It happened again. As you know by now, another mass shooting occurred last week. This time, 14 students and three staff members were senselessly killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. And as much as we are surprised when this happens, the reality is that it doesn’t surprise us, because it happens far too often. In fact, it was just this past fall that I wrote about the prevalence of these tragedies.
As we’ve learned more about this situation, we’ve learned about the many opportunities to intervene that went unaddressed. While not trying to blame anyone specifically, we see many issues contributed to this situation: mental health challenges and lack of sufficient care, breakdown of the family, law enforcement ignoring red flags, access to weapons (legal or not) that make events like this possible. While I don’t have solutions to all of these problems, I cannot believe that a country that is so advanced in technology and social media cannot use our resources to make sure the slaughter of innocents in a supposedly safe place of a school cannot be stopped.
As your bishop, I am concerned and want to enhance the safety of our parishes and schools. We must increase the levels of our own vigilance and training to keep our schools and parishes safe from those who seek to do harm. Just this week, we offered special training to our parish and school leaders to help them prepare for these and other types of emergencies. As much as I would prefer to avoid these discussions, as your shepherd, I must take responsibility for helping you prepare for the realities we face today.
But taking steps to address these issues alone is not enough. The fact of the matter is we live in a world where evil exists. This message is repeated throughout the Scriptures and throughout human history. Though we’ve spent the past few hundred years trying to convince ourselves that humans can solve the problem of evil on our own, the reality is we cannot. No amount of enlightenment can bring evil to an end. We must turn to God and stop trying to solve these problems without him. As Christians, we must become the ambassadors of goodness and love that Jesus modeled for us and calls us to be.
To do this, we must return to the cross, the site of one of the greatest evils ever committed. The importance of the cross struck me in one of the images I came across as I’ve followed this story over the past couple of days. It’s an image of two unidentified women embracing and crying in agony. One woman appears to be a mother or teacher, the other perhaps her daughter or student. In the image, we clearly see a cross on the forehead of one woman, marked in ashes for Ash Wednesday, the day of the shooting.
This image serves as a powerful reminder for me, as if God is saying to us, “Even in this, I am with you!” More than that, God reminds us that he knows what we are experiencing, because he, too, as Jesus, has suffered. Jesus knows the pain and heartache that these women are expressing and even in this most difficult time, Jesus is there with them. He is helping all those affected by this tragedy, especially the families of the victims, to carry their cross.
This image also provides an answer to those of us who wonder how we can change this situation. The example of the cross reminds us that the story of God’s relationship with us is not one of evil, but of redemption. As St. Paul writes, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1: 25). We know this to be true because Jesus’ story did not end with the evil of the crucifixion, but with the glory of the resurrection.
So as we consider how to respond to yet another violent tragedy, let us invite God into our solutions. Let us ask God to give wisdom to those in positions of authority to find ways to make our world safer. Let us ask God to motivate each of us to do a better job of reaching out to those around us with genuine love and friendship. And most of all, let us ask God to help us not to be overcome by evil, but to be transformed by the resurrection.
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.