The Penitent Magdalene (detail) by Georges de la Tour, 1638
But somehow I believe we all know or fear that this incident--so stark in its wanton taking of the most innocent of human life--is a mirror to ourselves. How have we acted, unknowingly or not, to contribute to this heinous act, from which any decent human being recoils in horror?
Those who demand quick fixes or one-on-one causality may lay the blame at the gun or at our lack of care for the mentally ill and agitate for legislative fixes to these problems. But these are unlikely to ameliorate the situtation, we secretly and mournfully think.
The problem lies deeper, we believe in our heart of hearts, in something wrong in all of us--in our sins, not only in the myriad of causes that led to the grave sinning of the deranged perpetrator. Has our society allowed or even encouraged the light of the good to sputter, to grow faint? Have we succumbed to darkness in our hearts, borne of selfish fixation on ourselves? Has our lack of fervor for goodness, truth, and light created a society that instead nourishes the darkness that hides in every man, waiting for but the opportunity, or despair, to spring?
These are the questions we ask ourselves. And so, I found the most powerful and poignant response to this tragedy to come from the father mourning for his dead and lovely six-year-old daughter who declared his compassion for the family of his child's murderer. "I cannot imagine what they are going through," he said.
We know, secretly in our heart of hearts, that evil flourishes in the vacuum left by our turning away from the commandments of love. Now is the time to look within and see how we have compromised with the darkness, slackened our vigilance, reacted with anger and hatred, rather than reaching out with love.
"It is Christmastime, and the problems of the world remain," as the priest said in a Christmas homily I heard two years ago. "Yes, the problems remain, but it is we who have changed because Christ is born and is in our hearts."
This Christmas more than ever.
"For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy upon us."