In the Roman Catholic Church, we are celebrating Gaudete Sunday, in which we transition from a more somber, anticipatory Advent into a period of joyful anticipation. St. Paul tells us in Phillipians in the second reading from Sunday’s scripture to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
As I was discerning about this post over the weekend, what I did not recall were the circumstances under which St. Paul wrote this scripture. Fr. Todd Lloyd shared during his magnificent homily that St. Paul was writing this from prison, isolated and alone, as he awaited his sure death…his martyrdom. This provided even more food for thought as I have been pondering how we can find joy and rejoice amidst the agonizing sorrow that accompanies such tragedies as that in Newtown, CT, still so fresh and painful?
Rejoice always……“always” means in every circumstance. But how can this be? Within our human limitations separate and apart from the fullness of the faith, it is impossible. How can we rejoice when six adults and twenty innocent, precious babies have been slaughtered? When parents, grandparents, siblings and loved ones have been thrust into an unbelievable nightmare? When frightened, surviving children and adults have been permanently traumatized by the events of that tragic day? When a mother has been murdered by her own son, and when a family has been shattered by the actions of one of its own? When police, EMS, firefighters, coroner and staff, other officials and involved persons have been forever altered in their minds and hearts by the carnage they were required to witness and work with. When the husbands, children, mothers, and fathers of those brave women who gave their lives in protection of the children have violently lost their spouses, mothers, and daughters with no opportunity to say “I love you” or “Goodbye”? A small town that will never be the same?? How is JOY possible in this? How can we be faithful to scripture that tells us to “Rejoice always” when we are thrust into a situation such as this? Humanly, this is impossible. But with God our Creator, all things are possible.
The background story of the shooter will begin to unfold over time, although we will never know the complete reality of what lead to this event. It is not helpful on any level to speculate on his mental health status and diagnose him in the media – already we’ve seen impulsive, incorrect statements about his mental health that have been made, which have led to hurt in others related and unrelated to the event. I do wonder about the relationship between he and his mother…as a mother, it grieves me personally and profoundly; as a mental health professional, it moves me toward deep contemplation over what circumstances and moment-to-moment decisions, and/or what relationship issues or other contributing factors could have possibly culminated in this tragic event? I will never know. None of us really will ever know in totality all of the issues and decisions over time that culminated in his actions that day. It is not for us to know. We can only commend him to the mercy of the Lord as our faith teaches us, and pray for the desire and grace to forgive. Only God knows the the wounds of the heart and mind, and can attribute mercy and justice in accordance with His Divine Providence. I am grateful to God that I, in my littleness, am not charged with that responsibility.
I am united in deep sorrow, agony, and solidarity with the parents, grandparents, and siblings of these innocent little ones, and with the husbands, parents, and siblings of the beautiful, brave women who, in their spiritual motherhood, totally self-donated their great love for those in their care. As a mother, my heart is aching….aching for the little innocent children who died violently and away from their parents, aching for their parents whose arms are now empty – who were unable to hold the lifeless bodies of their babies for over twenty-four hours while necessary forensic measures were taken. I’m aching for all who have been affected, for the mother of the perpetrator, and even for the young man who committed this heinous crime, and then turned the gun on himself.
Amidst the devastation, however, stories of great heroism are emerging from the survivors who are recounting many, many charitable, loving, and selfless acts of kindness and mercy. In many ways the good in humanity, which is part of our creation, is shining through as a light permeating the vast darkness. My heart is deeply moved by the goodness in my brothers and sisters in Christ.
These precious babies have now joined sainthood with the Holy Innocents, those innocent young children whom Herod had murdered in an effort to eliminate the Christ Child, and who are remembered each year on their feast day of December 28th. My six beautiful and courageous sisters in Christ are truly martyrs, having died while selflessly protecting the children in their care and thus giving witness to what Christ meant when He said “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Their actions speak beautifully of great virtue and courage in the face of great terror and evil. God bless each of them! I honor each of you, dear souls.
This will be a long Passion for the parents, family members, and friends who have lost their loved ones, and for those as well who were and are involved in the aftermath. Our sisters and brothers are very much in the Agony in the Garden, in profound sorrow and unfathomable pain. They are nailed to the Cross, and are walking the Passion with Our Lord – He is with them at every moment. Never are we closer to Our Lord than when we are undergoing deep suffering. Uniting our suffering to Him, we receive the grace to endure another day, another hour, another moment. Our Lady is standing with them as well, just as she stood at the Cross. Much strength can be drawn from Our Lady, who understands intimately what the experience is of undergoing the slaughter of her child. Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for them.
For now and for as long as it takes, let us all keep watch and pray with our sisters and brothers in Newtown, CT, and be the light that reflects the love of the Lord, leading them to hope and resurrection. Let us remember and hold to the Truth that after every cross, comes a resurrection. Our hope endures….
“Eternal Father, in whom Mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your Mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence, submit ourselves to Your Holy Will, which is Love and Mercy Itself.”
“For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have Mercy on us and on the whole world.”
Resquiat in Pace.