The “unthinkable” has happened once again with the latest school shooting in Uvalde, Texas this past week following the supermarket and racist shooting in Buffalo. And yet, is it really “unthinkable?” Unfortunately, we all are becoming desensitized to these horrific, mass killings. Unfortunately, they are NOT so unthinkable anymore. They have become too common, and we all are just waiting for the next one to happen. Sadly we all realize that it may happen closer to home, in our own schools, among our own people, sooner than later.
What led a person to commit such a heinous act? A person must be quite broken and filled with darkness. They must feel quite confused and angry, allowing them to turn to extreme violence. These perpetrators are not some monsters but people like those all around us. Mentally strained and confused individuals who have given into the darkest demons that haunt all of us.
Many will say we need to do more than simply offer our thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families. But what must we do? What can we do?
As a society, we have turned away from God and His ways. We no longer live in a society influenced by a Christian worldview but we live in a post-Christian society. Our society no longer offers a strong community foundation, where we know one another, take interest in one another, reach out and care for one another. Our hyper-individualistic society leaves many people feeling extremely alone, lonely, separated from others. These confused people then find an attraction to extreme groups and ideologies, groups often fueled by fear and anger.
Our society has witnessed this community break-up where families no longer spend time together and people feel so alone. I think of our own church community where many of the older generation will fondly remember the time when they used to visit one another for everyone’s nameday and for the major feast days of the Church. Families would come together, and people were connected with one another. Yet now, I often hear how so many people feel all alone. It’s not just the elderly who feel all alone. I think of our Living Bread Luncheon on the first Saturday of each month and think of people in our local community who come not because they necessarily need a free meal, but more so because they want some company. They feel alone. And this illness of loneliness plagues all ages!
Then we have a society so focused on violence – from the violent video games our kids constantly play, to the violent movies whose images fill our minds, to the violent news we watch every day on the news channels. With each school shooting, confused and lonely people just get more and more ideas for what they can do!
We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families. But what must we do? What can we do?
This week on Thursday our Church celebrates our Lord’s Ascension into heaven. Jesus Christ completed His mission of love and salvation to the world. He experienced the worst of the human condition, with all its darkness and evil. He confronted and conquered death itself, and in the process took upon Himself the sins of the world. He gathered people who wanted to follow Him, who believed in Him and in His message of Good News, and He not only inspired them with His life and teachings but empowered them with His Holy Spirit and then commanded them to continue His mission on earth.
Christ says to His followers, “As the Father sent me so I send you.” He doesn’t take His followers out of the world. He doesn’t command His followers to form communities apart from the rest of the world to keep them safe. He isn’t interested in a cult, seeking out its own salvation. Instead, He says, “You are in the world, but not of the world…. Be a light in the world.”
Jesus also emphasizes that His sending of His followers into the world will be difficult and dangerous – “you will be lambs among wolves” – yet He promises to be with His followers each and every day. He promises that “You will receive power from on high, and you will be my witnesses.” Then He commands His disciples to “Go and make disciples of all peoples.” Go out and help others become my followers who will act as peacemakers in the world!
When we think about the latest mass shootings, we need to do more than just offer our prayers and thoughts for the victims and their families.
We need to discover or rediscover what our Christian faith teaches and ask God, “What is it that you want ME to do?” Of course, we need to push our government officials to address the many complex issues of gun safety, school safety, mental health issues and other such things. We can’t just hold on to the status quo but we need to try different approaches to the brokenness and violence of our society. We can’t just wait for others to do something!
Individually, how can each one of us try to reach out to those who are lonely, those who may seem lost, those who may seem overwhelmed with life, those who are broken and confused, and even those who may seem like they are on a dangerous path of destruction – self-destruction or communal destruction. Can we keep an attentive eye out for such people in our midst? Can we reach out with love and befriend them? Can we act as the one who fills up the lonely space they have in their lives?
To reach out to others takes effort, it takes time, it takes a commitment, it takes risk, it takes a serious understanding that this is a responsibility each of us have as followers of Jesus Christ. Our Lord asks us to create communities of faith that care for one another. He asks us to cultivate our local Church into a family where we truly know one another, enter in the lives of one another, care for one another, sacrifice for one another, and be there for one another. May our Church Family be an authentic witness of loving community to the world around us!
Yet, we can’t stop only with this goal. As a Church Family, we then are placed in a particular community in a specific location. Can all of our members reach out to the larger community and create the same type of loving spirit where we reach out, care for, and love others?!?
Can we do it in a way where we befriend others, mentor others, become lights in the lives of others who are lost in their loneliness, in their confusion, in their extreme anger and hatred.
What can we do in the aftermath of another school shooting and a supermarket shooting? Can we make a decision to become a big brother or sister to someone, truly mentoring them and becoming a friendly influence in the lives of those who may seem to be lost? Imagine if someone did that to the most recent killers? Imagine if he had a whole community reaching out to him, trying to love him, guide him, care for him, and influence him!
We need to do more than just offer prayers and thoughts for the victims and their families. We need to fulfill our calling as followers of Jesus Christ, and truly begin reaching out as a loving presence to a hurting world all around us!