Advent days are short, with the steady approach of midwinter bringing darkness and a diminution of light. And yet in the wake of last week’s tragedy in Connecticut, USA we need illumination now more than ever – a means of discerning the traces of God’s activity in our lives.
People who claim that faith is a crutch, and see themselves justified in those remarks (by the immediate vigil held at St Rose of Lima church in Newtown, after the shootings) really have no idea. Faith is a burden – it elicits disapproval and open hostility in the public square, and asks difficult questions about how, in the midst of such horror, we can raise our voices in praise of a deity whose providence was inextricably bound to the events that took place on December 14.
20 children, ages 5-10, were murdered. 6 adults, murdered. A seventh adult murdered at a second crime scene. A dead shooter, and endless unanswered questions.
This isn’t simply a national event played out in a secluded community in northeastern America. It has, by way of social media and newsroom scrutiny, resonated with an international audience. Whether that is itself the sign of a troubled culture and its almost myopic fascination with violence (evinced by television and cinema) or an indication of our desire to be plugged in to a transient stream of perpetually updated ephemera, the end result is the same catalogue of confusion and disbelief.
Almost at once public focus fell on gun control, as though impeding access to specific weapons would somehow cure the sickness at the centre of all this. We’ve conveniently placed the onus of accountability on an inanimate object. Blogger Liza Long in a hard-hitting post entitled I am Adam Lanza’s Mother frankly discusses her relationship with her mentally unstable son, whose aggressive behaviour, she explains, is not being effectively addressed by contemporary clinicians. “In the wake of another horrific national tragedy,” writes Long, “it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.” Perhaps it’s also time to talk about morality.
Malta can feel comfortably insulated from the rest of the world. “That could never happen here” is the general consensus, and while we are content to mourn and offer our condolences, what can we do to help transform this immense suffering? There is only one source of stability that is not threatened by the world’s slow, seemingly inexorable movement away from the guidance of objective truth. “Love descended to the very depths of the abyss of evil to save man in his core.”
Pope Benedict said those words when he visited the death camps of Auschwitz, reminding us that there is no law nor mandate that can abolish humanity’s capacity for evil. Kaitlin Roig, a heroic teacher who kept her class of six year olds safe while the gunman rampaged through the school, “told the kids I love them” in case those were the last words they ever heard. In the pope’s first encyclical letter we read, “Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.” In what ways was that outpouring of love between Roig and her terrified students a figure for the Love at the heart of reality?
I sometimes run the risk of divorcing the material I read from any practical application. It gets filed away somewhere for future use (more often than not during an exam) and only realise, sometimes years later, that it has permeated through and become integrally part of me, nourishing my view of life. This happened when I was confronted by the news of the Connecticut school shootings.
We mustn’t let this become another horror story, merely some macabre reminder of evil in the world, a political tool or an excuse to distractedly probe the fractured psyche of the young man (he was only 20 years old) who committed the atrocity. This event must lead us to a renewed vision of our lives, and the one remedy that can transform us. This is, after all, the message of Christmas.
In these dark Advent days we must try as best we can to make sense of things, and look forward with hope to ultimate triumph. In the midst of death, we anticipate new life.