Greetings in Christ,
I am sure everyone is saddened still by the events that occurred last week in Newtown, Connecticut. I want to provide some updates and to offer some reflections as to how these events will affect us here Blessed Sacrament, and what people of faith might do to make sense of the senseless. Before I write anything else, let us continue to offer prayers and support for all those whose lives have been so dramatically affected in such a sad and tragic way. As we focus on the arrival of the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus, we pray our words and actions will reflect our faith. What I write is my initial attempt.
Blessed Sacrament Parish and School have a safety plan, but events like these demonstrate the importance of constant vigilance about making sure we do everything we can to provide a safe environment. We are fortunate here so many in fact do feel safe. But tragic events rightly cause schools and parishes to examine their existing plans to see how to improve them. We do the same. Specifically, a committee will be formed to examine various aspects of our plan, a work that will proceed quickly but judiciously. It is important to note that even before this committee is finished you will begin to notice changes in the access to various parts of the parish and school. Seeking to make sure everyone is safe is obviously the top priority.
Many times when human beings have an encounter with God or an angel, the first words are “Do not be afraid.” I believe God is saying that to us now. Rather than responding out of fear alone, we ask, “How do Catholics, and all persons of faith, make sense out of such a senseless tragedy? At times like this, believing there are simple or quick solutions to complex problems is a naïve quest for the impossible.
We live in a broken world, the signs of which are all around us. While events such as the tragedy in Newtown gain national attention, there are too many parents each day who grieve the children who die by violence. And, too many parents worry about providing food, shelter, healthcare and other basic needs to their families. And most if not all of us have life experiences that have caused brokenness.
In seeking out a foundation for reflection, I begin with a quote from the U.S. Catholic Bishops document, Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action, written in 1994, but still relevant for today.
Not all violence is deadly. It begins with anger, intolerance, impatience, unfair judgments and aggression. It is often reflected in our language, our entertainment, our driving, our competitive behavior, and the way we treat our environment. These acts and attitudes are not the same as abusive behavior or physical attacks, but they create a climate where violence prospers and peace suffers. We are also experiencing polarization of public life and militarization of politics with increased reliance on “attack” ads, “war” rooms and intense partisan combat in place of the search for the common good and common ground. Fundamentally, our society needs a moral revolution to replace a culture of violence with a renewed ethic of justice, responsibility and community. New policies and programs, while necessary, cannot substitute for a recovery of the old values of right and wrong, respect and responsibility, love and justice. God’s wisdom, love and commandments can show us the way to live, heal and reconcile. “Thou shalt not kill, thou shall not steal” are more than words to be recited; they are imperatives for the common good. Our faith challenges each of us to examine how we can contribute to an ethic which cherishes life, puts people before things, and values kindness and compassion over anger and vengeance. A growing sense of national fear and failure must be replaced by a new commitment to solidarity and the common good.
I believe there are common threads in these experiences of violence. How often do we hear about individuals who perpetrate such terrible evil is being as loners? Having just arrived from Chicago, so much of the violence there comes from young men who even at an early age feel alienated from the larger community. While not meant as judgment, how many seek to fill up those empty spaces in their soul by the use of drugs and alcohol, by shopping and the Internet, by casual sex or by the quest for more stuff? How many of our senior citizens are removed from family and isolated by the circumstances of their life? While it is too simplistic to draw a causal connection between violent movies, violent lyrics in rap music, and violent video games to the violence perpetrated in real life, we must confront in faith the depictions of violence so realistic they cause us to become numb to violence and its effects.
I propose community, and more specifically a community of faith, as the rightful antidote to a culture of violence. This is not to minimize the role of our legislators or public servants who will seek solutions to uphold the common good and protect the safety of our societies. It is to suggest small communities of faith focused on the common good can strengthen the bonds which connect us and to make it less likely individuals find themselves alienated.
We are dedicated to the concept all human beings possess a dignity that reflects the holy and divine image of God. We must be committed to working for peace at every appropriate level, from the individual to the world community. This vocation is ultimately an invitation to strengthen our relationship with Christ and to acknowledge the necessary connections between our faith and our actions.
When comedians like Bill Mahar ridicule the concept of prayer and parents hugging their children a little bit more often they miss a critical and fundamental point. No policy, no law, can be effective in a society that does not recognize the profound and holy vocation to treat all with dignity they possess. Subsidiarity and solidarity, the right balance between fostering action at the local level and in larger soceity, and standing with the most broken, must form a foundation for what we do.
Moments such as these test our faith. One could ask, “How is it God allows such terrible tragedies to occur?” The greatest act of God’s love for us is the profound respect for our freedom. We are a sinful people, but we stand in hope because of God’s abundant love, mercy and forgiveness. Just as human beings are capable of violence, we are more capable of peace. We know this because of the loving self-gift of Jesus on the cross which brought us salvation.
As a people of faith, there is no more important solution than to deepen our relationship with God. And so, in the midst our busy daily activities, I suggest we carve out some extra time for prayer. You might consider a visit to the church in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament to ponder and reflect in silence and quiet. You might make the reading of the Bible, God’s powerful word, the greater part of your life. You might seek to attend a daily mass, the source and summit of our Christian life. I will also place resources on our website to help.
Second, cherish the people God has graced you with in your lives. Seek never to take them for granted, and hug them and share your love for them often. And remember every person you encounter is an invitation to grow closer to God.
God reminds us gently and forcefully of his profound love. We imitate our God in this profound love as we seek to create the care essential for connected communities.