DAILY CATHOLIC    MONDAY     April 26, 1999     vol. 10, no. 81


To print out entire text of Today's issue, go to SECTION ONE and SECTION TWO and SECTION THREE
          Below is a special article by the head of the Archdiocese of Denver, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. on the terrible tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. This article will appear in the April 28 edition of the Denver Catholic Register. Through the courtesy of Archbishop Chaput, permission to reproduce this article has been granted to CWN and to all other interested parties.


by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

          He descended into hell.

          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.

April 26, 1999       volume 10, no. 81


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