My dear people of St. Mary’s:
As I write this Pastor’s Page, our country has experienced yet another tragedy, the mass shooting of hundreds of innocent people at a concert in Las Vegas. As of this writing, 59 people have died and more than 500 have been injured. Numbers such as these simply defy comprehension. This has now become the worst mass shooting in American history.
And so, once again, we find ourselves in the depressing position of asking the question: “Why?”
Along with the general public, the media spends the aftermath of such incidents feverishly seeking an answer to that question. Was the person mentally ill? Did he have a grudge? Were there warning signs? What about accomplices? What motivated him to do such a thing? What were his politics, or religion? What was his childhood like? Was there something that triggered all of this?
We desperately want to find a rational answer that will make the irrational incident understandable to us. And that is the problem. Such acts of inhuman violence never can make “sense”. They will always defy being answered by the simple and straightforward explanation we crave. It frightens us not to know the answer. It makes us uncomfortable that such a seemingly ordinary person could commit such an extraordinarily evil crime.
However, ignorance of the cause never deters anyone from offering a solution. Politicians immediately call for all sorts of new laws; psychologists tell us we need more programs for the mentally ill; educators tell us that we need better educational programs for the young; sociologists tell us we need better crisis intervention; security specialists tell us that we need to increase our safety measures; and so on, and so on, and so on. Some of these things will be done, some will not, and we will persuade ourselves that we have done something that will be effective, until it happens again.
But there is one thing that is never seriously discussed as a possible cause: the failure to believe in God and to practice religion. Although the United States remains one of the most religious countries in the world, that is not saying much when you look at the rest of the world. In fact, the practice of religion has declined in America so drastically over the last fifty years, that the fastest growing “religious” affiliation in America is currently “none”. At present, nearly 25% of the American population state they have no religion. And now, a further 27% of Americans classify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” This latter group generally has no real practice of religion in their lives. This means that the majority of Americans no longer believe in or practice a religion. This is something that few feel comfortable talking about in our politically correct society. But we have asked every other question, and posed every other solution, to no avail. Now it is time to ask the question that makes everyone uncomfortable.
I believe that one of the major causes of crimes like the one we witnessed in Las Vegas is the wide-spread turning away from God by our society. This has led to a decline in morality overall, a crisis in marriages and families, an alienation of people from each other and from God, a lack of belief in objective truth, chaos and hopelessness in the lives of our young people, a lessening in the respect for human life at all stages, and an overall devaluation of the dignity of the human person. Virtually every problem of modern society that is daily transmitted into our lives via our computers or televisions, can be directly traced back to a decline in the belief in God and the practice of religion on the part of our people.
The modern world has produced a deep and black void at the heart of mankind. We have tried to fill this emptiness with everything we can think of, and none of it has worked. In fact, mankind is more fearful, more depressed, wearier, and lonelier than at any time before. This is why people complain of a lack of meaning in their lives, and that they sense they are living without purpose or direction. When we expunge God from society and from our lives, we are left with a hole that we try to fill with a never-ending, exhausting pursuit of “progress”. And it never satisfies. It produces the same effect on us as the man dying of thirst who, in desperation, drinks salt water.
It should be no wonder that evil acts like the recent shooting occur when we refuse to acknowledge the evil that exists in our world, or the God Who came to overcome it. “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” [Jn 3:19]
The answer to this conundrum was penned by St. Augustine more than 1,600 years ago: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” The restlessness and emptiness in the human heart can never be assuaged by earthly things, or by going our way without God.
The restlessness which is present is actually a grace given to us, so that it will prompt us to search for Him, the Divine Answer. There is really only one great moral teaching that Jesus gave us in the New Testament, one that encompasses all others: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent.” [Jn 6:29]
The Second Vatican Council would say the same thing as St. Augustine in more recent times: “Christ … fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.” [GS 22] This was one of Pope St. John Paul’s favorite phrases that he returned to in his writings again and again. This means that we will never understand who we are, until we acknowledge that God exists, that we believe in His Gospel, that we allow Him into our lives, and that we worship Him as He deserves, and as we need.
Since we are made in the image and likeness of God, and we are made to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him, we will never be at peace in ourselves without Him. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn 3:16]|
My brothers and sisters, the answers we seek are really not elusive. We have not found them because we simply have been asking the wrong questions.