When Jesus told us that we serve him when we serve the least of our brothers and sisters, he wasn’t telling us that we weren’t going to see poor, naked, hungry people. He wasn’t telling us that everyone would have everything they ever needed and that even the sick and dying would be perfectly content with their pain and loneliness. No, he looks us in the face and says, In the middle of all that pain and loneliness, I am there. And when you find some way to love in the middle of that, you love ME. Because that is where I AM.
Listen, I know I’m not up there as much as I want to be. I’ve always been weary of Isla Vista and the kind of lifestyle it’s known for. And I know I’ve never had family and friends that I knew intimately and cared dearly for gunned down. But I’m compelled to say something I’m not exactly hearing come out of all of this madness.
Where is God in all of this if not in forgiveness?
Can we find a place in our hearts to forgive this young man for tearing our hearts out and doing what he’s done? Are we going to put the limit on God’s mercy and forgiveness here?
I’m not saying here to forget what has happened. I’m not saying that we even need to accept it and simply go about saying, It must have been God’s will, or, At least he got what was coming to him. I’m saying, what if we missed Jesus in this young man, in his loneliness and anger and misunderstandings? What if there is more we can do for young people like him, before this explodes again?
Let’s just take a step back from our judgments, even from our anger and fear, and let ourselves be overwhelmed and challenged by God’s forgiveness and mercy.
We don’t let ourselves face God’s judgement enough, I think. So it must be said, here and now, in the face of something so ugly and painful. I wanted this young man to face what he deserves for what he has done. But am I the one to say what he deserved? What do we wish for him after what he has done? Do we wish his condemnation? Do we wish his eternal separation from a God he probably never really knew intimately? Do we wish hell upon his soul?
We need to ask ourselves this, please, honestly:
If our heads and our hearts have been as overwhelmed and challenged by God’s mercy and forgiveness and love as we sometimes claim, shouldn’t we still desire that this young man somehow find his way back to God, especially after what he has done? Especially since there is nothing more we can do for him, now that his own life has been cut so hideously short, his soul burdened by the lives he has taken.
As I write this, I don’t know who any of his victims are. I don’t know if I’ve met these people before, or if they were in serious need of some encounter with God before they own lives were taken. There is so much I simply don’t know.
What I’m pretty sure about, though, is that we can’t simply leave our reactions to all of this at the level of anger and frustrations and fear and pain. Sure, start there. We should feel those things. Yell at God. Ask God why he abandoned us that night. Jesus wasn’t afraid to ask the question himself while he was on the Cross. But it does not, it cannot end there. I don’t feel like I’m close enough to the whole situation to simply forgive that young man. And I absolutely cannot say I know how the victims’ families and friends feel, and that they should simply forgive.
But I will say this: the Church, and God himself, will always challenge us to reach deeper and deeper into our pain and anger to find mercy and forgiveness. This time is no different. Let’s go searching for it together, why don’t we. It won’t be easy, but it’s what we’re here for.