I really hadn't intended to write an editorial for today's issue. Of course, hundreds of parents didn't really intend to leave their places of work or homes in a panic either when they heard yesterday morning that their son or daughter might be in harm's way. Once again the tragic memories of Columbine flashed back surrealistically as another crazed student went on a shooting spree at Santana High School in the upscale suburb of Santee northeast of San Diego. He not only held students and teachers hostage in Santee, California, but also a nation - a world - as the networks cut in to carry the tragedy. When all the dust had settled, 15-year old Andy Williams had become famous, garnering 15 minutes of notoriety for gunning down 15 of his fellow students, killing two.
What price notoriety? Oh, how evil has penetrated our very fiber today! Jesus says in tomorrow's Gospel in Luke 11: 29, "This generation is an evil generation." Yes, sadly, we are that generation.
As always gun-control advocates will come out of the woodwork again; the Left will accuse the Right of promoting the right to bear arms, the Right will accuse the Left of fostering violence. But it goes much, much deeper. The roots of this evil can be traced back in America to when prayer was taken out of the schools, followed by the legalization of murder in the hideous approval of abortion with Roe vs. Wade in 1973. The whole decline within the Church in America parallels America's downward spiral.
Looking back in hindsight we can see now how the Church erred. The question is, what can she do to right it?
Reestablish her authority. Her authority is not a temporal authority but a spiritual, moral authority that has long been too silent. Truth be told, we have not had someone of the calibre of a Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and, because of it, the Church has lost respect in society. Oh, there is Pope John Paul II, but he is not an American. He is the Polish Pontiff who has mastered thirty some languages but he's not someone the Catholic Church in America can relate to because, for the most part, the bishops have been swallowed up by the tolerant attitudes of the American way of life. That is another reason the bishops are so uncooperative with Rome. It's that prideful American know how that we know better than anyone else. In the sixties there was a novel that nailed what it really was: "The Ugly American." Perhaps you saw the movie. That attitude still persists today, cleverly cultivated by the politically correct rhetoric that dare not offend or correct sin if it is not expedient.
Because of this relaxation of discipline, we have the headlines at Columbine, at Santana, and where next? The more the stories are carried the more copy-cats there are. I'm definitely considered old-fashioned by my sons but I come from the school of the dedicated nuns who didn't care if they mussed your pride, didn't care if they hit you with an eraser if you weren't paying attention, didn't care about hurting your feelings if you were hurting others. But they did care about your soul. They cared about your living as a good Catholic and they would go the extra mile for you. The only fear we ever had in school was not if someone had a gun, but if Sister Honorata's aim would be on with the chalk. Ouch that could sting. But it woke us up to be respectful of authority. We were brought up to honor our father and our mother and all those God placed above us in authority; from the parish priest to the dedicated Sisters, from the president to the owner of the neighborhood grocery store, from law enforcement to anyone older than us, we were taught to treat with respect.
But back then God was in the home always and in the schools, even public schools. Once the Almighty was taken out of the equation, then it was a piece of cake for satan to march right in. But the Church also dropped the ball. Rather than reinforcing discipline and maintaining a healthy respect for authority, she allowed the dissidents to rise within her ranks, allowed homosexual seminarians to advance to the priesthood. This was after my time. I was in the seminary with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate from 1957 to 1963. I can guarantee you there was not one iota, not a trace of any gay agenda, let alone a gay priest or fellow seminarian. Oh, in my early years there were a few who we might have been termed, wierd and girlie, but they were weeded out by conscientious spiritual directors who sought to mold men in the spirit of Saint Paul with the humility of Saint John Vianney and the wisdom of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas plus the can-do spirit of Saint John Bosco.
So what happened to this orthodoxy? Those who were worthy have been eased out by a greater agenda - the hideous 'spirit of Vatican II' that has contributed greatly to the state of the Church and the state of evil in America today. Sounds pretty harsh but what defense do you have for those who relaxed disciplines, relaxed moral standards, relaxed their own virtues for a piece of the American pie?! There is none. First to go was the Prayer to St. Michael. Pope Leo XIII knew what he was doing when he composed it and decreed that it would be said at the end of every Mass. By whose authority and who decreed that powerful prayer was to be dropped? Please tell us. We have found nowhere in the Vatican II documents where this was even talked about. Yet it was axed. Who do you think was responsible for that? Of course, satan. But he couldn't do it by himself. He had allies and these allies have risen to prominent positions in the Church in America, even in the Roman Curia. Who do you trust?
Jesus first and foremost - "Jesus, I trust in You!" But also the ones to trust are those who put it in plain English, who are not afraid to confront a problem head-on without forming a diocesan committee and designating more representatives ad nauseum to speak for them. All that has done is contribute to the watering down of the Faith, the breaking down respect for good and virtue. To go into more detail would take up volumes and perhaps I'll rant in further commentaries. For today I want to go back to the attitude factor.
The reason I bring this up is that we have two teen-age sons who, like those Santana students, have attended a school just like it except even bigger as in over 3,000 students about 25 miles northwest of Santana as the crow flies. Our youngest Kellin is in his sophomore year, the same age as the young man who killed two and injured 13 more while smiling. Kellin, bless his heart, is a good kid who, if he gets upset, takes it out by saying "Oh fudge!" That's the harshest he'll get. Thankfully he has a sense of humor and can roll with the punches. His older brother, Kevin, when he attended the same high school a few years ago, ran into the same kind of problems many of the students at Santana encountered.
For anyone who knew Kevin prior to an incident at the high school in December 1998, he was a happy-go-lucky kid who couldn't wait to grow up, with so many goals and possessing great promise athletically. One of the school's most accomplished basketball stars, quite possibly an NBA pick, encouraged Kev to go out for the team. He had "a wicked shot" from the top of the circle and "ice in his veins" at the free throw line. In other words, he had great potential and acquired the nickname the "iceman" because of his cage skills and the fact he was always shortsleeve in cooler temperatures. No jacket for him. He was doing great in school and anxious to try out for the team the next year. He had been palling around with a few fellows who seemed like okay kids, but they fell in with kids who were not and they tried to lure Kevin in. When he resisted they mocked him, but he let it go...until he received a death threat in his locker. Yes, a definite death threat by these student's "home boys."
We took it very seriously and immediately brought it to the administration's attention. Their response? "Oh, that's kids just being kids. I'm sure nothing was meant by it." Nevertheless, Kevin was never the same. That same week there was a bomb-threat on campus that was quickly hushed by the political school administration back then. I must say that the principal and the key school officials involved at that time have been replaced. But what price?
Kevin retreated into a shell and, three weeks later, after a fellow student of Kevin's (one he didn't know) was beaten to death over a skateboard in front of his home - just a mile away - Kevin really became scared. The death threat and the events around it sent Kevin into a tailspin of fear that he has yet to recover from. From a spry, active, if not hyper teen, he has become a zombie with little or no ambition because he has been guinea-pigged by pscychiatrist after psychiatrist and psychoanalyzed constantly. They pigeon holed him as bi-polar after ten minutes of evaluation. No proof, just that's where he fit their profile. This after we had, out of desperation and recommendation, sought counsel on what we could do to help Kevin get over the trauma. Rather than help they imprisoned him with drugs that saw his weight soar to over 200 pounds and his mind dulled; all because the school authorities didn't take the death threat seriously.
We even talked with our pastor back then and had Kevin talk with him. His response was a half-hearted "oh, don't worry. Just join the youth group and you'll meet the right kids." But that's not what he needed. He needed assurance from authorities that he'd be okay. Except for his parents, he didn't get it. And we wonder how many others out there have encountered the same problems with both the Church and medical profession today. One is too busy with peace and justice issues, the latest liturgical innovations and raising money to meet their bishop's demands than truly taking time to listen; the other is regulated to death and swamped with cases that they have become so impersonal to their "clients," yet, out of pride, must prescribe something even if they haven't a clue. It's all about sincerity and commitment. The nuns of our time had it; those in authority today don't. The reasons for that are again a series of editorials.
Suffice it to say two people are dead today and thirteen more injured. Thousands of students are traumatized - not to mention their parents and parents of students all across the nation - who once again are reminded that school is no longer 'readin', ritin' and 'rithmetic.' They are the victims today because school authorities at Santana, the assailant's own friends and the father of one his friends didn't come forward, didn't take it seriously. Yesterday morning shortly after the shooting, while watching KUSI News in San Diego, an independent station with stable, older newsmen who ran circles around the bigger muscled network competition in coverage and getting to the facts behind the story, veteran reporter Doug Curlee interviewed Chris Reynolds who admitted the gunman Williams slept over at his house Sunday night and even talked about gunning down the students. When Reynolds confronted Williams and told him he would have to report him to the Sheriff's Department, Williams told him he was just kidding. So Reynolds let it go. It's this lack of accountability, this lack of getting involved that has contributed to so much crime. It's this "don't judge others" attitude that has empowered evil and left us with the consequences.
How many more Columbines and Santanas, how many more Kevins will there be before we realize we're dealing with human beings with feelings and emotions, with hearts that ache? His mother and I ache for Kevin every second. God has a reason and we don't understand, but we accept and offer it up to Him realizing the graces merited from Kevin's sufferings will only be measured in Heaven.
However, we won't accept the flimsy excuses and tolerance that has contributed to civilization today. It is not civility. We see it in the media, in ads, in sports, in society as a whole. It is an "in-your-face" attitude that has lost all respect for authority. Why wouldn't Williams want to retaliate against those who made fun of him? Isn't he taught that? Getting even is what it's all about. The guns just make the plane more tilted. It is not about guns but attitude. Personally, we wish all guns were wiped off the face of the earth. To this day I can't see any good gunpowder ever did. It is a creation of satan. But I'm not for "gun-control" because you cannot legislate morals.
When President George W. Bush was asked yesterday what he thinks should be done, he responded that the only answer is to respect life and it begins in the heart. He is so right.
Only when we, as a society, begin to cherish life from conception to the moment of natural death can we expect our youth to respect life. How can a young man think getting a gun and "getting even" or having his "moment in the sun" is any different than the selfish interests of the couple who shirk their responsibility by aborting a child? In truth they are both murderers before God. But that is something we need to all do: reeducate America that there is a God - a loving God, a merciful God, but also a God Who will exact justice by the measure of how we live.
Just as we are calling for the bishops to lower the boom on 'Catholic' offenders of Catholic doctrine, we are calling on pastors and their bishops to call all Catholics and Christians to account for their actions, to begin to reinforce values and virtues as necessary components to life. It is time to reestablish authority by earning the respect. How do you earn respect? By living what you preach, by carrying out all Christ calls for, and by instilling this in our children. It is also accomplished by refusing to accept the immoral standards of today, by not being afraid to speak out when wrongs are done or spoken. Only then can we hold out any hope for our children that society isn't going to hell in a hand-basket. Right now it's pretty tough to get that point across because the evidence is overwhelming that it is. We cannot be intimidated by political correctness. We cannot be intimidated by the world, the flesh and the devil. We cannot be intimidated by political ideology.
Yes, the president was correct. Hearts need to change in order to reinstill a respect for life. But life has become so virtual today, violence has become such a part of our lives today, immorality has blunted our consciences so that we have become immune to the antibiotic of decency and good. It takes commitment, it takes willing to be a martyr for Christ's cause. We are indeed an evil generation and it is left to the few to begin to alter this course America has been on for over 30 years. Is the Church up to the challenge? Are you up to the challenge? The longer we wait, the more Columbines and Santanas there could be. The longer we wait, the more good, decent kids are being ruined by societal norms that compromise the soul. Can we afford that? We must begin to win hearts to the Sanctity of Life by living the Gospel and realizing God is all-loving and all-merciful, as well as all-just. We must account for our actions before we can change hearts. We can only change hearts when our own heart is in it! Maybe that's why it's hitting so close to home!