You can probably tell me right where you were when you heard that more than 20 people were killed just the other day at an elementary school, most of them children. Isn’t strange how you remember right where you were when you hear something that makes you feel lost in this world. I was standing outside the Seminary entrance, waiting for a ride to go see The Hobbit, when our assistant music director drove up and walked in with her three year old daughter. I asked how she was and she said she was just so shaken up by this Connecticut thing. I had no idea what she meant, so she told me there was a shooting and that 20 kids had been killed. I didn’t know how to respond, but to say that it was awful. I felt so helpless I couldn’t even say anything to really comfort this mother who had obviously imagined what it would have been like if her own children had been in that school.
So I went to see that movie, and, honestly, I held back any emotion or really thinking about it until I was in a place that wasn’t a movie theater or in public, anyway. When I got back to my room, I took it in a little bit more, but was so terrified to really let it wash over me that such horror had just happened. I admit, I just didn’t want to deal with it emotionally. After all, what can I possibly do against such evil, such terror? But it wasn’t until the next morning that I felt ready to really take in to prayer. I found myself practically in tears, filled with sorrow, then anger, then confusion as I imagined that these parents lost their children without being able to be there for them in their last moments.
I’m not writing this to bring the horror back to life. For some reason, we as a society have a very difficult time simply standing in awe of the mystery of evil, letting it lead us closer to reconciliation with the shooter, with the children who died, with each other. We find ourselves grasping for answers, for justification for our anger, and even for revenge. Instead of responding to the terrible awe of evil and senseless violence, we try to ignore it, in a way, and think we can have control over it. Change gun laws, we cry; we need more psychological testing and care, we cry; react, react, react, we cry. These are not necessarily bad things, but we forget, forget, forget and think the only way we can go on living our lives sometimes is by disconnecting from what’s happened. We finish reacting, only to be shocked when it happens again. Stop reacting! Start responding! We need to change these things, but first we need to respond by changing ourselves, taking this to our hearts, and letting it burn inside us to lead to conversion. Reaction can take the form of violence, whether it be physical or verbal, especially against the shooter and his family.
Rather than merely reacting without a conversion of heart, we need to respond by rebelling against evil. Yes, we must stand in awe of the mystery of evil, not because it is unanswerable, unknowable, but because we can know it all too well, in our own lives, and yet we can never know all of it. But we cannot let that mystery of evil lead us to forget that it has not conquered us. Christ has conquered it, giving us the legs on which to stand before it, the hands with which to fight against it, and the hearts that burn for peace and protection. Otherwise, we would stand before that terrible awe of the mystery of evil and praise it by reacting with violence or hate in our hearts, or cower down, unable to respond.
For me, the anger rises, as I’m sure it does for many, out of the fact that that young man took his own life too, so we will not get any answers out of him. The evil remains a mystery. We cannot punish him, either, unless we want to deride his memory, question his family in their own sorrow, or hate him in our hearts. Justice seems so far beyond our grasp, because our ability to simply react against him has been taken away. So response is the only thing we can do. How can we respond, how can we act before this terrible awe that is the mystery of evil, so as to not allow it to continue in any form of violence anymore? Only the Cross of Christ shows us how to do this, and nothing else in this world can possibly lead the way. We stand before the hideous spectacle of the Crucifixion, fixated on the tragedy, in awe of the seemingly senseless evil. We see the nails driven into His hands; we hear those calling Him down, mocking Him; we weep with His mother, our mother, as she has to watch her only Son die such a horrible, humiliating death. Yet we know that there is life beyond this miserable mystery. We have no other way but God’s senseless love in the Cross to know that there can be meaning in this travesty, this hideous moment that has our hearts in rebellion.
It may be difficult to take completely to heart, but my prayer in this time of mourning is that we let the Cross hold us up, as it once did our Lord, so that we may somehow come down from it and know that there is Resurrection. Then we too can stand, as Christ does even now, before the terrible awe of the mystery of evil and death, and so live in such a way as to not let it bow us down, but that we might stand before it, defiantly and rebelliously in love with God and with each other, especially those most in need of His mercy. Like those children. Like the teachers who gave their lives for those children. And yes, like the shooter himself.