Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Newtown’

massacre

Christmas Eve, late at night, burning the Advent wreath down, listening to Christmas hymns, the children and Regina finishing the decorating, and contemplating the Nativity in a year that has challenged us all like few others. I’m not thinking of peaceful nativities and Hallmark images.

I’m thinking this Christmas Eve of how much the real nativity speaks to the weariness in so many hearts this year. Specifically, I’m thinking of my best friend who endured three heart surgeries and almost died as many times, of Father Luke McCann who was the most influential mentor in my life who died on Columbus Day, of Superstorm Sandy having laid waste my community, and the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary.

It’s been quite a year, yet the story we tell tonight reveals the main characters, not as humans without a care because of God’s design for their lives, but as characters who suffered greatly because of God’s design for their lives: a design that required the deepest faith to accept, and the most difficult burden to bear.

“Faith,” as Father Luke McCann would remind me, “isn’t for when we have all the answers, but for when the roof is caving in and we don’t know what’s coming next.”

Mary had to endure a lifetime of taunts, of deep suspicion and gossip over her fidelity to Joseph, and her divine son’s legitimacy. She had to walk Joseph through the doubt about her fidelity and sanity, and it would still require the assistance of angelic visions to convince Joseph to stay with her.

Then there was the unimaginable selfishness of a society that had become so calloused and coarsened to life that not one person would give up their bed for a young girl in labor.

Not one.

The indignity of a barn awaited the birth of the King of Kings. They wouldn’t be long in the barn because the government, in the person of the king, had decided to butcher every male under the age of two in an attempt to slaughter Mary and Joseph’s child. They would need to live on the road, on the run, as they fled into Egypt; far from either of their families, and with none of the help that a new and young mother needs from the older women of the family.

Homelessness, death, privation, targeting of babies for death…

Not much has changed in 2,000 years. But God came to earth and showed from the moment of His human conception that He would identify with the poor and the least among us. Having escaped murder several times, He would eventually suffer that indignity as well. The nativity narratives tell us not only of God’s great condescension in taking on our humanity, but in His great identification in all things with the suffering of the world. It is the coupling of the great condescension and the great identification with the poor and the least that point to the majesty of God, a majesty whose might is shown in His infinite mercy and forgiveness.

When people look to the tragedies of this year and ask, “Where was God?”, what is really being asked is why God could permit such evil. For me this evening, as I look at the nativity set, the answer is that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph suffered mightily as well. I often wonder what went through Mary and Joseph’s minds and hearts as they contemplated all of those children slaughtered in the effort to get their child. The joy of the birth swallowed up as their hearts must have broken beyond description.

God was right there, physically there, in the midst of it all. So it is that He remains right here with us in the midst of it all.

If it’s true that there was a murderous Herod with designs on the child’s life, then it is also true that there were Magi who returned by a different route, having left gifts to sustain the young family in Egyptian exile.

If it’s true that there was the indignity of a stable, it’s also true that there was the great Theophany, when Heaven opened onto earth and the Angels sang.

If it’s true that there was the parsimony of the residents in the inns, there was the adoration by the shepherds and the Magi.

If it’s true that Mary suffered ridicule and the opprobrium of the women of Israel, it is true that her fidelity to the Father and the Son was rewarded greatly in Heaven.

If it’s true that the slaughter of innocents heralded the first coming of our Lord in His humble origins, then it is true that this mass slaughter of innocents in the womb and the classrooms of America and the world will herald the Second Coming of Jesus in glory.

So, on this quiet night as I reflect on a year that has tried our souls, I contemplate the sufferings of Mary and Joseph, of the mothers and fathers, grandparents and families of Herod’s victims, but also on all of the goodness that God sent into their darkness. I also think of the immense outpouring of charity in the wake of that killer storm in October.

I praise God for our modern Magi; the thousands of volunteers who came from around the nation to help us rebuild, for the endless convoys of truckloads of food, clothing, and supplies. I praise God for the goodness that so much suffering elicited–mainly from church groups acting in the name of Jesus.

I praise God for the outpouring of love, and prayers, and toys for the children and residents of Sandy Hook and Newtown.

I praise God that evil never has the last word, and always evokes a far greater expression of goodness and virtue.

I praise God for all of the good people whom God has sent into my life, whose goodness has been the sign of His constant love and presence, especially for Regina and the children.

Most of all, I praise God for the witness of Mary and Joseph. In their darkest hours they never questioned God’s presence, or His love, or His goodness, or His fidelity. Their faith told them that there was a purpose beyond all human understanding and that He was with them always. They are our perfect role models in this difficult year.

Theirs is a nativity for our time.

Read Full Post »

weepingangel2

Within hours of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School pro-lifers began assigning causal rootedness in the culture of abortion. I’ve heard several people, some of whom are pro-lifers, object to making a connection. So the question needs to be addressed. Given the highly charged political and moral dimensions of the abortion debate, those most directly involved would not be entirely wrong to suspect some of hijacking their traumatic loss and the monstrousness of the experience. “Emotional Vampires,” was the label given by one critic. Harsh words for sure, but accurate?

Analysis of a tragedy on such a scale requires a great deal of information about what shaped the mind of the murderer. Only then can one assign causality along a continuum from most proximal to most distal. In this case that may take several months, as the media cannot be trusted to report factually or accurately, as evidenced by their having gotten wrong everything but the number of victims.

Given what little we do know, there is no indication that Lanza had anything to do with the abortion industry, ever had anything to do with a girl having an abortion, or having had a sibling aborted. That relegates abortion to the distal end of causality.

The connection, therefore, has to do with the coarsening of the culture, of which abortion is just one of many factors. When we discuss the Culture of Death, we discuss all of those factors which lower regard for the value, the dignity of the individual human life:

Abortion
Contraception
In Vitro Fertilization
Cloning
Embryo-Destructive Research
Physician-Assisted Suicide
Ever-Broadening Criteria for Brain Death
Capital Punishment
Domestic Violence
Rape
Incest
Workplace Injustice
Discrimination
Murder/Killing as Entertainment in Movies and Video Games

And that’s the short list. One could itemize hundreds of social justice issues that contribute to the coarsening of sensibilities regarding the worth of a single human life. That said, there can be no doubt that a nation having killed 56 million babies in the womb, regarding it with a blithe, business-as-usual attitude has diminished the worth of the individual.

Those are 56 million choices. It is the choice of the mother, enshrined in law, that determines the humanity of the child of the womb. If the mother decides otherwise then murder isn’t murder, because it’s her choice. No sane or rational argument can ever make that acceptable, and the insane and unthinkable is now a part of the fabric of American life.

In other words, we have, “Defined deviancy down,” as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it.

In other words, we have a new norm for human worth. It isn’t intrinsic, but contingent.

Contingent on the belief and will of the mother.

Contingent on the belief and will of the state.

Contingent on the belief and will of the employer.

Contingent on the belief and will of the lab researcher.

Contingent on the need for spare body parts.

The error of contingency of human worth is a mistake that we just can’t seem to escape. In slavery, segregation, eugenic sterilization, ethnic internment camps, and abortion, all have been supported by majority opinions by the U.S. Supreme Court. In every case the culture of the day was coarsened by the injustice, which left its muddy footprints all over the American landscape.

All of that said, there is a time and a place for everything. We’ll have plenty of time to debate it all after the funerals. For now, we need to wait on law enforcement to give us the most proximal causes for this tragedy. That may take quite some time. Most importantly, we need to lift up this community in prayer and give them the physical and virtual space to grieve.

Join the Coming Home family here tonight for Day 4 of our Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes for Healing.

Read Full Post »

nativity-575x431

As I have done in the past, I repost some of Deacon Greg Kandra’s homilies here at Coming Home (with his permission). Deacon Kandra writes a terrific blog, The Deacon’s Bench, over at Patheos. Stop by The Deacon’s Bench daily for a dose of spiritual refreshment. Today’s homily is a soothing balm after the events in Newtown this past week. Here’s Deacon Kandra:

As some of you know, my office is located in the Catholic Center in Manhattan, on First Avenue. On Friday they were decorating the lobby for Christmas – trimming trees and hanging lights and assembling a small wooden stable, the Nativity scene. As I was leaving work, I stopped to take a look.

This Nativity scene is a little out of the ordinary. While it has all the usual characters, carved from wood – Mary, Joseph, shepherds, animals — it doesn’t have a manger. Instead, the figures are arranged in a kind of semi-circle, and Mary is kneeling, with her arms outstretched – arms that, at Christmas, will hold the Christ child. But now, like all of us this Advent, she is waiting. Her arms are empty.

It’s a poignant image – and, I think, given the events of the last 48 hours, devastating.

In those outstretched arms, we can’t help but notice what is missing. I looked at that figure in the crèche on Friday night and thought of the empty arms of the mothers of Newtown.

We are all Newtown this morning. Those children are our children. The indescribable heartbreak of those parents is shared by the world.

Ironically, in our liturgy, this third Sunday of Advent is a Sunday for rejoicing. We put away the purple and wear rose. The readings point with excitement to Christmas. “Cry out with joy and gladness,” the psalm tells us. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” St. Paul declares. In the gospel, we hear for the first time the phrase that will define the Christian faith for all time: “good news.”

Yet, the news right now isn’t what anyone would call good.

We keep hearing words like “massacre” and “tragedy” and “slaughter.” Mixed in, of course, is another word that we can’t escape: “Why?” I wish I had an answer. I can’t explain it. I don’t think anyone can.

At times like this, God can seem distant, even detached. Yet, this Sunday, we are reassured: He is closer than we realize. “The Lord is near,” Paul writes. And it’s not just because Christmas is 9 days away. It is so much more than that. In the great mystery we are about to remember at Christmas—the Incarnation, the Word made flesh—we celebrate this astonishing fact: God became us. He invested Himself in humanity.

The implications are staggering.

On the five-year anniversary of 9/11, the great Presbyterian minister Timothy Keller spoke about the Incarnation. I’d like to read you part of what he said:

“One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures,” he said, “is that God identifies with the suffering. There are all these great texts that say things like this: If you oppress the poor, you oppress me. I am a husband to the widow. I am father to the fatherless. I think the texts are saying God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that he interprets any move against them as a move against him. This is powerful stuff! But Christianity says he goes even beyond that. Christians believe that in Jesus, God’s son, divinity became vulnerable to and involved in – suffering and death! He didn’t come as a general or emperor. He came as a carpenter. He was born in a manger, no room in the inn.”

And then Rev. Keller adds this:

“But it is on the Cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock, that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack.”

On TV the other night, they showed the devastated father of a child, hearing the news of what happened and burying his face in his hands.

God is that weeping father.

“The Lord is near.” He knows what it’s like.

And He knows what we need: hope. And He has given it to us. The Passion of His son assures us of this: death doesn’t have the last word. We have been promised eternal life. We live in the hope of one day seeing God face-to-face – and seeing in His reflected light those we love.

This is the real promise and joy of Christmas: the salvation that was made real on Calvary began in Bethlehem.

And so we wait for that beginning. We wait for what will be— like that figure of Mary in a lobby on First Avenue.

We wait with open arms.

And in our waiting, we pray. For the victims. For their families.

We pray for the gunman and his family.

We pray for our country.

And we pray, especially, for the children.

I think one of the reasons that this terrible event struck all of us so deeply is that it was carried out against the smallest among us—the most trusting, the most hopeful, the most vulnerable. Five, six, seven years old.

On Friday night, was there any parent who didn’t hold their child closer, who didn’t pray a little more deeply, who didn’t cherish even more profoundly the gift of life?

As I mentioned at the beginning: we are all Newtown this morning. Those children are our children. The wound is deep.

This morning, we pray for all the victims of Newtown, and we pray for those things we Catholics always pray for in times of mourning. We pray for rest, for light, for peace.

It is a prayer whispered with the resilient hope of people who believe that God is with us.

The Lord is near. He walks with us. He weeps with us.

And so we pray:

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace, Amen.

Read Full Post »

autism-awareness

It is often the rule that in the hours immediately following a tragedy such as the shooting in Newtown, CT that the media report erroneous information as the scramble to delineate the tragedy’s parameters intensifies. Sometimes that erroneous information can cause grave harm to innocent people, and such is the potential with early reports that the shooter, Adam Lanza, may have had autism or Asperger’s disorder.

Whether or not the shooter resided somewhere on the autism spectrum, autism is in no way causal in this situation. How people are treated by other people is what leads to the isolation, alienation, and despair that drives people to these all-too-frequent acts of unimaginable violence.

In no other school shooting or mass murder has the autism spectrum been invoked as a causal factor. That’s noteworthy.

As the father of a son on the autism spectrum, I speak from painful and joyful experience. Joseph is thirteen years old and doing marvelously, as I’ve written about here on the blog. In February Joseph will be awarded the rank of Star in the Boy Scouts (having achieved the ranks of Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class). This places him two ranks from Eagle Scout, which he’s on track to achieve by age 16.

Joseph also dances Irish Step, Street Tap, and Jazz. I’m also Joseph’s baseball coach, and biggest cheerleader in his competitive bowling, for which he received the bronze medal for boys 11 and under in New York State. Joseph is also an altar boy in our parish. He’s very involved in good and wholesome activities and is always the first to volunteer for service projects.

That last point is key and needs to be discussed.

It is true that people on the autism spectrum have difficulty in empathy for others. But empathic behavior is not impossible and can be taught through social skills activities and training. Also, involvement in social groups and functions is essential, and not optional. Even if empathy is slow to come online, the idiosyncratic focus that many with Asperger’s have on rules can be used to great effect in ordering the social interactions of these children. Respect for the property and rights of others can be taught as rules to be followed as we wait for empathic sensibilities to develop.

We have a large bubble of teens on the spectrum, and an even larger bubble of children on the spectrum behind them who are going to need gainful employment, as any other citizen. It is vital, VITAL, that employers not walk away from this episode with some vague and erroneous understanding that people on the autism spectrum represent a danger to the public.

They don’t.

There is a sweetness to most of these children, and with proper placement into wholesome (often faith-based) social groups where there is genuinely patient forbearance, they will grow as teens with a sense of rootedness and belonging. In this, their needs are no different than those of their neurotypical peers.

The evil visited on my friends’ community yesterday was in no way rooted in the autism spectrum. It was rooted in the coarsening to life that has gripped this nation for decades. That’s a discussion for another day, and it will not happen here on this blog while there are so many yet to be buried.

For now, it’s enough to say that our children on the autism spectrum call forth the best in us and are a blessing in our lives. They need to be embraced, now more than ever, lest they become additional victims of one man’s evil.

Join our Novena for Healing:

Day 1 Here.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 745 other followers

%d bloggers like this: