One could go into the socio-political issues involved in Yugoslavia. We could review history to see similar occurrences and their impact. But the bottom line, the pain found in the world, the spiritual hole in the 'soul' of the world which cries to be filled. So we try to fill it with sex, money, and power, but neglect, or refuse, to see (and accept) the consequences of our actions.
The Serbs don't 'see' the consequences of their claims of sovereignty in Kosovo. We don't 'see' the consequences of our bombing of Yugoslavia.
We don't see, or accept, the consequences of telling our children, both implicitly or explicitly, that they have to look to themselves first. So we shouldn't be shocked that some take to violence to ease their pain inflicted by others. We always want to place the blame on someone else, never on ourselves.
There was an old cartoon strip called "Pogo" which had a phrase, "We have met the enemy, and they are us."
Christ said it best though, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man" (Matthew 15:19-20).
In their hearts, the Serbs are only reclaiming what is theirs. In their hearts, NATO is only defending the powerless. In their hearts, the two boys were merely giving back what was deserved. In his heart, Kevorkian is acting in mercy. I've heard sociologists blaming the young victims for 'driving' the two boys to such measures. It's called blaming the victim.
But we encourage people to seek 'empowerment'. So is it any wonder that people who feel 'empowered', or some who are deprived of power, use power so evilly?
When we see people being taught that it is a viable option to kill the sick and elderly, to terminate an 'inconvenient' pregnancy, why is it that we are surprised that the value of human life is regarded as nothing?
Yes, to use a line from a song, we have taught our children well. But not in the way of Christ. Where Christ taught "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24), we teach our children, "Empower yourself, removed obstacles and inconveniences, and follow your heart and desires."
Where Christ taught, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 16:25), we teach our children, "Take care of yourself first. Remove anything that hampers that."
And where Christ taught "For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?" (Matthew 16:26), we teach our children, "Try to gain the whole world, strive for success through money, power, whatever it takes."
We have sown the wind and are reaping the whirlwind.
"Woe to them! For they walk in the way of Cain, and abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error, and perish in Korah's rebellion. These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they boldly carouse together, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, carried along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars for whom the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved for ever" (Jude 11-13).
"Our Lord said to the women of Jerusalem, '.... weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?'" (Luke 23:28-31).
If this can happen when things are good, when we prosper, what will happen when adversity comes, when times are hard? What will our chidlren do?
Weep, and pray. For alone, we can do nothing. We must follow the admonition of our Lady at Fatima and elsewhere, we must return to the Lord in repentance and humility. If we don't, a worse 'war' will befall us.
In speaking of conversion, the New Testament uses the word metanoia, which means a change of mentality. It is not simply a matter of thinking differently in an intellectual sense, but of revising the reasons behind one's actions in the light of the Gospel. In this regard, Saint Paul speaks of “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). This means that true conversion needs to be prepared and nurtured though the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture and the practice of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Conversion leads to fraternal communion, because it enables us to understand that Christ is the head of the Church, his Mystical Body; it urges solidarity, because it makes us aware that whatever we do for others, especially for the poorest, we do for Christ himself. Conversion, therefore, fosters a new life, in which there is no separation between faith and works in our daily response to the universal call to holiness. In order to speak of conversion, the gap between faith and life must be bridged. Where this gap exists, Christians are such only in name. To be true disciples of the Lord, believers must bear witness to their faith, and “witnesses testify not only with words, but also with their lives”.(68) We must keep in mind the words of Jesus: “Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord!' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21). Openness to the Father's will supposes a total self-giving, including even the gift of one's life: “The greatest witness is martyrdom”.(69)
Fraternal charity means attending to all the needs of our neighbor. “If any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” (1 Jn 3:17). Hence, for the Christian people of America conversion to the Gospel means to revise “all the different areas and aspects of life, especially those related to the social order and the pursuit of the common good”.(71) It will be especially necessary “to nurture the growing awareness in society of the dignity of every person and, therefore, to promote in the community a sense of the duty to participate in political life in harmony with the Gospel”.(72) Involvement in the political field is clearly part of the vocation and activity of the lay faithful.(73)
In this regard, however, it is most important, especially in a pluralistic society, to understand correctly the relationship between the political community and the Church, and to distinguish clearly between what individual believers or groups of believers undertake in their own name as citizens guided by Christian conscience and what they do in the name of the Church in communion with their Pastors. The Church which, in virtue of her office and competence, can in no way be confused with the political community nor be tied to any political system, is both a sign and safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.(74)
The universal call to conversion has special implications for the Church in America, involved as she is in the renewal of faith. The Synod Fathers expressed this very specific and demanding task in this way: “This conversion demands especially of us Bishops a genuine identification with the personal style of Jesus Christ, who leads us to simplicity, poverty, responsibility for others and the renunciation of our own advantage, so that, like him and not trusting in human means, we may draw from the strength of the Holy Spirit and of the Word all the power of the Gospel, remaining open above all to those who are furthest away and excluded”.(76) To be Pastors after God's own heart (cf. Jer 3:15), it is essential to adopt a mode of living which makes us like the one who says of himself: “I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11), and to whom Saint Paul points when he writes: “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
NEXT MONDAY: Installment ten - Chapter Three: Guided by the Holy Spirit to a new way of living
How eagerly did each Apostle seek His Master. But my Divine Son gave the privilege to John to see the angels, to hear their eternal song of praise, to realize the Master, the Son of God, had risen.
I ask each one of you to ponder upon this scene. The Magdalene, John, and Peter had to go first to the tomb before they could face the Glory of the Risen Christ. You have not yet fully faced the tomb. You do not wish to make this journey, because each of you must individually enter the tomb, behold its emptiness and yet believe with all your being in the Resurrection.
O! Come to the tomb unafraid. Put on the garments of sincerity, of Obedience, Poverty, and Love. How quickly shall your faith ignite into a bonfire of unquenchable love for My Son, until you are consumed fully in the furnace of His Most Sacred Heart. Prepare now for this moment, my children. Your world has already suffered its agony in the garden. Now the painful journey to Calvary is the path of the whole world walks.
These are the last days, the end times. The Holy Spirit will help you if you truly open your heart. As the Apostles grew from cowardly men into beacons of light and truth, so am I calling each of you to be in these last days. Persevere and preserve the True Faith, and know that I have you beneath my mantle.
When you are weary, walk the path to the tomb. Run along the path filled with trust. You must taste the bitterness of the cross and the emptiness of the tomb before you can partake in His Glory.
Therefore, each day come closer to this tomb, armed by prayer and penance. Come and see, that you might leave all doubt behind and be free to embrace Him Who loves you with Infinite Love.
Come, I will help you. The dark night will fall swiftly upon an unsuspecting world. But if you have come already to the empty tomb, then you shall be prepared to do what my little army is called to do.
O! How greatly you are loved. Hear my Motherly words and receive my Son's abiding Peace, for He will reveal Himself in all His Glory, as the evil one and all his cohorts are cast into hell.
Pray and meditate, for in each of you exists a part of the Magdalene, St. John, and St. Peter. Seek their intercessions that you might never waver in your faith.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Part one: Behold His Glory!
Over a lifetime of faith, each of us, as believers, recites those words from the Creed thousands of times. We may not understand them, but they’re familiar. They’re routine. And then something happens to show us what they really mean.
Watching a disaster unfold for your community in the glare of the international mass media is terrible and unreal at the same time. Terrible in its bloody cost; unreal in its brutal disconnection from daily life. The impact of what happened this past week in Littleton, however, didn’t fully strike home in my heart until the morning after the murders, when I visited a large prayer gathering of students from Columbine High School, and spent time with the families of two of the students who died.
They taught me something.
The students who gathered to pray and comfort each other showed me again the importance of sharing not just our sorrow, but our hope. God created us to witness His love to each other, and we draw our life from the friendship, the mercy and the kindness we offer to others in pain. The young Columbine students I listened to, spoke individually -- one by one -- of the need to be strong, to keep alive hope in the future, and to turn away from violence. Despite all their confusion and all their hurt, they would not despair. I think I understand why. We’re creatures of life. This is the way God made us: to assert life in the face of death.
Even more moving was my time with the families of two students who had been murdered. In the midst of their great suffering – a loss I can’t imagine – the parents radiated a dignity which I will always remember, and a confidence that God would somehow care for them and the children they had lost, no matter how fierce their pain. This is where words break down. This is where you see, up close, that faith – real, living faith -- is rooted finally not in how smart, or affluent, or successful, or sensitive persons are, but in how well they love. Scripture says that "love is as strong as death." I know it is stronger. I saw it.
As time passes, we need to make sense of the Columbine killings. The media are already filled with "sound bites" of shock and disbelief; psychologists, sociologists, grief counselors and law enforcement officers -- all with their theories and plans. God bless them for it. We certainly need help. Violence is now pervasive in American society – in our homes, our schools, on our streets, in our cars as we drive home from work, in the news media, in the rhythms and lyrics of our music, in our novels, films and video games. It is so prevalent that we have become largely unconscious of it. But, as we discover in places like the hallways of Columbine High, it is bitterly, urgently real.
The causes of this violence are many and complicated: racism, fear, selfishness. But in another, deeper sense, the cause is very simple: We’re losing God, and in losing Him, we’re losing ourselves. The complete contempt for human life shown by the young killers at Columbine is not an accident, or an anomaly, or a freak flaw in our social fabric. It’s what we create when we live a contradiction. We can’t systematically kill the unborn, the infirm and the condemned prisoners among us; we can’t glorify brutality in our entertainment; we can’t market avarice and greed . . . and then hope that somehow our children will help build a culture of life.
We need to change. But societies only change when families change, and families only change when individuals change. Without a conversion to humility, non-violence and selflessness in our own hearts, all our talk about "ending the violence" may end as pious generalities. It is not enough to speak about reforming our society and community. We need to reform ourselves.
Two questions linger in the aftermath of the Littleton tragedy. How could a good God allow such savagery? And why did this happen to us?
In regard to the first: God gave us the gift of freedom, and if we are free, we are free to do terrible, as well as marvelous, things . . . And we must also live with the results of others’ freedom. But God does not abandon us in our freedom, or in our suffering. This is the meaning of the cross, the meaning of Jesus’ life and death, the meaning of He descended into hell. God spared His only Son no suffering and no sorrow -- so that He would know and understand and share everything about the human heart. This is how fiercely He loves us.
In regard to the second: Why not us? Why should evil be at home in faraway places like Kosovo and Sudan, and not find its way to Colorado? The human heart is the same everywhere – and so is the One for whom we yearn.
He descended into hell. The Son of God descended into hell . . . and so have we all, over the past few days. But that isn’t the end of the story. On the third day, He rose again from the dead. Jesus Christ is Lord, "the resurrection and the life," and we – His brothers and sisters – are children of life. When we claim that inheritance, seed it in our hearts, and conform our lives to it, then and only then will the violence in our culture begin to be healed.
In this Easter season and throughout the coming months, I ask you to join me in praying in a special way for the families who have been affected by the Columbine tragedy. But I also ask you to pray that each of us – including myself – will experience a deep conversion of heart toward love and non-violence in all our relationships with others.