It is easy to mock the opportunistic overreaction to the Sandy Hook massacre, which comes not just from the Left but from the Right — I have heard proposals that every school have an armed adult in it. But if the pro-gun lobby argues the rarity of such mass shootings as one reason (among others) against further gun regulation, it cannot then use that same rare mass shooting as an argument for wider gun carrying. The call to put prayer back in the classroom is just as opportunistic. Moreover, it is safe to say that every official with the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, as well as every non-deranged individual who attended a prayer-free school, understands that killing children is wrong.
We can imagine any number of new policies that might have prevented the tragedy at hand, from placing the burden on family members of the mentally ill to secure their guns to preemptively locking up many more people with mental illness — only a small percentage of whom will ever become violent. But we need much more information in order to balance the benefits of such measures against their costs, especially since they may have prevented the last highly unusual tragedy but may not avert the next one. Even seemingly win-win solutions, such as greater resources for mental health treatment, have their costs in a time of zero-sum budgeting.
Yet there is also a risk of underreaction to such enormities. It is possible to too quickly say: There is nothing to be done about X or Y tragic occurrence, such events simply are part of the random awfulness of life. In the early 19th century, it also seemed obvious to most observers that there was nothing that could be done about tuberculosis or malaria.
For now, we should grieve. Before acting, however, we must use our reason and the facts.
FR. GERALD E. MURRAY The approaching feast of Christmas celebrates the birth of him who is proclaimed by angels and men to be the Savior of the world. We are vividly reminded of humanity’s need for a Savior by the terrible school massacre in Newtown. God’s presence in Bethlehem is our sure hope that evil does not have the final word in our world. God has the final word. That word has been spoken, “and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
The Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28 is a reminder that violence and mass murder have been part of the human condition since the Fall of Man. Innocent boys were slaughtered by the evil Herod. The senseless act of violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School is a shocking instance of the ever-present possibility that a man will choose to do unimaginable crimes. We are stunned by such murderous hatred, which is diabolical in nature and gravely offends our natural instincts and our religious convictions. What can console us and reassure us?
Sympathy and kindness towards the grieving are important and necessary, but man cannot restore what has been destroyed. The only true and lasting consolation that the Church can offer to those who mourn the untimely death of their loved ones is the Divinely revealed truth that this life is but a preparation for life eternal in Heaven. Those who die are in the hands of a Good God.
May the knowledge of God’s goodness console those who now live in such great sorrow, yet are sustained by the hope of being reunited one day with their loved ones in Heaven.
— Fr. Gerald E. Murray is pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City.