Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent Week 3: Newtown, CT

This weekend I drove to northern California. I was on the I5, about as barren a road as you can imagine, lifeless hills followed by endless grey ribbons of road.  And I was listening to Christmas music. I've been doing a lot of that this Advent.  Some nice religious stuff like "Silent Night" mixed in with many of the great standards.

It's the sadness of them that's been helping me, oddly.  I don't know if you've ever noticed, but so many Christmas songs are either overtly about longing or have an undertow of something much more wistful than what the words seem to be saying.

And today all I could think about was the parents of the children killed in Newtown, what it all must be like for them these days. I think there are a lot of us all over the world who are doing that, and praying for them and letting our own hearts be broken, too.

I listen to the President and the talking heads respond, and I've heard it all so many times before. In the last two years we've had a Congresswoman shot in the head, we've had at least 4 different mass shootings that I can remember, almost all of them involving the death of children, and still we've gotten no closer to gun control.  There's something almost fundamentalist about the American devotion to our Constitution, as though the fact that there is a second amendment somehow denies us access to common sense. Common sense, which tells us that there is no good and legitimate reason to have an automatic weapon in a peaceful society. That there is no good and legitimate reason to have a concealed weapon. And that the argument that gun violence proves the need for guns is circular reasoning, the snake eating its tail.

So much of the the current debate has collapsed into sides shouting crazy at one another. And so little of it seems grounded in actual people, the ones who have lost their lives, the ones who have had their lives permanently altered as a result of gun violence.

Like Olivia Engel, 6. 

Noah Posner, 6.

Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, who died trying to stop the shooter.  

The superior of the community I've come to visit presided at Mass for his community of Jesuits today. He said to them, the problem with being a Jesuit is that we're so terribly insulated from the day to day hardships that families face. We don't know the first thing about having to make ends meet, worrying about kids, and on and on and on. It's an enormous gulf of experience.  Our lives are in some ways terribly, terribly comfortable.

He told his community, I want you to pray that God will help us overcome that gulf with the families in Newtown, and help us to be deeply and profoundly affected by their grief, their irresolvable, unassuageable loss.

Maybe that's what we should all pray for -- that we all, as a country, may be profoundly and permanently wrenched, traumatized, devastated by what's gone on in Newtown.  That our lives, too, may never be the same, that we can feel that hole that is now a part of their lives and that we will ache, too, now and forever.

I leave you with Saturday Night Live's cold open, a memorial to the victims.




kmbrco said...

Your sentiments ring soundly. One of my favorite artists is "Over the Rhine". They have created some truly beautiful Christmas music in recent years. Today I heard, once again, one of my favorites "Snow Angels". The shadow of Newton will forever color my view of this song. Making it even more beautiful, poignant, and sad.
I continue to pray for PEACE...

Carol said...

Father, your remark rings loud and true. Most people do not rely on hunting for subsistence nutrition. There are many sports requiring accuracy and planning that could easily supplant target shooting for sportsmen. Second Amendment proponents seem to forget the phrase "a well regulated militia being essential to the security of the State..." as the rationale supporting the arming of private citizens. Because of a standing army which is responsible to policy-making elected officials, the same conditions do not exist that existed in the late 1700s. It is long past time to revisit the advisability of the Second Amendment, and it needs to be strictly abridged. What is even more crucial, imho, is improving access to mental health care, improving research and development in the field of brain science, and casefinding and offering real, practical assistance to at-risk families.

And then there is the matter of impotent rage, the kind that makes an at-the-edge individual purchase an AK47 knock-off and taking out a few dozen or so of his fellows before committing suicide by cop.

I recently (last week) engaged in a little "retail therapy" at a local mega-mall, only to return home to turn on the news and find that there had been another mall shooting in another town. People like me can't even go to physically look at a sweater to see if it's something they'd like to buy without taking their lives in their hands.

To say this state of affairs stinks (or insert favorite Navy Creole metaphor) is an understatement. Situations like school shootings (remember the Amish school shooting--who picks on the Amish, for pete's sake?!) should not exist in a free society. I'd say that the Prince of Peace certainly has His work cut out for Him!

Shelly said...

I watched a very good and compassionate priest struggle to keep his composure throughout the Vigil Mass Saturday last. As I looked up at Christ Crucified, I saw in my mind an image of our Lord welcoming and comforting these precious children, and adults, into Heaven; felt the terror they must have felt, and then felt His tenderness and Love in welcoming them to be with Him. My heart is broken - and as the choir sang "Veni,veni, Emmanuel", I found its words to be fitting: "mourns in lonely exile here...remove our hate and faithlessness...disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death's dark shadows put to flight." There have been so many days here lately when the Rosary in my hands is so heavy with the world's problems that I can't hold onto it, and I must remember that on my own it is all too heavy - but if I can join my heart to His, join my pain and longing and tendency toward dispair with Him and the Cross - only then can it be carried.

I respectfully disagree that guns are the problem. The Problem is so much deeper. Others have written much more eloquently than I ever could about this (see Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog at Patheos for one example), but I know that The Problem is tied into what I feel with my Heavy Rosary. It is so beyond me and my ability to do anything...and yet, prayer, allowing my heart to break and remain somewhat broken, these seemingly small actions especially when done by many, can have such a strong effect that perhaps we can begin to work toward a solution, toward an eventual resolution of The Problem.

When one can do nothing else, one must pray. And when one CAN do something else, continue to pray. Jesuits, other religious, etc.. may be far-removed from daily realities, but you are not far-removed if you continue to pray. God will show you what you need to be shown, but that still, small voice is hard to hear unless you are practiced in listening (and then, He does have what we in the South call the Holy 2x4 for those times we persist in NOT listening!). We need more people to pray more. Simple, and yet so very effective.

Thanks, Father, for sharing your thoughts with us.

Anonymous said...

The Washington Post published a deeply moving snapshot of Monsignor Robert Weiss, the priest in Newtown whose parish includes nearly half of the dead -- people whose marriages he officiated and children whom he baptized. This is not a priest at all removed from his people. Returning to more direct, pastoral ministry may be good for the Jesuits.

Most of all I give Msgr. credit for not pretending to have an answer to 'why?' As the headline of the article so aptly puts it, he is mouring WITH (not for).

May we all let this break our hearts that they be remade by the Potter's hands.

Annie said...

Thank you, Jim.