THE CONNECTICUT TRAGEDY
Since I know many families in Connecticut, I have during the last day felt profoundly sad, since hearing the news of the hideous shooting. My prayers go out to the families concerned, but to all families who now live in fear that a similar fate could befall them. I know it will make many people fearful of anything their children are doing – even going to church, because someone out there may want to harm them. That is not the way we are meant to live our lives – and parents want to introduce their children to a caring, safe society. Anything that makes us fearful is evil.
I was at a funeral yesterday morning, a faithful, Christian young man who died in his 40’s, leaving a young family with their bereaving mother. Wonderful things were said of him, and everyone who knew him was proud of the way he lived his life. However, at the end of the service, the pastor said something that disturbed me a great deal, as it did Joan and Mike. He spoke about being ready to meet the Lord, and how we need to be ready, and even spoke of the last shooting, wondering whether the victims were ready (in my words) and free from sin.
We were shocked because that is not the way we see Jesus Christ. He became human to share the Good News that God does not hold our sins against us, and Jesus gave his life as proof of that. This is surely what the Advent scriptures are all about. And Jesus – Emmanuel became man so we can understand that God weeps with us in our suffering.
I walked out of church thinking these things, to the news of the shooting in Newtown, CT not far from where so many of my friends live. We had been approached about giving a renewal in Danbury, the city next door. What do you say as a person of faith to the families, to the people around who are grieving, anxious and angry about it all?
I know that God welcomed each one of them, and the wonderful teachers – the young killer and his mother into heaven, and would have said to them, “It was not meant to happen this way! I created you to live a happy life, and then to be even happier in heaven for all eternity!” I am sure God (Jesus) had tears in his eyes as he looked down at the saddest scene of all, the screaming, wailing and horrified survivors. I know the Holy Spirit was with the police, the other teachers, and the parents, comforting and guiding them in their awful responsibilities.
And I believe the Holy Spirit is with us as we reflect on all this and ask ourselves what can we do to prevent it happening in our society again? We have had too many of these society created problems for any leader to wash their hands and say we can do nothing. It happens because even in our polite, God-fearing society we allow violence to be a recreational activity. We kill for fun, even if it is only in a game we play or a movie we watch.
We also talk about rights of individuals to carry arms, without considering the rights of the wider society to live without those arms being used against them. We don’t live in a perfectly behaved society, where people live in peace with one another. Some people are psychologically unable to be responsible for their actions, they need protection as do the people with whom they live. Other people are damaged sadly through what we politely call ‘domestic violence’ – we know if affects them, and makes them prone to violence themselves. To say that everyone has the right to carry arms, even in public and concealed, is dangerously false reasoning.
And then for others to say that everyone should be armed to protect themselves and society from these dangerous people is promoting a society in which I do not want to live, and I doubt that many others do either. It is insane!
It is the responsibility of civic leaders to provide a safe environment, where people can live in peace, and where the criminals, and those who are unable to control themselves do not have easy access to weapons that make them not only dangerous, but allowed to destroy the freedom of others. If we all have to sacrifice some freedom and rights to live in this environment then we need to accept that discipline.
My role as a priest is to be a comforter of the afflicted. I don’t know how I could have fulfilled that role in Newtown, but I am proud of the pastor of St Rose of Lima Church, and the other pastors who did. My role as a priest and a preacher is also to talk about Christian responsibility, and point to the example of Jesus in guiding the way we live our lives.
Jesus suffered violence himself. It was part of his daily life, from the moment he was born. But he would not use violence even to protect himself. He told Peter to put away his sword, and healed the soldier whose ear had been cut off. He clearly did not want violence used even in self defence. Isn’t he saying the same thing to us today?
None of us can undo the past, it has happened and we cope and help the victims in the best way we can. But we can learn lessons from our past, and this is clearly what we have to do, so that no one suffered in vain.