Late last week, I was sitting at home getting ready to plan my kids’ summer enrichment activities. My oldest attends public high school, and in order to get ahead of his foreign language credits, I pulled up the school district website to enroll him in summer school.
A bright red banner flashed across the school district’s home page. “Our hearts and prayers are with the community in Santa Fe,” it read. I wonder what happened in New Mexico, I thought. Switching tabs, I googled Santa Fe and clicked the news link.
There was a shooting in yet another high school. Students, who had gone to get an education in what is supposed to be a safe place, were being gunned down by a classmate. It wasn’t in New Mexico. It was right outside of Houston, where I live.
I quickly grabbed the remote control and turned the t.v. on. Every local station was broadcasting live, just miles from my house, as frantic parents crowded the streets, students were escorted out of the building by police officers and bomb squads arrived on a high school campus. One student, who had already been picked up by a parent, cried hysterically when speaking to the camera. This is not supposed to happen. School is supposed to be safe.
As I watched the students on the screen empty out their backpacks to prove they were unarmed, my thoughts went immediately to my son, who had just gone to school a couple of hours before. Tears slipped from the corners of my eyes as I imagined the horror that the parents must be going through knowing that they just dropped their child off at school a couple of hours before. Just like me. But, unlike me, some of their children would not come home again. Ever.
I spent all afternoon praying for the students and families, watching as parents reported their children missing but were provided with no information and shared my heartbreak with friends and family. I spent time over the weekend praying for those who lost their lives, their children or who were in any way affected by the brutal attack.
Then today, just a few short days after the event, a non-Christian friend asked why Christians waste time praying as if that is going to stop a shooter. A commenter posted this picture:
While there is political division in our country, and many would argue that there is often an anti-Christian slant held by many people, in both parties, this question really piqued my interest. First, the friend that posted the question did not do so in a way that was argumentative, but was really trying to understand. Second, if we have political cartoons questioning the merits of prayer, then maybe we, as Christians, should address what we really believe to be true about prayer and its role in tragedy.
So, how do we, as Catholics, respond to questions about school shootings, prayers and protecting our children in a way that does not divide but rather unites and leads more people toward God and toward helping the problem?
#1.) Seek God in all things.
Christian prayer is designed to bring us comfort, strength and align us with the divine will of God. It is also a place for us to seek comfort, refuge and allow God to both reveal Himself to us and help us become more holy. In the instances of school shootings, we pray for mercy and an outpouring of compassion. We pray to understand. We pray for God to reveal ways that we can help and we pray for strength.
That does not mean, as insinuated in the cartoon above, that we believe God will hear our prayers and stop all shooters in their tracks. What is does mean is that we know He has a divine will and we will trust in His divine comfort and providence. We believe that He can provide strength to victims, and that He can bring about good, even in the midst of the bad.
The fact is, we live in a fallen world. God will not interfere with people’s free will, but He will be with those who suffer.
I heard once that when we pray God has one of three responses, and we have to trust that He knows which is best for us:
- He may save us FROM whatever trial we are facing.
- He may walk ALONGSIDE us and provide comfort and strength through the trial.
- He may allow us to face the trial, even up until death, but then bring us through it and UNTO HIMSELF.
Hundreds of martyred saints, including the apostles suffered. Millions around the world suffer from hunger, abuse or war each day. We are not immune to suffering. However, as Catholics, we have assurance that in the end, God will make all things right, and it is for that which we pray.
Father James Martin has written a heartfelt prayer for times of gun violence which you can see here.
#2.) Do something to become a part of the solution.
I will not pretend to have the answer to the problem of gun violence in our schools. However, I will work on being a part of the solution. At the most basic level that means knowing my children and discussing gun safety and protection with them. It means being involved in my community, talking with others who are working to solve the problem and providing support. It also means being a good citizen and contributing to changes that will have a positive impact.
As a Catholic, I believe in the inherent value of human life and dignity. Mass shootings, gun violence and fear are a threat to both of these. Therefore, it is my moral obligation to protect those who cannot protect themselves through prayer, community action and support for both victims and mentally ill perpetrators.
Catholics are not required to view gun control laws in any particular way. You can support firearm restrictions or elimination and be just as much a Catholic as someone who is a card-carrying member of the NRA. However, as those who are called to protect human life and dignity, we should support laws that are logical in regards to firearms.
In 2000, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stated, “As bishops, we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner), and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns.” Thus, while it is not dogmatic, it is pragmatic to make sensible decisions in regards to the politics and activism surrounding gun accessibility.
Continued tomorrow with # 3.) Love the Perpetrator…