Two weeks after the Newtown tragedy, the Church recalled Herod’s Massacre of the Holy Innocents at Bethlehem. Against such grief, faith is the only guardrail left.
By Father Gordon J. MacRae
Twelve days before Christmas, a horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut took the lives of 28 people, 20 of them small children. It was an evil visited upon that small community that sent the nation into grief and soul searching, and launched a national dialogue to make sense of it.
Among the standout examples was the December 20 “Wonderland” column by Daniel Henninger in The Wall Street Journal about the necessity of rules of living for any society. Our social rules are the guardrails that hold “a no-limits culture . . . to the protective virtues of self-control and self-restraint.” Mr. Henninger’s column described the actual date when the U.S., or more precisely when many people within it, “began to tip off the emotional tracks.” It was 1968, the very turning point in Western Culture that I also cited in “Vatican II Turns Fifty Part 2: Catholics and Culture Collide.” For Daniel Henninger, that collision was a symptom of an “unfettered egotism” let loose in 1968. The result has been tragedy after tragedy. His prescription was simple:
“The Newtown killings brought forth another moment for the nation’s public and private leaders. A presidential speech and maybe a law can’t hurt. But what the nation needs from them is more leadership than that.”Such leadership was demonstrated most clearly in the words of one of Newtown’s Catholic priests. Two days after the tragedy, on the Third Sunday of Advent, Father Peter Cameron told the grieving parishioners of Newtown’s Saint Rose of Lima parish that “The certainty of joy is that evil does not have the last word, that love wins.”
It took courage and faith to address the realities of evil and joy just then, two weeks before Christmas, in the face of immense sorrow, when most other voices were looking only to find a target to place blame. Father Cameron was right, and lest anyone wonder whether evil was really at the heart of what happened in Newtown, his parishioners were driven out of their church that day as police surrounded it with guns drawn because someone chose that moment for an anonymous bomb scare.
Though evil’s shout was loud and clear, it did not have the last word in Newtown. Whether love wins in the end there – and how and when – remains to be seen, but it’s off to a good start. While the President and nation commenced the inevitable long and tedious political debate about new gun control laws, the people of Newtown delved as deeply as they could into their wells of faith, and those whose wells were parched and dry were invited to lean on the faith of others. Father Peter Cameron is a man and priest of great courage and conviction, and he had to put both to work that day as he challenged grieving parents and parishioners:
“All of us have to be deeply united and pay attention to those who are hurting. We have lost those that we love, but we know they are living forever.”He doesn’t just hope this. He knows it. He didn’t just assault their wounded sprits and broken hearts with the empty rhetoric of some generic sympathy card. Father Cameron held out to this community the convictions of a lived faith, and it was the very leadership they needed and hoped for in that moment. As the news cameras descended upon Newtown, its grieving citizens sought and found hope and solace from the priests, ministers, and rabbis of their respective traditions. Their faith was not the last guardrail they sought out to buttress their wounded souls, but the first... (continued)