Posts Tagged ‘Sandy Hook’


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.


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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:

In Vitro Fertilization
Embryo-Destructive Research
Physician-Assisted Suicide
Ever-Broadening Criteria for Brain Death
Capital Punishment
Domestic Violence
Workplace Injustice
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.

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Causes and Remedies.

That’s what we want. A nation addicted to fast food and fast answers, where the police solve the crime in one hour on TV (less if we factor in the commercials). The difficulty with real life is that the answers are often elusive. That’s frustrating when calamities on the scale of Sandy Hook are visited on us, because humans cannot bear the chaos of random evil. We need to understand the internal logic of the evil so we can seek to remedy such evil.

“Never Again!” is the mantra.

But it happens again, and again. Each time we ask why, but are left unsatisfied.

Last night the President, speaking in Newtown, asked, “What else can we do?” and then stated that in the coming weeks he would use all the powers of his office in dealing with law enforcement around the nation to address the problem. The talking heads immediately indicated that he was broadly hinting at renewed gun control. Coming from the same administration mired in the Fast and Furious scandal, where licensed guns were allowed to be sold to drug cartels in Mexico, it rings a little hollow.

It also falls into the trap of cheap and easy solutions that are at once illusory and palliative. In the end, the reality is that Sandy Hook and the related tragedies are extremely multifaceted, with no one facet bearing the preponderance of causality. These atrocities occur with the frequency that they do when the very concept of society and civilization breaks down.

They are the symptoms, not the disease.

That’s frightening. But how many are willing to look all about us and recognize the many facets of this disintegration?

A good place to begin is with 19th Century pioneer sociologist, Emile Durkheim, who popularized and redefined the term anomie in his classic 1897 book, Suicide.

The term, anomie means to be without norms. In his book, Durkheim was addressing the societal causes of suicide rather than the personal causes. It was Durkheim’s view that people commit suicide when societal values change rapidly, leaving the individual feeling alienated. These changes can happen when societies either become too rigid, or when they lose their moral foundations. A nice little explanation from Wiki:

The nineteenth century French pioneer sociologist Émile Durkheim borrowed the word from French philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau and used it in his influential book Suicide (1897), outlining the social (and not individual) causes of suicide, characterized by a rapid change of the standards or values of societies (often erroneously referred to as normlessness, and an associated feeling of alienation and purposelessness. He believed that anomie is common when the surrounding society has undergone significant changes in its economic fortunes, whether for good or for worse and, more generally, when there is a significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what was actually achievable in everyday life. This is contrary to previous theories on suicide which generally maintained that suicide was precipitated by negative events in a person’s life and their subsequent depression.

In Durkheim’s view, traditional religions often provided the basis for the shared values which the anomic individual lacks. Furthermore, he argued that the division of labor that had been prevalent in economic life since the Industrial Revolution led individuals to pursue egoistic ends rather than seeking the good of a larger community. Robert King Merton also adopted the idea of anomie to develop Strain Theory, defining it as the discrepancy between common social goals and the legitimate means to attain those goals. In other words, an individual suffering from anomie would strive to attain the common goals of a specific society yet would not be able to reach these goals legitimately because of the structural limitations in society. As a result the individual would exhibit deviant behavior.

Against the concept of anomie it isn’t difficult to see that as societal values have changed drastically over the past half-century there has been a concomitant rise in violent crime, sexually transmitted diseases, divorce, abortion (56 million in 40 years), incarceration, etc. At the same time, our students have plummeted from first place in every educational category among the industrialized nations to last place, or next-to-last in every category among the industrialized nations.

Educational and career anomie

According to CDC, 1 in 4 American girls will have an STD by age 19. For African Americans, that number rises to 48%. Factor in illegitimacy rates that rise to the mid-70’s in percentage for African Americans, the recent release of data indicating that for the first time more people are choosing to cohabit than to marry, and the writing is on the wall.

Sexual anomie.

Articles and discussions abound over how fewer and fewer young men are going to college, how women are increasingly frustrated by the lack of maturity and commitment in men in their 20’s and early 30’s. We are now beginning to hear open discussion on the war on boys and the war on men, as evidenced by the spate of TV ads that almost universally portray men as the clueless individual, the butt of the joke. See, too, the portrayal of men in sitcoms and network TV programming. In all of this it is primarily women who are pointing this out.

Interrelational anomie.

In divorce, fathers are frequently absent from the lives of their children, who are raised without the unique guiding role of the father, and deprived of an authentic masculinity for girls to seek in a mate and for boys to emulate. Mothers are often stuck trying to eke out a living with two jobs because of deadbeat ex’s.

In many marriages that don’t end in divorce, internet pornography has corroded any sense of authentic sexuality and expression between spouses. Airbrushed babes make real wives seem like bad porn. Worse yet, women represent an increasing percentage of the market share in porn.

Marital anomie.

The list goes on and on. A forensic analysis of the anomie of any one individual is usually comprised of many constituent anomie components. Just as the person of integrity has integrated several responsibilities and virtues into one virtuous life, the person manifesting disintegration has suffered the collapse of several constituent components in their life leading to an alienation, isolation, and despair that results in either crime, addictions, depression, maladaptive behaviors, suicide, or some combination.

A macro vision of America reveals a radically different country today than the America of 1960. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said “No man steps into the same river twice.” Indeed, because the river flows and the waters constituting the river are ever changing. But many rivers have fairly fixed shores that persist over long periods of time.

The past half-century has seen not only new waters, but a radically redirected route of the American river. If we are serious about making “Never Again!!” a reality, then in the weeks and months ahead we will have to move beyond the allure of quick solutions such as gun control, which do not address the anomie which causes the gunman to contemplate such behavior.

In the case of Sandy Hook, the guns were stolen by the son from their lawful owner, his mother. No amount of new legislation will keep socially alienated people from obtaining weapons. There will always be a black market.

The true answer to this mess resides in a recognition that Western Civilization has imploded, and what that means for us. It means an honest look in the mirror and cleaning up the roots of anomie in each of our lives. That means prayer and reconciliation, both with God and with our estranged relationships.

It means looking outward at our struggling neighbors and doing what we can to ease their burdens.

It means addressing the plight of the mentally ill, and of special education students who do not receive adequate resources to ameliorate their anomie.

It means long hard work at rebuilding a Culture of Life and a Civilization of Love.

It will mean ending the holocaust of abortion and all policies that coarsen our sensitivities and dull our appreciation for the value of every single human life, regardless of what developmental stage.

The anomie is the symptom. The question is whether the horror of Sandy Hook will motivate us to do the painful work each of us must do to ensure that this never happens again.

Time will tell.

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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.

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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.

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