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.

Opposites don’t always attract: Homily for Monday, December 11, 2017

Readings for Today

The first reading contrasts the desert with blooming flowers. The gospel contrasts the absolute trust that those carrying the paralyzed man and the legalistic Pharisees. This season of Advent is indeed a season of contrasts.  Just when we think Jesus could not startle us any more, he does.  Jesus not only heals, he forgives sins. God makes deserts bloom. At every turn, we see the gift of new life.

As we finish the first week of Advent and begin the second, where is your journey this Advent? How have you made room for the Spirit of God? Where do you see yourself filled with expectation at what God will do?

Deep Regret – With or Without Hope: Homily for November 25, 2017

Readings for Today

There is nothing worse than coming to the awareness of deep sin.  It can be quite challenging when we realize we have turned our backs on God.  It is sad when we discover the heartache of evil.  When that happens, we have a choice.  We can choose to give in to despair, or we can choose to have hope.  If we do not recognize the power of God’s forgiveness, or we are too proud to acknowledge his greatness, we despair. When we turn our hearts back to God, trusting in the mercy and forgiveness we do not deserve, we have hope.

What will you do in answer to God’s goodness? Will you humbly confess your sin, or will you stubbornly persist in evil? Will you be greedy generous? Prideful or humble? Seek out God’s mercy and you will live.

Will you open your will to God: Homily for Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Readings for Today

Today we encounter a king that does not seem to be very kind. Rather, he seems harsh and demanding. This is a king that sets forth harsh conditions for his subjects.  It serves as a reminder to us that this life of faith is really about a stark choice for or against God. As we approach the end of the Church year, our focus is shifted to the end times, when the ultimate choice, and our ultimate judgment will occur.

The servant who fears the harsh master, who is not willing even to open the slightest hold to let God control his life, this servant cannot act even on what he knows to be true.  The others take the risk, and the outcome is good. Faith is like this.  We need to take the risk to trust in God’s providence that we can do what God desires, and so produce fruit for God’s kingdom.

Has God Rejected Us?: Homily for Saturday, November 4, 2017

Readings for Today

It can feel at times like God has rejected us.  Such is the question in today’s first reading.  The recent events of our lives, those violent acts that have made the news can cause the feeling of rejection.  But how often are the evils in our world the result of human sin?

To be sure, in some way, all evil is the result of the fall from grace.  All evil arises from sin, for God is only goodness. What humans need always to recall is the constant need for forgiveness and conversion.  Every sin we commit contributes to the proliferation of evil in our world.  So ask God for the grace of conversion.

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

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.

Mornings are evil: Homily for Friday, October 27, 2017

Readings for Today

I have never liked mornings.  I do not like to have to get up early (as my mother can attest). I can have the best of intentions and motivations about what the next morning will mean, but at the time morning actually comes, I am weak. This has been a particular challenge in religious life, because things start early.  But my feeling about mornings, and my reactions to it, help me to understand better what Saint Paul says about moral and spiritual choices.

Saint Paul tells us that he sees the good but does the bad.  Now, he wants to do the good, but there are times when the bad seems good and so he sins.  The spiritual life can expose fickleness.  Just like Saint Paul, we can see the good and do the bad.  The only help we can find is the help that comes from grace.  Only with God’s grace, and our full cooperation with it can we both see the good and do it.

Where are you going?: Homily for Thursday, October 26, 2017

Readings for Today

Where are you going? Where do your actions lead? Saint Paul, in today’s first reading makes the choice in our lives clear. We choose vice or virtue.  We choose damnation or salvation. We choose selfishness or righteousness.  But we choose.  But a careful reading of Saint Paul makes it even clearer.  We choose Jesus or we reject him.  It is that simple.

What is it that you choose? How is it that you want to live your life? The challenges of living a faithful life are many.  The temptations to move away from the hard work of righteousness, or the need to trust in God’s grace is obvious.  What is it that  you choose today?

Divine Accounting: Homily for Friday, October 20, 2017

Readings for Today

Remember those wonderful moments when you take out a jacket you have not worn for a while and you find a $20 bill? It makes for a nice surprise because it is a free gift.  We did not expect it, but we have it nonetheless. From an accounting perspective, we did not earn the $20 a second time when we found it. It was a gift.  While it is not exactly the same, Saint Paul writes about the gift of salvation in a similar way.  Let’s be clear.  We do not earn our salvation.  It is a free gift, given to us by God, even though we do not deserve it.

Does that mean it does not matter what we do? Of course not.  Our actions remain important.  But our actions never get us to the point where we deserve to be saved.  Rather, our actions serve as proof that we are striving to witness to what God, in his mercy, has done for us.

No Hypocritical Memorials: Homily for Thursday, October 19, 2017

Readings for Today

There has been a lot of controversy around Confederate War Memorials.  Whenever a memorial is put up, the reason for the memorial is important. Hence, the controversy.  The gospel today mentions those who put up memorials during Jesus’ day.  Memorials to the prophets, whose message was not heard or believed.  Prophets were killed. To erect memorials to them now is seen as hypocritical.

When we rely only on human effort, we run the risk of hypocritical memorials.  All have sinned Saint Paul writes. All have fallen short of the glory of God. How can we ever put our trust in human effort alone? Truth is, we do not.  We put our trust in the way, the truth and the life, the Lord Jesus Christ himself.