Bishop Arthur Serratelli (Paterson, NJ): A requiem for God

Young people fleeing in panic. Shots ringing out. Police swarming the building. Screams. Tears. Anxious parents huddled together. News media surrounding the carnage. This scene has become all too familiar in America. The recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has once again devastated families. This Valentine Day’s massacre has broken the heart of the nation.

In 2012, the nation recoiled in horror when a gunman in Newtown, Conn., killed 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But the outrage at such a tragedy has done little to prevent further shootings. Since Sandy Hook, there have been 239 school shootings. And, since the first 45 days of this year alone, there have been 18 incidents of school shootings in our country.

We are facing an epidemic of violence. Last year ended with a record of 345 mass shootings, the deadliest chapter in the history of mass shootings in modern times. With gun-like rapidity, the Texas church shooting of Nov. 5, 2017, the deadliest mass shooting in the state’s history, followed the Las Vegas massacre of Oct. 1, 2017. 

These repeated tragedies of shootings in schools, sports events, parking lots, churches, post offices and cafeterias confront us with an unsettling question. Are we a violent people? Can we not put behind us the bloodshed of the civil war when partisan views on slavery plunged the nation into its chaos? Are we still tethered to the attitudes of the 60s when civil unrest led to violence and assassinations? Is violence the tragic legacy we wish to give our children?

Are we getting more violent as a people? Are we regressing into something akin to what we saw in the ’60s, an era marked by assassinations, civil unrest, and political chaos? The Feb. 14th Parkland School shooting immediately unleashed emotional responses of fear, anger and sorrow along with a flood of political views. Some Americans desperately want stricter laws regulating the sale of guns. Others, more security at our schools and other public places. The nation is polarized and needs the common resolve to put aside political agendas in an effort to solve a problem that is literally killing us.

We cannot let this most recent mass shooting simply become a footnote in our history books. Nor can we let these moments of human tragedy destroy one of the greatest resources from which this country can draw strength and wisdom to solve its problems. Pew Research reports that 70 percent of Americans pray regularly. As a nation set up by our Founding Fathers, we are heirs to great Judeo-Christian principles that encourage the practice of faith and tolerate diverse religious communities. Turning our hearts to God in prayer, whatever our religion, is the first and most fundamental step to move us from violence to safety, from fear to security in our homes and public places.

Unfortunately, in the wake of this latest man-made tragedy, some have been publically ridiculing the faith of those who, in these moments of horrendous violence, spontaneously pray to God for help and comfort. They taunt people of faith, questioning how an all-good God can allow such pain, such tragedies, so much human suffering. They fail to see that the very fact that we recognize evil as evil points to a standard of what is right and good and, ultimately, points to God whose laws are meant to guide us to peace and happiness.

The secularistic vitriol against God in the public place cannot drive him from his universe. If we were to understand why God allows us the freedom to do evil, we would be God. Perhaps, there lies the real problem. Too many have dethroned God and placed themselves with their materialistic, agnostic or atheistic mentality as the center of their universe. 

God’s existence is not predicated on our understanding. God does not depend on us to approve him. We need him. We need his grace. And, he is ever ready to accompany us as we strive to put an end to violence in our country. Now is not the time for a requiem for God!

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.