murderers, we sow the seeds of violence. When we become comfortable when almost 1 in 5 children live in poverty, we sow the seeds of violence.  When we allow schools in high poverty areas to languish, we sow the seeds of violence.  When we are comfortable with children not have equity and access to the type of education that would provide them the opportunity to succeed, we sow the seeds of violence. When we are ok with the culture that makes it possible for men to sexually harass, assault and abuse women, we sow the seeds of violence.  When we objectify people through pornography, and sexualize human beings in the interest of selling a product (I am pointing out your World Series ads a few years ago, Hardees) we sow the seeds of violence.

Bottom line.  We are our brother’s keeper.  We must see Jesus in every other human being, without exception. (This means doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.) We must welcome the stranger. We must care when people do not have access to basic needs.  We must fight for the right of every human being to be born and cared for after birth.  We must fight for a country that seeks to provide opportunity for all, regardless of income.  We must fight for an end to human trafficking, pornography and the sexual exploitation of women.  Put simply, I must emulate Jesus, in whose image I and everyone else is made.

We need to admit our spiritual problem.  A problem with the spirit.  We need to be kind to each other.  We need to be responsible for our own sins.  We need to be responsible and admit that we choose not to help others when we could.  We need to admit that we are responsible, each one of us, for sins of justice that perpetuate, and even make worse, the imbalance of opportunity among peoples in this world.  We need to understand that when we think of ourselves as over and against other human beings, and we do little to understand people who disagree with us, we make it even more likely that people will be left out and ostracized.

Saint James reminds us of this in his letter.  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

Respect for human dignity cannot be limited to certain human beings.  Respect for human dignity cannot be limited to respecting only people who look like us. It cannot be limited only to people who agree with us, or see the world like us. We must stop referring to people with whom we disagree as crazy or evil.  We must stop using belittling nicknames for our political opponents.  I have never referred to another politician with a derogatory nickname.  This is not because I am better than anyone else.  It is because I know I must respect people to have any influence on making things better.

I am tired of the same old stupid lines that come out after tragedies like this.  Yes, despite drug laws, people still do drugs.  So, should all drugs simply be legal? Gun control alone, in whatever form it takes, will not end violence.  Can we, for once, rise to the occasion of a tragedy, by demonstrating a willingness to admit we have a violence problem.  Can we put away the clichés and admit that for whatever reason, the United States is an outlier with gun violence.  Can we research to find out why? Can we have logical, evidence-based discussions to discover a solution? Can we admit that this is a complex problem that will not be easily or quickly solved?

Can we stop blaming the mentally ill? Yes, there are mentally ill people who are violent.  But people who are mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence, not perpetrators.  While it is estimated that one in four people will experience some sort of mental illness, 25% of people are not engaging in violent behavior.  Correlation (when something is related) is not causation (when something produces an effect). I could find correlation between being male and violence.  Does that mean then that we should pass laws to keep men from guns? Of course not. 

I do believe we need to discuss reasonable gun restrictions.  When the United States turned its attention to cars, to make them safer, cars became much safer.  I realize the Constitution does not make having and driving a car a right.  But with every right comes responsibility.  And as much as I wonder why people need an AR-15, the most problematic gun in the United States is the handgun.  We need to be able to discuss the issue of gun violence. And we need a national solution.  Yes, some cities have restrictive gun laws.  But, drive a few miles, and guns are easy to get.  We need to sit down and talk with each other about this problem, and a whole host of others.  But we won’t.  And, in fact, until we admit our spiritual problem, it will not make a difference even if we did.

It ain’t all candy and roses: Homily for Wednesday, November 29, 2017

It ain’t all candy and roses: Homily for Wednesday, November 29, 2017
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Readings for Today

Sometimes the Christian life is presented in such a way as to make it seem easy. Jesus is the kind teddy bear, and not only does he never demand anything of us, he makes all things feel good. While this type of feel good religion is tempting, Jesus never embraced such a religion. Persecution. Division. Not Peace. Conflict. Even Death. The life of one who follows the gospel is not automatically good. In fact, some would call the age we live in today the age of the martyrs, as Christians are being persecuted and killed all over the world.

The good news is that for people who have total trust in Jesus, like the widow a couple of days ago, the grace and love of God can see them through anything. Jesus mentions the difficulties so that we do not go into intentional discipleship blindly. Rather, he wants us to know that while it will not always be easy, we will also face whatever comes in the power of this relationship with Jesus.

Sick and Tired of Violence: Homily for November 2, 2017

Sick and Tired of Violence: Homily for November 2, 2017
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Readings for Today

Violence just seems to be endless.  Again and again there are stories on the news about this mass shooting, or that violent attack.  Hardly a few days go by when it happens again.  I wonder how to make sense of it all.  Sometimes it can be hard to find the presence of God in our world.  Sometimes it feels as if sin is winning.  It feels like death has the upper hand.

And violence is only one type of challenge.  We have loved ones who die, we have diseases and illness, we have hardships of all kinds.  And if there is one thing about the Solemnity of the Commemoration of all the faithful departed, it is that God continues to give to us time and again mercy and forgiveness.  Praying for the dead is the concrete sign of that mercy.  While God hates sin, God loves us.  God gives us every single opportunity to be saved.

Sufferings are as nothing: Homily for October 31, 2017

Sufferings are as nothing: Homily for October 31, 2017
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Readings for Today

My faith is not strong enough.  Unlike Saint Paul, I cannot consider my sufferings as nothing.  I believe it to  be so in my mind, that compared to heaven these sufferings are tiny.  But in my life, I cannot simply see them that way.  There is so much suffering in the world.  There is so much hardship.  It can be easy to give into despair.

God brings hope.  All we need to do is ask. For when we remain focused on the prize of Heaven, we rise. When we proclaim Jesus has triumphed over death, we win.  When we remember all that Jesus does, we can overcome any suffering.

Despair to Hope: Homily for Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Despair to Hope: Homily for Tuesday, September 19, 2017

 
 
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Readings for today

Today we encounter a woman who is understandably in the depths of despair.  Her son is dead, and to make matters worse, she is a widow.  This parent must face the death of her son alone. Can there be any greater heartache to a parent than to lose their child? I cannot think of one. I bet most parents cannot think of one, either.

And yet, in the height of her sadness and loss, she encounters Jesus.  And as Jesus always does, Jesus brings life.  Sometimes in moments like today’s gospel, he does so in an easily observable way.  At other times, it is in the challenge that might mean initial sadness before receiving life.  Regardless, today we are all reminded that Jesus is the author and source of life.  Let Jesus raise life in you.

Wages: Homily for Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wages: Homily for Wednesday, August 23, 2017
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Readings for Today

This gospel goes against our sense of fairness. The same wages are given to all regardless of work.  Whether for one hour of work, or the whole day, everyone receives the same pay.  How is that fair? Yet the first hired agreed to this at the start. Take the job, get paid the usual daily wage.  The rest were told they would be paid whatever is just.  Or, they were not told at all exactly what they would be paid.  But they all agreed, and they all worked.

Yet I can understand the anger of the workers who had worked all day long.  They could have sat around and waited.  But they needed the job, and they answered the call of the owner of the vineyard for workers.  They were not cheated.  What they resent is the generosity of the landowner.  This is a story about God.  The God we follow is more generous to us than we deserve.  But when we see that generosity of God in the lives of others, we too can be resentful.  We can decide to grumble.  Yet when we truly appreciate the generosity of God, it is then we can rejoice every time God is generous, be it to us or others.

Journey: Homily for Sunday, July 2, 2017

Journey: Homily for Sunday, July 2, 2017
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Readings for Today

It has been said that life is a journey.  It is used as an analogy because we often know little of what lies ahead.  We can be surprised by wonderful happy moments or sudden tragic sadness.  Sometimes, in fact most of the time, life is ordinary.  Just like any trip.

The first reading focuses on seeing and recognizing the presence of God.  and because of our baptism, we can see the world in a way, because of God’s grace, where we never journey alone, since we are led by God. Through good and bad, thick and thin, happiness and sadness, and even the ordinary, God is always there.

Holy Suffering: Homily for Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Holy Suffering: Homily for Wednesday, June 7, 2017
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Readings for Today

There are moments in life where we find ourselves at a desperate place.  At these times, it seems that there is simply nothing more we can do.  They can be moments of such suffering that we are not even sure if we can bear it.  At other times, it is the result of such hardships that it seems too much.  It can be illness, tragedy, death, ruin, whatever.  What is it that can make suffering something that does not destroy but rather gives life?  Is there such a thing as holy suffering?

Fortunately for us, there is.  Because of the life-giving act of Jesus, suffering has become redemptive when the suffering humans endure is united with his suffering on the cross.  Today in the readings, there is real, deep, powerful outpouring of prayer, seeking the healing of God.  Perhaps today’s readings serve as a reminder to us that we have to turn to God always, but perhaps most of all when it appears that all is lost.

Choice: Life or Death, Blessing or Curse. Homily for Thursday, March 2, 2107

Choice: Life or Death, Blessing or Curse. Homily for Thursday, March 2, 2107
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Readings for Today

Choice.  I am a fan of Servais Pinckaers, a Belgian Dominican priest who was a significant moral theologian of the last century.  Pinckaers helped to identify the ways in which humans can understand choice.  On the one hand, there is that choice which can be limited to this or that, a choice between two things.  This is what we might call today license, and what Pinckaers called a freedom from.  When freedom is understood as license, then anything that in any way restricts our choices is bad.  Often when a teen complains to parents, “Don’t tell me what to do” they say this because they do not like having their license to do whatever they please taken away.

The other type of freedom is what Pinckaers described as a freedom for.  In other words, choices are made not because it is something I want to do and you cannot stop me, but rather because I want to become someone.  In this understanding, I choose to tell the truth even when it is hard to do so because I want to be honest.  I choose to stop eating chocolate covered cherries by the boxful because I want to be healthy.  I exercise even when I feel like sitting on the couch because I want to be fit.

It is in this sense that we can understand the choice of the first reading.  “Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.”  When we first hear that question, we might ask ourselves who would possibly choose doom?  Who would possibly choose death?  And we would be right to wonder those things.  And yet, anyone who has seen a person suffer from an addiction knows that death and doom can be chosen.  Anyone who has watched someone seek to acquire an endless amount of money or material possessions, and to then be worried about it being taken away, so much so they never give it to anyone, knows how the death and doom that is greed can be chosen.

Death and doom are chosen when people only focus on doing whatever they want, not on what they can become.  Death and doom are chosen because “no one can tell me what to do.”  Life is chosen when we decide to become that person God has created us to be.

Unbelief: Homily for Monday, February 20, 2017

Unbelief: Homily for Monday, February 20, 2017
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Readings for Today

Unbelief.  In the midst of everything that happens in today’s world, it can be difficult to believe. First, there are the things that have always been difficult for people of faith. Such things as an innocent child who gets sick and dies. Or an inexplicable car accident or other type of accident which takes someone’s life to early. Perhaps there are those instances where a relationship fails, and we seek answers. Maybe the difficulty is simply that we cannot seem to believe in what we cannot see, or experience, or touch. There can be many challenges to belief.

That is true even for people who do believe. Such is what we witnessed in today’s gospel. A man brings his son in faith for a cure. But the disciples are incapable. The disciples simply cannot bring about a cure for this man’s son. And the scene seems more than a little chaotic. Not only is there the inability of the disciples for a cure, we hear that there are scribes arguing with a large crowd and the disciples. One can only imagine the depth of this argument in confronting something that is evil.

For anyone who has been involved in pastoral ministry, in trying to console those who grieve, it becomes clear that there is nothing more difficult, or at least few things more difficult, the parent who has a sick child, or a child who dies. It is in this vein that Jesus reminds us in the gospel that faith makes anything possible. But here’s the interesting line: I do believe, help my unbelief! In the midst of a difficult life even for people of faith, there is the recognition of the need for a closer relationship to God. Let us pray that God strengthens our faith as well.