December 21, 2012

Reflection / Daniel Conway

Innocents are slaughtered again and again

“When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the Magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity 2 years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the Magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more’ ” (Mt 2:16-18).

Sobbing and loud lamentation have been heard once again, this time in Newton, Conn., following the massacre of 26 people at an elementary school—mostly children under the age of 7.

This latest manifestation of the “culture of death” shakes all people of good will to their very foundations.

How could the actions of a single “deranged gunman” cause so much horror and death, especially for so many innocent children? How does a good God permit such evil? What is it about our society that allows the death and destruction of children to become a regular occurrence?

Pope Benedict XVI expressed his “heartfelt grief” over this “senseless violence in Newtown, Connecticut.”

He said, “I assure the families of the victims, especially those who lost a child, of my closeness in prayer.”

The pope said he prayed that God will “sustain the entire community with spiritual strength, which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love.”

There is no alternative in the face of senseless violence but to pray for spiritual strength. From the very first biblical account of man’s inhumanity to man—Cain’s murder of his brother Abel—no satisfactory explanation has ever been given for the evil that human beings are capable of committing. No consolation is possible—humanly speaking—in the face of such acts.

Deranged persons—whether individuals such as the Connecticut killer or groups such as the Nazis in World War II or modern-day suicide bombers—defy reason. They kill out of madness or a deeply misguided sense of mission, and they always end badly, either dying at their own hands or being overcome finally and often at great cost by the forces of good.

Still, we can’t help but ask, “Why? How could this happen—again?”

There is no answer. The prophet Jeremiah cites Rachel’s weeping for her children and her inability to be consoled “since they were no more” (Jer 31:15). All we can do is weep—and pray—that the day will come when all violence and all tears will be ended forever.

Until then, as Pope Benedict tells us, we must rely on the “spiritual strength which triumphs over violence.” We must place our trust in God, who “triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love.”

Isn’t this what Advent is all about? This holy season reminds us that without Christ all of us, and the world we live in, are in a very bad way. Unless guided by God’s Word, human freedom brings with it the capacity for unspeakable evil. Unless grounded in Christ’s reconciling love, there can be no real hope or forgiveness. Things will continue as they are—unredeemed by the power of self-sacrificing love—unless the Messiah comes to save us from the power of sin and death.

We Christians believe that this Savior has, in fact, come. That he has overcome the power of evil and will come again to reconcile us all to himself on the Day of Judgment.

Until then, we wait in hope. We endure suffering and senseless violence—often with Rachel’s bitter tears—confident that God’s love will triumph over sin and death and restore us to the peace and consolation of our heavenly home.

While we wait, we must pray—and weep—for all who suffer from the effects of unspeakable evil. Our sisters and brothers in Connecticut deserve our heartfelt grief. They also deserve our fervent prayer for the Lord’s coming again this Christmas and at the end of time.

Come, Lord Jesus. Free us from the culture of death, and bring us all safely into your kingdom, where you “will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Rv 21:4).

(Daniel Conway is senior vice president for planning, marketing and advancement at Marian University in Indianapolis, and a member of The Criterion’s editorial board.)

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