Suffer The Little Children…

by Paul on December 18, 2012

At least one of my colleagues is surprised that I haven’t written anything about what happened in Newtown, Connecticut this past weekend.  He sent me an email suggesting that I include the following line in anything I wrote and it is, indeed, a fine sentiment. “Sometimes the gravity of tragic events precludes us from accepting easy answers, however it does not prevent us from asking the hard questions.”

One of the toughest things for any Christian and, perhaps especially, for those in ministry, is how to offer anything helpful and healing in the face of a tragedy. The plain truth is that I have been paralyzed by shock and horror these past several days.  Not only because of the massacre at Newtown, but also because of the 30+ Chinese schoolchildren stabbed by a single attacker and the 20+ children who were blown up by a mine while gathering firewood in Afghanistan.

No act of willful violence can ever be justified as far as I am concerned, but to target children… it beggars my imagination.

My colleague also wrote: “It’s all right to hurt, to weep, to feel powerless in the face of unspeakable tragedy. But eventually, upon reflection, we will act, and as Christians, those actions must derive from love and forgiveness.” He’s right, of course, and my mind goes to the Amish community that forgave the shooter of five of their children several years ago. For me, safely removed from the carnage and its effects, it isn’t difficult to think about love and forgiveness for the poor crazed perpetrators – it is trying to wrap my head around why the children had to suffer and how their families will cope with unending grief.

Margaret Silf talks of a faith that says, “I don’t know, but I trust.”  It’s what I’m left with – a trust that, at the end of my earthly life, God will explain evil and suffering in a way that will heal me.

I have been praying the following from our Advent Resources:

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful to your promises and ever close to your Church: the earth rejoices in hope of the Savior’s coming and looks forward with longing to his return at the end of time.

Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope which his presence will bestow, for he is Lord for ever and ever. Amen.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Sasha December 18, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Upon hearing the news once the tears slowed enough to talk, my 8 year old’s first words were “God did not make this happen. Satan gets into people’s heads and makes them do bad things. It makes God sad and it is not His will.”

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Maura December 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Amen

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Robin December 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Indeed.

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Paul December 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Sasha,

“It makes God sad and it is not His will.” Perfect.

Paul

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Sasha December 19, 2012 at 5:19 pm

I know. Wish I were as wise as an 8 year old.

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Maura December 18, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Thank you Paul for that beautiful reflection. I too have been thinking alot about how to respond to this pastorally. Ironically or perhaps by blest coincidence last week at our Bible study we were talking about the story of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents in the Gospel of Matthew. Part of our groups discussion included the need for us as a Christian Community to not only share the joyful story how Jesus Christ is made present to us but also share our hope that he is with us even in the darkest of times. We had a sense that while God never causes evil He can redeem those touched by it. We felt that we know the loving salvivic presence of God persicesly because He stands with us in the midst of carnage still loving all of his children.

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Paul December 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Maura,

The idea of God standing with us in “the midst of carnage still loving all his children” at once consoles and depresses me. I’m not arguing with your statement, simply expressing sorrow that we humans cause so much suffering for each other.

Paul

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Maura December 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm

I guess that is why we need so very much to be saved.
When we deny that evil exists or close our eyes to the evil around us it is easy to forget not only that we need salvation but the tremendous love God has for us which prompted him to offer that gift.
I know with all my heart that God’s gift of Love is there even when we are not confronted by evil but it seems that it is human nature to take it for granted until we “need” to see it manifest.

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annette December 20, 2012 at 3:42 am

I agree Maura.

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Robin December 18, 2012 at 8:33 pm

I spent much of Friday and Saturday online with a group of pastors as we discussed what to do about Sunday worship. Like many others, I at first thought I could tinker with the sermon I had written, but by Saturday morning had decided to throw it out, and opened a new document to an empty page. What a challenge faced by preachers across the country: That pink candle, that word “rejoice,” and the need to help congregants interpret in the light of God’s love that from which they would prefer to turn away.

Tuesday, and I am still exhausted. And on behalf of the Newtown families, I am remembering two terrible deaths in my own life in 2o08, and how at the end of each of those weeks, our families and friends looked at one another and said, “OK, we did it; we did it all. The planning, the bodies, the funeral home, the services, the cremation and burial. We’re done. Now could they please come back and could we please return to our “before” lives?”

God help those families.

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Paul December 19, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Robin,

I pray that God will help those families. Like yours, they will be forever changed by what has happened. Above all, I hope that they don’t lose hope, that they don’t give up on the possibility of joy and that their lives don’t go awry.

Paul

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claire December 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm

The Newtown massacre froze me as well, until someone mentioned the Afghan children being killed by drones. Suddenly we mourn for ‘our’ children, and not for all children. This has been working me, kneading me.
As to the devil making us do it… yes. Our way of life as well, our beliefs our needs…
I have a haunting hunch that we all are responsible for the murders of all these children everywhere in the world.

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Paul December 19, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Claire,

You are right that it would be awful if we only concentrate on “our” children and that we have to take a long, hard and serious look at what we in the West do to make the lives of children in poor countries even more miserable.

Paul

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Lynda December 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Paul, thank you for this very sensitive post. It is difficult to remove the thought of that massacre from our minds but there is so much tragedy in our world. Every day many children die of starvation and their mothers sit by helplessly because they are unable to provide for their dear ones. I am with Claire on this. We are all responsible because we enjoy a good standard of living and we allow governments to cut back on helping the vulnerable whenever we vote for lower taxes. To live responsibly bears a cost and we must all accept that cost.

Tonight as I lead the RCIA I will use the prayer that you have included and we will have a time of silence for these grieving families. May we all work at finding solutions in our very fragmented culture.

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Paul December 19, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Lynda,

Yes, we are all responsible. But what can we do about it? I simply don’t know where to start.

Paul

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Andie December 19, 2012 at 12:23 am

Thank you for addressing this….Sandy Hook is about four miles from my home. I have children in my religious ed. program who attend that school. My friend is the director of religious ed. at St. Rose in Newtown…this is close, too close. On Sunday I spoke with 160 4-6th graders and 70 8th graders who also live in the next town. It wasn’t easy. I advised my catechists to wait until they wanted to talk and then to offer no answers, reflect on choices – free will, and always bring it back to the faith – our faith – our loving, grieving Savior. Who is responsible? We all are. So many of our children are lost. In all we are and in all we do, we have choices. And each choice either builds up or tears down. Only love can absorb this kind of pain and stop evil. We must love like we never have before.

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annette December 20, 2012 at 3:46 am

Andie,

I have been thinking about those who are charged with ministering to the community. Please know that you too, and your fellow ministers are in my prayers everyday. It is hard to know what to say when we aren’t there, being there I can only imagine. So know that you are held in prayer, at least.

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Andie December 20, 2012 at 10:00 am

Thank you Annette! And your prayers are making a difference. More than anything else, it is the prayer that will heal.

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Fran Rossi Szpylczyn December 19, 2012 at 2:27 am

I love the line from Margaret Silf, “I don’t know, but I trust.” That’s really where I am at.

Tonight I offered a reflection about the mixed need to rush towards Christmas and the desire to flee in the face of tragedy. In the end, “I don’t know, but I trust.”

And thank you for mentioning the Chinese children and the Afghan children, too. I think of the children of Camden, NJ – the most dangerous city in the US. (Some may know that I am on a *big* Camden rant lately.) In Camden and other places, the agonizingly slow “death by a thousand cuts” happens every day.

None of this makes any tragedy “better” or “more worthy;” it just points out that our faith is navigating tragedy with hope, with trust and belief, that God is indeed “with us,” our Emmanuel.

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Paul December 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Fran,

Do you know Jeff Puthoff from “Hope Works” in Camden?

I really, really need to believe right now that God is with us.

Paul

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Fran Rossi Szpylczyn December 21, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Paul, I “know” Jeff via collaborating with him online. He is one of my true heroes in the world!

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Michelle December 19, 2012 at 2:32 am

Paul, thank you for both prayer and reflection. I am taking solace in two words: Jesus wept.

So can we, for the incomprehensible.

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Paul December 19, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Michelle,

Yes, indeed. Thank you for the timely reminder.

Paul

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Emma December 19, 2012 at 5:08 am

Now, I think, is a good time for all in any type of ministry (especially those who work with young people) to revisit that Wisdom Story recently posted here. I’m referring to the starfish. The starfish picked up and put “right ” swims out into the ocean of life and is lost to sight. The starfish left to wither, the one not rescued is the one that makes horrible headlines. You don’t often hear or know the results of your efforts and successes. We only mostly hear of those we’re unable to reach. Hopefully, we will all continue in Christ’s Work, humbly content in the knowledge that although our efforts don’t make headlines, that most will never be praised in this world, we do make a difference. Let’s not any of us be discouraged. Let us all continue to shine the Light and Love of Christ in every dark corner of our world! We may not save everyone, but we can save someone. One starfish at a time.

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Paul December 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Emma,

You’re right. Thank you. But sometimes seeing all those starfish on the beach is a sad and sobering sight.

Paul

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Emma December 19, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I know. If I could say one thing to those mourning, it would be: it’s ok to still see the beauty all around you. It’s ok to still smile, love, dance, sing and laugh with the ones still sharing this world with you, no matter what those watching from the outside of this may expect of you. There is no logical explanation for an illogical action. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to find one.

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Denise J December 19, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Thank you for the posting above. I can’t imagine how hard it is for those in ministry to respond to this madness. It was hard enough to figure out to be a lector and read aloud the scriptures asking that we rejoice. And it was the first time I can remember a homilist crying during Mass. His preaching was good, but his tears said so much more than his words.

The only prayers I have been able to offer were inspired by the post you put up on Monday. I keep thinking about the verses of “O Come Emmanuel” that call upon God to get us out of the darkness and evil that threatens to overwhelm humanity everywhere.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

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Paul December 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Denise,

They might have been the only prayers you were able to offer… but how wonderful they are!

Paul

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Katy December 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Fr Paul,
I am touched by your honest feelings on such tragic events. I offer my prayers for all who have to “preach tidings of great joy” in the midst of such suffering.

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Paul December 20, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Katy,

Thank you. I’m convincing myself that we always have to preach joy in the midst of suffering.

Paul

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Emma December 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm

There’s one more thing that I have to say about this, then I’ll shut up, I promise. I think of those children and my own beloved Milio and Emily and can only think that there will be many new angels in heaven this Christmas Eve. As sad as this makes us, they are filled with joy! We can’t know His purpose fully, because we can’t ever fully know God. Then, I look at my own son and ask myself if I would be willing to give him up to fulfill that purpose and the thought horrifies me! But, there is someone who did give His Son …..for us. For US!! That says it all when we ask “Does He love us? ” Look what He did for us! The significance of that is exponentially magnified during times such as this! I don’t mean to diminish anyone ‘s loss, but I do believe that we’re asked to make a choice at times like this. We’re asked to choose. Choose Life!

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Paul December 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Emma,

No need for you to “shut up.” Thank you for sharing your passionate beliefs.

Paul

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Margaret R December 19, 2012 at 8:09 pm

I teach 6/7 year olds, but in another part of the world. All the adults I know wept about the horror of what happened to the children. But I think most here protected the children from it, and I was relieved to find my class were not talking about the tragedy at all. It was too horrible for them to have to know about, and I think most parents made sure the children never watched the tv news that weekend.
We don’t have the same access to guns here, so this kind of crime is fortunately, very rare. But as we spoke in the staffroom, we realised we had at least one child who could well kill someone before too many more years have passed. And the awful thing is, so much damage has been done to this child already, it is hard to imagine how to ever change things for him.

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Emma December 19, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Wow. That hit home. That child that you just described, sounds like me. Sounds like what people used to say about me. Then there was this Jesuit Priest that I met quite by accident online who I was so sure did not know a damn thing …………wonder who *that *could be?

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Paul December 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Margaret,

I’m glad your children have been protected from it. I haven’t been able or wanted to watch any media coverage. Too horrible. Too upsetting. Too voyeuristic for me.

As for the one damaged child. God help him and you.

Paul

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Simon December 19, 2012 at 10:58 pm

All in God’s good time we’ll understand. It doesn’t stop me being mad at Him for letting it happen but I know (or trust) that it will make sense when He explains it.

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Paul December 20, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Simon,

I’m with you on this. I’m also mad at God.

Paul

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annette December 20, 2012 at 3:57 am

My 13 year old said through tears, “They’re with God now” and my 9 year old said, through tears, “Well, we know it isn’t the end.” Working at a school, it makes me want to vomit to imagine what these babies endured. But I also know that my kids are depending on the promise that I have assured them I believe in. Ironically, as horrified, as sickened and as angry as this makes me, I am certain that they are all wrapped in loving arms. And God has not left those behind in a lurch, we are all praying for them with intensity. We are opting to take part.

I found out that my 9yr old daughter’s religious ed teacher died today, so she gets to face death yet again this week. But as I said to my husband, I want to shield them, of course, but this is life. How many parents never get the opportunity to shield thier children from violence? I have shared my faith because I know there are crazy people out there, I know that life throws a curve ball at your head at times, but I also know that God is my superglue and has gotton me through an awful lot.

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Paul December 20, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Annette,

I have never thought of God as “superglue” that gets me through things but it is an original and arresting image for me. Thank you.

Paul

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annette December 21, 2012 at 2:52 am

Paul,

When my kids break something special I tell them to “show Daddy and he will superglue it.” One night, while I was feeling particularly fragile I realized that I was like thier precious trinkets/toys and all I need to do is go to my heavenly father and ask for healing. His patience and love always glue me back together…we are eternally stuck.

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