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"They're all our children"

I thought President Obama gave a most moving and appropriate, if terribly sad, address last evening at the Prayer Service in Newtown. Here is a part of his remarks:

But we, as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around. With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves -- our child -- is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that childs very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we wont -- that we cant always be there for them. Theyll suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments. And we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear.And we know we cant do this by ourselves. It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you cant do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation. And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because were counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that were all parents; that theyre all our children.

And in the most poignant moment of a poignant address he said:

Let the little children come to me, Jesus said, and do not hinder them -- for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on, and make our country worthy of their memory.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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Cardinal Dolan issued this statement on Friday, 12/14. shooting tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut wrenches the hearts of all people. The tragedy of innocent people dying through violence shatters the peace of all.At this time, we pledge especially our prayerful support to the Diocese of Bridgeport and the community of Newtown as they cope with this almost unbearable sorrow. We pray that the peace that passes understanding be with them as they deal with the injuries they have sustained and with the deaths of their beautiful children.Once again we speak against the culture of violence infecting our country even as we prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace at Christmas. All of us are called to work for peace in our homes, our streets and our world, now more than ever.In the shadow of this shooting, may we know that Gods sacrificial love sustains us and may those pained so deeply by this tragedy experience that care in their own hearts.

Yes, Fr. Imbelli, the entire service was incredibly moving, not a slick note to be seen or heard. In its occasional awkwardness, the evening's rich interfaith character was touchingly human. I thought President Obama was everything he should have been.

Yes, they're all our children, including the kid who did the shooting. One of the heartening things I see is a discussion of the way we handle the mentally ill with tendencies to violence. This essay by a mother dealing with a kid who has violent tendencies is making the social media rounds right now:, and certainly the comments posted by people in the same boat, are thought-provoking. While I don't wish to deny that there is willful collusion with evil in a sinful world, there are clearly parents and patients dealing with mental illnesses that are poorly understood and controlled.

I hope we do have the robust discussion the President promised, a discussion that also includes the important topic highlighted by Jean.On NPR this morning, Cokie Roberts made what I think is a very good point about why she believes such a discussion will take place and why action will follow talk. She noted that during the assault weapons ban during the Clinton administration, higher percentages of female members of Congress--from both parties--voted in favor of the ban than did the male members of Congress. With female senators and representatives now at an all-time high, Roberts believes that serious discussion and action are much more likely than they have been for decades.I also thought that the Presidents recitation of just the first names of the children was rhetorically and emotionally powerful. A very touching way to remind us of both the singular innocence of each child and the universal innocence of every child.

I note in the remarks that the President alludes to the famous theodicy dialogue from the Brothers Karamazov -- also discussed in some detail by Ross Douthat in his NYT column over the weekend. Yes, the freedom meant by Ivan in his rejection of the free will theodicy is different than the freedom meant in the President's remarks. But both are responding to the suffering of innocent children, and the President's question rings out in similar ways to Ivan's: "Are we prepared that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"

I think turning our attention to social evils that we might address more directly is a good idea ... and certainly more productive than the display of "grief porn" on some of the TV networks. There is a fine line between helping people see that the children who died were "all our children" and offering a relentless hog-wallow in the tears and helplessness. Sometimes the news coverage has crossed that line, and the danger is that that distracts us our ability to do any real good in this situation. And it, in my view, violates the right of these parents to grieve privately.

The President's description of the communal effort of rearing children is quite consonant with the notion of godparents - in fact, he could have cribbed parts of it from my infant baptism prep class. And his scripture allusion is from one of the appointed readings for infant baptism.If I can say this without being critical of the President - it is interesting that he feels the need to offer words like this, words that might also be spoken appropriately from the pulpit. And interesting that the nation looks to the President for this sort of thing. I know that surveys suggest that, as a nation, we're becoming marginally more "unchurched" as time goes on. Is the Presidency also evolving into Pastor-in-Chief? Again, I don't wish to be critical in asking these questions. These are powerful words, no matter who has spoken them.

The scripture quote and mention by first names of the murdered children was touching. But, it seems to me that the President's manner of speaking did not match his poignant words. It just didnt flow right and I was so wishing that he would refrain from his almost staccato delivery.

I liked the moments of silence imposed on the congregants[and us] because of the time it took to go up to the podiuum. That we had to be warned beforehand that moments of silence were coming shows how we're not used to public governemnt/religious/media gatherings of silence.Maybe we could use more of such gatherings of silence.I just wish they would come up with another hymn then amazing grace. It's the knee jerk hymn heard every time there is a public interfatih religious gathering.Could they not find another hymn or song? I think though I don't know for sure, that if I were suffering such a loss as the parents and siblings there- I would find more comfort-if possible-in hearing a hymn that makes me feel the reality and presence of God. For me it would be a beautiful hymn like tanto ergum sacramentum-something that evokes heaven itself.I did like the scripture readings.

Mainly because of so many six year olds shot to death has this event so moved us. So much so that it is painful to watch and even talk about it without getting bottled up. The picture of the young police officers embracing in comfort after having to witness children mutilated in such a way and so many. The story of a young six year old who will be buried in a NY Giant uniform of the player he liked. Like 9/11 the tears flowed. Yet this might have been more because of the children. Which brings me to the great disconnect. No way are we moved as much by the five million children who do not make it to the age of five every year simply lacking basic food and medicine. The resources and the compensation will be enormous for these twenty--and rightly so. But for the other brethren of Jesus.....

Not in my memory was there ever before such a prayerful gathering organized in a civil setting by all interfaith groups. A small town out did the NYC Yankee stadium event in 2001 after the 9-11. naysayers should hold all criticism

With Jim Pauwels: The president in many respects seemed more "religious" than the members of the clergy who spoke. Many of their remarks had the quality of "multi-dimensional" prayer that Robert McAfee Brown once satirized; i.e., unclarity about to whom and for what we prayed leads to vaporous praying. Of course, the president didn't actually pray, did he? Quoted Scripture, gave a moving homily/eulogy, and addressed the country's feckless attitude toward guns.

I agree that the President's delivery sometimes lacked "flow," but even though being on call 24/7 is an implicit aspect of a president's job description, he had to have been tired from what must have been emotionally draining meetings with the familires and the first responders. In addition, the President admitted that he was angry because Newtown is the fourth mass killing visit he has made during his presidency. I think the President should have attempted to do much more about such killings during his first term in office, but the personal and cultural destructiveness of these tragedies appears to have sunk in. David Gergen, CNN commentator and former presidential advisor in both Republican and Democratic administrations, has what seems to me to be a sensible plan to at least jump start a serious discussion about the Newtown tragedy:

Ways that are being discussed in the media in an attempt to deal with and make sense of this tragedy1)passing tougher gun laws2)developing better mental health programs3)confronting culture of violence present in video games, movies et al.I suggest another option:4) all of the above

While listening to President Obama last evening, I found myself moved by one statement and not by another. Jesuss words were comforting: Let the children come to me and do not hinder them because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. One could imagine Jesus embracing these children, brought so brutally into his presence. ButI will not pretend that this is entirely logical or consistentI could not resonate with the statement: God has called them all home. For my first, and later, reaction was that these deaths were not the result of divine action or call or will, but of the murderous will of a human being. I know, I know, the intent was to state a conviction that even this evil does not fall outside the realm of Gods superintending power and love, but the sentence seemed, and seems, too easy to say, distracting from the monstrousness of the deed, sounding hollow in the face of unfathomed grief, saying too much about the unspeakable.We all look for answers to our many Whys, for reasons. But is this not one of those occasions when reasons are precisely what we will not find? In a couple of places, St. Augustine warned against looking for reasons for an evil will, when it is the absence of reason that makes a will evil. To look for reasons for the failure of reason is, he said, like wanting to see darkness or to hear silence. An eye perceives darkness only when it begins not to see; an ear perceives silence only when it ceases to hear. So when our minds seek to understand what lacks intelligibility, we know it by not knowing it. See darkness, and youll understand sin.This doesnt throw much light on things; in fact it leaves them shrouded in darknesswhich I take it to have been Augustines point: that in the human heart and in the midst of human sociability there are dark caves that no light illumines and no words can utter. Sometimes we ought to admit that we're simply dumb--in both senses of the word.

David Gergen's comment is powerful:"Unless we act to change our laws as well as our culture, we will all be enablers when the next loner strikes. The blood will be on our hands, too."

JAK --Augustine seems to be saying that we can act without a motive. But I thik that Thomas has a wiser view on this issue. He says that we always have a motive and that motive must be result in the production of some sort of good as well as being productive of evil. In the cases of the crazy shooter, they all must have some sort off satisfaction from their deeds as well as the eil they do. It there were no good involved, some re ason to lessen the guilt of the sheer evil involved, I don't see how forgiveness would be possible. Adam Lanza seems like a severely deeranged boy. As such he too deserves our pity and prayers.

"Is the Presidency also evolving into Pastor-in-Chief?"Interesting question. I'm thinking of addresses given by other presidents in times of national crises, and it seems that some tragedies call for both a spiritual and a societal response.

I thought that the President's whole speech was heartfelt, including the religious parts. I don't see how anyone can doubt the sincerity of the Christian belief.s Butt that, of course, is an interpretation.

Is the Presidency also evolving into Pastor-in-Chief?Interesting question indeed. Very strange for me. But those events are hard to dwell on. This is one of the times when it does seem that Christ is asleep. All words of comfort sound hollow. Guns laws are indecent to discuss so soon: they will not bring back the children who are dead. Analysis might help others understand, but they don't help the parents of the victims. For the parents, there is only pain.

Ann: We may all try to rationalize our sins, but isn't it of the essence of a rationalization that it can't explain why we did what we knew we shouldn't have done or failed to do what we knew we should have done. And this is because sin consists precisely in that failure to do or not to do. That's the basic sin, and it's possible because knowing one's duty is no guarantee that it will be done. In preparing to confess one's sin, I think we encounter that void of meaning, of reason, in our own hearts, and we know the basic dishonesty when we rationalize it away, knowing that these reasons are not reasons at all. That's what I think Augustine was getting at.

I sent the President's address to family and friends who may not have seen it. Here is the response of one (most probably quite a bit younger than any of us on this thread) who is a great sports fan:"Couldn't miss it...popped right up in the middle of the football game! I thought it was a great speech; exactly what needed to be said. I was amused to see some real ignorant people on Facebook comment on how "disgraceful" it was for the president to use it as a ploy to talk about gun control."Apropos Peggy's remark above: for me the most powerful moment of the prayers and reflections was the reading from Romans 8.

Once my son had seemingly disappeared, someone made a comment about how things ought to have been set up differently to prevent the problem, and it struck me as absurd, unreal. I didn't want to think about the why and how, or start assigning responsibilities. I wanted only one thing: for my son to be with me. Nothing else made any sense. For those parents, what they want cannot be, and nothing else matters.

People who want to force gun violence into a 'mental health issue' are stunning in their fecklessness. Presumably there are mentally ill people, including the small subset of them who are violent, in every country. But it is the United States that leads the developed world in gun violence. Why? because of the proliferation of guns in our society. The functional purpose of a handgun or an assault-style rifle is to kill people. Many owners of these kinds of weapons use human figures for target practice. The purpose of a conceal weapon is not to prevent a crime, otherwise wear the weapon in the open, but to use that weapon to apply deadly force.The Second Amendment was enacted at a time when there was an actual frontier, and a real threat of foreign invasion, and muskets fired one round at a time. Even the 'defense of liberty' argument was based on an individual being able to resist tyrannical government, a concept that is absurd given today's military capabilities.One might look productively at the Australian experience,, I missed the statement by the USCCB, can someone direct me to it, please?

Jbruns:The BRITISH aren't coming. The British AREN'T coming. The British aren't COMING.

Since Bishop Lori left the Diocese of Bridgeport to become Archbishop of Baltimore, the Diocese of Bridgeport has been without a bishop. From what I've seen of Monsignor George Weiss of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown over the last few days, and especially during local TV coverage of services he has led in response to the tragedy, the diocese couldn't do better than to have him as its leader. Not that my vote counts for anything, however... :)

jbruns -- interesting, that piece on Australia, all the more so because on some pro-gun site I found a piece arguing the exact opposite, i.e., that the problem had become even worse since the country's crackdown. It was, however, thoroughly unconvincing.As you point out, we lead the world in gun violence -- and, at least among developed countries, it's not just a narrow lead. We're way out front of the pack. Unfortunately, the two senators from my state (Sanders and Leahy) have both issued "how dreadful" statements about what happened in Newtown, but without any proposals for change.Could we not at least debate the wisdom of allowing anyone to buy automatic and semi-automatic weapons? Or do our elected officials lack the courage to raise the question? I'm very glad that Obama went to Newtown, and I found his statement strong (if also imprecise). Let us see if we'll get any changes.

"People who want to force gun violence into a mental health issue are stunning in their fecklessness."Maybe that's true, but don't you think this is more than a one-issue incident?It's true there is evil in the world. It's true we live in a culture that is overloaded with violence. It's true that we have a lot of extended magazine weapons out there, purchased legally or not, that can get into the wrong hands. It's true that some mental illnesses cause people to become violent. It is true that mental illness is not well understood, nor does health care insurance pay for mental care as well as it does for physical ailments. We have a lot of work to do.

All those who supported Obama in 2012 and the rest of the intelligent people need to get out for 2014 and organize around this simple premise:Any legislator whose term is up and who supports this rampant ability to assasinate children should be voted out, irrespective of party, religion, race, and their positions on abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage. Send the message of fear the way the NRA does. No equivocating. No pussy-footing. No compromise!

William C @ 4:16: but how does the good Monsignor stand on the Blessed Trinity of abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage **? Anything other than an orthotoxic stance on these matters will automatically rule him out for the pointy hat and crozier.** I always feel an urge to add Good Hot Ralston as well, but that is just a sign of my age.

I don't know, Jim, but his first name is Robert, not George as I mistakenly stated. Don't want any mix-up if BXVI comes calling. ;)

The rights under Second Amendment, like the speech, assembly, religion and press rights under First Amendment **, is not and should not be considered absolute. There are times when restrictions on any given right or set thereof should be temporarily restricted or halted. As has been said: desperate times call for desperate measures.If the level of gun violence in this country and the incidence of horrors visited therefrom are not examples of desperate times, then I do not know what is or are.** Has the right to redress of grievance ever been restricted?

Is the Presidency also evolving into Pastor-in-Chief?Aren't all those baptized called to be pastors? Oh, wait ... ;)I think the President got it really right that we cannot alone protect and care for those we love who are so vulnerable, not just children but also the elderly, the physically and mentally ill, the disabled, the poor. We need the government to help through laws and programs that promote the common good.

About the constitutionality of gun control -- if it is not constitutionl to limit who has guns and the kinds of guns that may be possssed by ordinary people,, then change the constitution. It;s been done before.The second amendment refers to use of guns by militia, which, it seems to me, indicates that the thinking of the founding fathers didn't have ordinary us of guns in mind. In other words, their concrn was group protection, not potection of individuals by individuals, though the latter sort of protection has some strong merit.

About the argument that guns don't kill people, that is like arguing that knives don't slice things. It's a totally stupid argument. Yes, people must pull the triggers, but many of people are crazy and many are simple wicked. Enabling them to have guns is a sin.

How about violent video games. I've been seated next to children on the subway whose little electronic gizmos feature guns blazing away usually with sound effects. Of course, it's not "real," nobody really dies, no plane really falls from the sky. But whose to say that when this becomes a habitual entertainment that it doesn't become real especially to people who are disturbed and distressed.

Margaret, I've read countless research papers from students about violent video games (and fact-checked their sources). Research seems to indicate that the games have more or less effect depending on a) length of exposure to the games, b) realism in the games, and c) whether a kid already has violent tendencies. The games themselves have not been shown to cause violence.Just because games don't *harm* children, however, doesn't mean they're good for them.

Here is my halting attempt to bring the tragedy into the reflection and prayer of the liturgical community:

Bob: You wrote: "The Gospel of life always contends with the forces of death and of evil. Pope John Paul II often warned us of an encroaching culture of death in our society. He himself experienced both physical and verbal violence. Some in the Church thought him too excessive, too extreme in his rhetoric. By what else are we to call what we have experienced this week this year in our country?"A parishioner said something similar after Mass yesterday, about "the culture of death," that is. But if the phrase is meant to be a description of the dominant culture, I don't think it's accurate or at least not adequate as a general description. What I've seen, locally and nationally, is a culture of revulsion at such evil as transpired last Friday. I think the latter, and the values that underlie it, are more typical, more common, and more illustrative than that day's violence.

A very significant thing going on is the attention worried mothers of troubled children have about their sons possibly doing something like this. Liza Long wrote a blog "I am Adam Lanza's mother" in which she describes how hard it is to get treatment for a child like this. There is so little follow up to mental health patients that one could get lost easily and sadly, one has to press criminal charges against one's child to get adequate treatment. "In a blog post republished on the Blue Review titled I Am Adam Lanzas Mother, Liza Long writes, I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me She goes on: I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanzas mother. I am Dylan Klebolds and Eric Harriss mother. I am James Holmess mother. I am Jared Loughners mother. I am Seung-Hui Chos mother. And these boys and their mothers need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, its easy to talk about guns. But its time to talk about mental illness.Read more:

Joe,Thank God there is revulsion. And I don't want to enter into too facile generalizations. And thank God that there are many in our country who are advocates, whether explicitly or implicitly, of the Gospel of Life.However, I try to suggest that there is an encroaching "culture of death" that takes a variety of forms: from the extreme violence to which the President makes reference, to the violence of video games, of types of music, even of shopping frenzy.I noticed that Msgr Weiss in his prayer last evening invoked the term.Bill,That article is heart-breaking. And the plight of that mother makes one shudder for her and her other children.

Fr. K - was most moved in the earlier post when you cited that the slaughter of innocent children came before the Feast of Christmas this year.Share you concerns when I hear (too often) a type of dismissal that says - it is God's will.Others here have cited a number of reactions - some very heartening and others almost repulsive. This Catholic pastor on his blog decided to re-channel Bishop Jenky and his own neo-VII liturgical hobbyhorses - realize that human beings handle traumatic events differently but this is a new low for a catholic pastor.....from his blog: Low points: "CROCODILE TEARS CAN'T BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY UNTIL THE PRESIDENT CRIES FOR THE UNBORN WHOM HE SACRIFICES TO A WOMAN'S CHOICE TO KILL EVEN WITH PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION--HIPOCRACY (sp) TO THE NTH DEGREE! From the Commander in Chief, the most rabidly pro-choice president in the history of the nation:IF ONLY THE PRESIDENT COULD HAVE SET ASIDE POLITICS AND ALSO INCLUDED THE GREATER HORROR COMMITTED EACH DAY IN THIS COUNTRY UNDER HIS FULL CONSENT AND ENCOURAGEMENT, "A WOMAN'S RIGHT TO CHOOSE AN ABORTION" AND HIS EVEN MORE INSIDIOUS SUPPORT OF PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION. CATHOLICS WAKE UP! AMERICA WAKE UP! DEMOCRATIC PARTY, WAKE UP! IF WE COULD SEE THE CARNAGE OF MILLIONS OF BABIES KILLED BY ABORTIONISTS WITH THEIR MOTHER'S CONSENT AS WE CAN SEE THE CARNAGE IN NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT, WOULD WE HAVE 24 HOUR NEWS COVERAGE ON THAT?Pray for the conversion of President Barack Obama and all pro-choice politicians and mothers and fathers. Pray for the conversion of America! The Ordinary Form's Funeral Mass might see the following replacing the actual liturgical words of the Requiem:1. In place of the Introit "Requiem Eterna" why not just sing "Be Not Afraid."2. Let's remove the Kyrie altogether from the Requiem Mass3. Let's remove the Day of Wrath altogether from the Requiem Mass and sing Alleluia for the Gospel Acclamation4. Let's sing "On Eagle Wings" in place of Pie Jesus5. Let's get rid of Libera Me altogether and sing in its place "For All the Saints"6. Let's get rid of In Paradisum and sing in its place "Going Home" When we do this sort of thing to the Liturgy, whether it is the Requiem, the Nuptial Mass or the typical Sunday Mass, can't we see and experience how we have substituted banal tripe for authentic liturgical spirituality? Can't we see how we have lost a sense of the sacred and made the Liturgy into horizontal confab?"As Wm. Collier stated above - thanks be that it was Msgr. Weiss and not this pastor who we have watched and listened to these past few days. Msgr. will have 8 funerals.

I don't know about others, but I have to say that at times of great crisis, God usually seems absent. I wonder about this Msgr. Weiss: who will pastor to the pastor? What if he wants to stop thinking about the events and take a rest? It must be hard to be a priest sometimes.

I was struck by this in Fr Imbelli's reflection: "Let us allow the sorrow and suffering of the people of Newtown to penetrate our prayer at this Eucharist".I remember being in the US at a time of mourning, and meeting so many people who tried to "help" me by saying something upbeat or optimistic or forward-looking. I think that being upbeat is a cultural trait - always looking for an action that will solve the problem, for the bright side of things. At certain times it is jarring, but many people, it seems, don't know what else to say. "Let's do something about it" is like a defense mechanism, an automatic response to stress. That's why I really like the part of Fr Imbelli's prayer quoted above. I wonder if people in other cultures are socially better equipped to handle death.

Claire ==We are so ill-equipped to think about death that we avoid using the word when talking about actual deaths. We say that people "passed" or a family "lost" someone or the person "departed this life" or they have "passed away". We even have trouble admitting that we get old, much less die. You never hear sermons about this, it seems.

Claire,Yesterday morning I sent an email to Saint Rose of Lima Parish assuring the people of Newtown of our prayers here in Newton. I asked that Father Weiss be told that we will keep him in prayer as he proceeds with the difficult task of burying his beloved parishioners.Ann,I have been re-reading Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age." In his chapter on "Unquiet Frontiers of Modernity" he writes: "We don't know how to deal with death, and so we ignore it as much and for as long as possible ... In this very embarrassed, confused avoidance, the deep link of death and meaning is nevertheless exhibited."

Claire, a lot has been written recently about the dark side of American optimism (Google "optimism is dangerous"). Cynics go too far the other way, but, frankly, I was nauseated to hear some newscaster call the funerals of the children in Newtown "celebrations of their lives." These kids are dead by circumstances that defy sense, and they're not coming back. As Christians, we can live in hope that God cares for them in the Next World. But the fact is that they are lost to This World. To be told people have to "celebrate" instead of grieve strikes me as nutty.Oliver Burkeman, a Brit, has written "The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking." He's not against hope, but he does explode some of these "power of positive thinking" myths. As far as I'm concerned, it's a breath of fresh air. NPR has an interview with him here:

For some reason I didn't have the same reaction to the expression "God called them home." I thought of it as consoling to the parents to think that the children are safe, loved, comforted, in the home we all hope for.

Joe Komonchak wrote,

I could not resonate with the statement: God has called them all home. For my first, and later, reaction was that these deaths were not the result of divine action or call or will, but of the murderous will of a human being. I know, I know, the intent was to state a conviction that even this evil does not fall outside the realm of Gods superintending power and love, but the sentence seemed, and seems, too easy to say, distracting from the monstrousness of the deed, sounding hollow in the face of unfathomed grief, saying too much about the unspeakable.

Susan Gannon replied,

For some reason I didnt have the same reaction to the expression God called them home. I thought of it as consoling to the parents to think that the children are safe, loved, comforted, in the home we all hope for.

Susan, I was persuaded by what Joe Komonchak said. The problem he points to could have been avoided if Obama had said, Now they are at home with God. Do you think the parents would have found that less consoling?

About "God called them home". We're ambivalent about the saying, I think, because it implies the greatest of all problems, our belief that God causes everything, even the suffering of innocents. Ivan Karamazov was right. That's the problem we don't want to face because we know there is o answer to it here on Earth. No doubt many of those poor parents are not only grief-striken at the loss of their children but are struggling with that awful question as well. Some will probably lose not only their children, but also their God. God help them all.

God causes everything, even the suffering of innocents.That is not true. God lets evil happen, but is not the cause of it.

When bad things happen to those you love, the difference between "causing" and "letting happen" can seem a;most meaningless.

I think that "God has called them home" grows out of the President's particular religious background. Different denominations, RCC included, have their own way of saying certain things, these ways being slightly noticeable to others because of their unfamiliarity.I am sure that what the Pres said rang quite familiarly with those with similar backgrounds. I don't think that he really can be expected to have to pass "consensus prayer" muster every time he speaks from his heart.I don't doubt that he is getting enough grief for blogsites run and operated by the nones, secular humanists, atheists, et al for his "God talk."

If you believe that God performs physical miracles according to his whim, then his "letting this happen" is impossible to understand, at least for me. But if you believe that he only acts on the world through us humans and with our cooperation, then his interventions are limited by our own fault, and the current soul-searching discussion on gun control, mental health care, and a subculture of violence, are all part of an attempt to understand how we are at fault.

Gene, you would be a very good editor. I understand Father K's rational objections and agree with them. Spot on.I just was reporting my own surprise at my immediate emotional reaction to the phrasing in this situation. I suspect it was a highly subjective response arising from personal experience as the sort of child who loved to play out in the cold, but always welcomed the call to come back into a warm and happy home, and also as the sort of parent who was never able to breathe easily until all my chicks were in the nest. I didn't read the phrase so much as a theological statement as a perhaps clumsy but earnest effort at offering comfort.

Claire,I guess I'm not willing to completely give up on miracles, so for me it's always hard to reconcile a good God and the 'letting bad things happen' idea.

Crystal,The physical miracles that happened while Christ lived his life on earth as a man are a different matter for me because they happened in the context of the incarnation.If you have to strike one item from this list: (1) post-resurrection miracles, (2) God's goodness, and (3) human understanding (of God's arbitrary choices to perform a miracle or not), what do you remove?

Claire,I don't want to give up in God's goodness or on post-resurrection miracles (and answers to prayers) either, so I'm stuck with not understanding what's going on: #3 I was just listening to a video interview about this with Keith Ward ....

The resurrection is always the key. It is not how we die but that in dying we live. That is dying to self exaltation and domination. As far as miracles go the miracle is the peace that comes beyond all understanding. The healing that peace gives and love of neighbor and forgiveness gives. It all makes no sense if Christ is not risen. Otherwise we can put it together because he has risen.

Claire --In theBook of Job, when Job accuses God of causing great physical evil, God Himself doesn't deny it. And when Job's friends try to make excuses for God, God punishes them, but rewards Job for his honesty. I fear that the Church and the philosophers mostly agree that if God is truly creator of all, that means He is creator of the suffering of innocents. It is the greatest of all moral mysteries. So what are we to think? God tells Job to recognize that Job cannot understand His actions, but He doesn't say that there is no explanation. Maybe the explanation will come in Heaven. If ever an explanation is found on Earth, I suspect it will be in theology, not philosophy. But at this point, yes, it is impossible to understand. Something must be wrong with some of our premises, but what?

Ann, here's the catechism (if you care) to back the fact that God did not create evil.413 "God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. . . It was through the devil's envy that death entered the world" (Wis 1:13; 2:24).Crystal, I believe in miracles (and answers to prayer) via conversions and the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of men. We are his collaborators in the construction of the kingdom. I just have a lot of trouble with God sending down lightning to strike a madman on a shooting rampage, and the like. But who knows. But I cannot accept the paragraph below as a justification of the Connecticut massacre "for some greater good" !!412 But why did God not prevent the first man from sinning? St. Leo the Great responds, "Christ's inexpressible grace gave us blessings better than those the demon's envy had taken away." And St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "There is nothing to prevent human nature's being raised up to something greater, even after sin; God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good. Thus St. Paul says, 'Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more'; and the Exsultet sings, 'O happy fault,. . . which gained for us so great a Redeemer!'"

Claire,Yes, I hate the idea too that God allows evil in order to bring about some greater good than could have otherwise existed. I think it's called "felix culpa". David Bentley Hart wrote of it ..."To suggest that evil can serve to increase the good sounds marvelous and dramatic; it is also quite heretical and quite philosophically incoherent ..... At the most rudimentary level, it seems to imply that God rewards sin more than sinlessness, that he therefore wills evil, that his righteousness is divided aginst itself, and that the good he wills (which is of his essence) must require evil to be perfect (which is monstrous). Or it implies a voluntarist divine freedom that responds to evil as a real power outside his nature with a decision to alter his primordial intentions for man (which makes God finite and evil substantial).

John Garvey, the President of the Catholic University of America, has some further thoughts on the culture:"The culture that young men grow up in is one where violence is not just present but glamorized. At the national and corporate levels we see unjust wars and the arms trade. At the state level, capital punishment. At the individual level we give constitutional protection to abortion, to video games that simulate assault and murder, and in some places to assisted suicide."His reflection is here:

Claire --The theologians teach that death, an absence of life, is not a thing, and, therefore God does not create it. And sin also is not something -- is is an absence of a relationship of an act of the will to what ought to be. Augustine wrote about the first idea, Thomas the second.DIGRESSION: For those interested in theology, Chiesa has posted Benedict's speech to the theology commission. It's about how the magisterium is established, including the necessity for "universal" agreement" of "the faithful", and about monotheism being anti-violence. What I found particularly interesting is that it includes a lot of Thomistic language and insists that theology must be rational. Sounds like the new head of CDF is a card-carrying Thomist, with both their strength and weakness. I predict that there will be some powerful theological arguments about just who "the faithful" are.

I felt that John Garvey's thoughts mostly full of unhelpful "lessons" like this:"We teach our children that they are autonomous moral actors, responsible for defining their values. This produces a culture where the strong decide the fate of the weak. Then when something like this happens we want the government to protect us from the natural consequences of our own folly."Mike Huckabee is making the rounds with this video in a similar, fundamentalist vein, though I did like what he said about where God was toward the end: that details of this incident are still being investigated, does anyone else find these kinds of conclusions smug and facile?

Jean, I do.

Jean: I agree that Prof. Garvey moved far too rapidly in the paragraph from which you quote. It is not inevitable either in theory or in fact that teaching our children to become autonomous moral agents results in a culture where the strong decide the fate of the weak. Some link is missing. Nor is it clear what the folly is from which, in the wake of Newtown, "we" would like the government to protect us. Perhaps the key is Garvey's last paragraph:

When Cain killed Abel, he tried to deflect the Lord's inquiry by suggesting that we are each in charge of our own affairs: "Am I my brother's keeper?" We have to relearn Cain's lesson. Yes, I am my brother's keeper. All life is sacred. We must teach our children habits of virtue, not leave them to chart their own course through the moral life.

I think that moral education has as its goal the cultivation of the virtues of an autonomous moral actor, one who, for example, knows and appropriates the value of the care of the weak by the strong. I would find it odd to counterpose autonomy and habits of virtue, as if we had to choose between them. Aquinas placed the height of our dignity in our capacity for self-direction, and he thought that a Christian who acted simply in accord with God's external commands or prohibitions did not enjoy the freedom Christ won for us.On the other hand, I don't know why I would regard Garvey's view as "fundamentalist".

Jean,the paragraph I quoted seems to me to be a pretty good application of Cardinal Bernardin's "consistent ethic of life." Joe,I think you're right to put the quote from Garvey in the context of the whole piece. His use of "autonomy" clearly refers to the Enlightenment's "buffered self" (in Charles Taylor's phrase) rather than to Thomas' "self-direction" which is always in the context of our responsibilities toward creation and community.

Bob: I suspect you're right that Garvey is opposing a certain notion of autonomy as "buffered," but I hate to see the word left to others when there is an important Christian notion of autonomy that we ought to embrace and foster.

Fr. Imbelli, charity requires that you know John Garvey and more about Cardinal Berardin's "consistent ethic of life" than I do in your interpretation of his essay.FWIW, I don't equate Garvey with fundamentalism, but, in my opinion, Garvy's assessment of these complex issues is as glib as Huckabee's, which asserts that we have ushered God out of our public life, so what can we expect?But are the causes outlined in these views really the problem?Raber's first reaction to this latest tragedy was to go through our kid's video entertainments and ban the ones that involved any kind of shooting (Super Mario, who shoots with a water gun, passed muster). My kid is not going to shoot up a school, but it's a) a way for Raber to "do something" in the face of a senseless incident, and b) to get rid of games he has never liked in the first place.Just as Mike Huckabee wants to use this incident to decry the crabby atheists who sue to remove creches from public places and as Garvey decries our failure to teach "values" to our children.Just my POV.

Claire --Oops -- That was a very oversimplified answer, Augustine wrote about sin as an absence, and Aquinas subscribed to that idea too. Aquinas also taught that all evils are lacks. (I don't see how he can hold that, but anyway.)This of course is also an over-simplified answer. The arguments go on and on -- the "problem of evil" is very big in philosophy right now. Terrence Tilly even seems to think that it's sinful to even consider the problem! I doubt there will ever be a satisfactory solution, in the world anyway.

The arguments go on and on - doesn't it seem pointless, sometimes?The wheels on the bus go round and round, and the violence never stops.

Melinda Henneberger has her usual thoughtful comments:"There are pieces of this problem strewn across the political spectrum, it seems to me: The left is correct that actually, guns do kill people. But the right has a point, too, about the culture of death, in the language of John Paul IIs Gospel of Life. And if we havent glorified even mass shootings and their perpetrators, then why does one shooter after another show up dressed all in black, like an anti-hero ready for his big finale?"Struggling to understand, we persist in referring to desperately sick people as evil incarnate. Evil visited this community today, said Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy. No set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, President Obama told the grieving."A well person doesnt shoot a bunch of 6-year-olds, though, and while I believe in evil, from a Christian perspective, sin involves free will, which Im just not sure someone who acted as Lanza did was in any shape to exercise. Saying so is seen as excusing such horrific acts, but calling illness by its modern name is important. We have so much hard work to do, and on multiple fronts, that we cant afford to set off in the wrong century."The full column is here:

Ann: Pope Benedict's speech includes his favorite adjectives and adverbs: "authentic", "correct", "sound", "whole", "deep", "intrinsic" , "fundamental", "absolute", "rightly", "truly", "very", "always", etc. His text would be stronger if he omitted those qualifiers. Not just social philosophy, but "sound" social philosophy. Not just senses fidelium, but "authentic" senses fidelium. The document doesn't just remind, but "rightly" reminds. Pope Benedict is judgmental, and it irritates me.

sensus. My laptop likes to correct what it thinks are my spelling mistakes. It, too, irritates me.

More reference to a "culture of death". Time to retreat from the enemy and go back behind the walls of a fortress-like Catholic culture, I guess. That sweeping expression has its counterparts in some anti-Catholic slurs, so maybe it's fair game, tit for tat; but not helpful.

I saw this today on the violent video game angle ... take on how badness and a good God seems wrong - a podcast at Philosophy Bites by Episcopal priest/philosophy prof Marilyn McCord Adams ...

I'll try on what isn't the best day for me, and so the brief sentence earlier, to list just a few things that troubled me when I read President Garvey's statement. Basically I think it too bleak, even facile, the culture, hardly perfect, as the ready-to-hand whipping boy. When the perfect comes, but till then.-- What did we teach to our young and older men and women who were the first responders to such a horrific scene, and did all that they could?-- What did we teach our doctors and nurses who tried in vain to save the two children brought to the hospital?-- What did we teach the teachers, younger and older, who gave their lives for the children in their care?== What did we teach the priests of St. Rose of Lima and other clergy who arrived within minutes to provide pastoral care, without thought for their own safety?-- What did we teach the people, a number of them in their twenties, who sat near me in tears at Holy Trinity, Georgetown, Sunday evening as the normally exceptionally effective homilist struggled to focus on the message of Gaudete Sunday while at the same time unflinchingly facing such senseless tragedy? (This younger Jesuit, formerly assigned to the parish but now at the university a block away, prepares his homilies with great care early in the week, and then preaches without a text, never losing his train of thought [even when a cell phone in the assembly rings]. On Sunday he had a text. I suspect on Friday afternoon he had decided to tear up what he had prepared, and start over.) --- --- ---Another topic quite unrelated to President Garvey.-- In a thread above we find the word "lunatic." The eighth of my parents' eleven children suffered from schizophrenia. A handsome, witty, bright young man began in his late teens a descent into a darkness that grew deeper and deeper as his life went on. The medications seemed only to accelerate his retreat into little more than a monosyllabic sleep-walking. In February 2007, he was killed crossing a busy street, against the traffic light.-- One of my brothers (there were nine boys first in the order) and sisters-in-law have three children. Two of them, now in their later twenties, have special needs, the younger of the two is autistic. The care needed is constant, but their parents never complain. (This is the culture of life! Where did they learn to embrace it, to the full?) When first reports speculated that the troubled young man who committed this awful act was likely autistic (and the Italian papers fixed on this more than those in the US), my sister-in-law was not only grieving the loss of Newtown's children, but deeply hurt by those ready to blame autism.Perhaps quiet prayer is the better way over the coming days. Enough analyses! I'll try myself. Evening Prayer and the third of the "O" antiphons seem a good start.O radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.O Flower of Jesse's stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come to set us free; do not delay.

Crystal --Thanks for the site, but I can't hear it, but I've read some of her work on evil. She is a first rate medieval scholar (esp. on Scotus and Ockham), but i fear I don't think she's made headway with the problem of evil, though maybe I just don't understand her arguments about "horrendous evil" -- I don't get her point, really. You might like Alvin Plantinga, of Notre Dame and Calviin College. He's much respected on the subject, and in other areas as well. I think he makes some headway with the problem of free will and evil, but that the problem of the suffering of innocents still remains to be solve.

Claire --I agree with much of your criticism of Benedict's new speech. However, I think it deserves a thread of its own. There are some encouraging things in it, but I don't think he's entirely consisten. He seems utterly ambivalent about rationality.

Ann,Your computer can't listen to this? ... have her book, "Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God", and it's pretty hard for me to understand. I had an excerpt from it here. If you're interested, I see that many of her sermons can be found online.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Richard Beck has a good post on what she thinks about the problem of evil ....

John Page, I pretty much read Garvey's essay against the examples you cited. Looked at through one lens, anyway, Adam Lanza's mother did all the "right" things. She and her son attended St. Rose of Lima parish. She stayed at home to care for him 24/7. She was strict with him. She home schooled him rather than give him up to the secular system she didn't feel could deal with him (latest info is that she was trying to have him committed to a facility that could better care for him). She was divorced but had not remarried and was not running around. She was on amicable terms with her ex-husband, who took part in Adam's care. She was not a recluse and had friends in her community. Indications are that this was a committed Catholic family, which makes Garvey's remarks even more puzzling to me.Yes, I think anybody with friends and relatives with autism spectrum conditions (my own kid included) feels that these types of incidents in which the word "autism" gets thrown around, are setbacks to understanding and treating a very poorly understood and tolerated problem.

Crystal --The problem isn't the computer, it's my ears. I'm deaf. I think that's the McCord book I have. I didn't finish it because I didn't see her getting anywhere, but, as I said, maybe it was just me. The Beck article is understandable, but i still don't think it even approaches the problem: how could God do such a thing in the first place? Yes, there must be a setting right of things in the end, making things new, but how could such things as suffering innocents be justified? She seems to just erase the problem, not solve it.

Ann,I'm sorry - I didn't know about your hearing. Yesm I agree. I've yet to find a satisfactory solving of the problem of evil and I've really been looking :) My past spiritual director told me once that there is no solution and that each person has to work it out personally with God as best they can. I'm still working on it.

John Page,I appreciate your deeply-felt reflections. Allow me two comments.As you yourself suggest, the second part of your remarks is unrelated to the Garvey article. And the Melinda Henneberger column I cite above explicitly disclaims a connection between Asperger's syndrome and violence.The deserved praise that you accord those who rushed to provide physical and spiritual assistance would certainly be seconded by all of us. The challenge we face together is to foster a culture in which those virtues are promoted and enhanced. I presume that the Jesuit homilist of whom you speak and President Garvey both see their ministry of teaching in that light. But part of that task entails discernment of the vices, both of the individual and of the culture, that inhibit or oppose the cultivation of life-giving virtues -- so that we might "agere contra."

Crystal ==Don't give up. Headway with the problem has been slow, but there is some progress -- over the centuries. The first big idea, which St. Augustine made available, is that death and sin are not realities so there is no question of G0d's creating them. But as most philosophers see it, the big problem remaining is the suffering of innocents. The best we can hope for at this point, it seems, is understanding of how to relate to God in spite of the problem. I think McCord does try to deal with that, unlike Tilley who says not to even consider the problem. God in the Book of Job wouldn't approve of that attitude, I think. For me the "solution" is take Job seriously and realize that God wants us to tell the truth, no matter what. And, of course, though we can't explain the presence of suffering innocents, neither can we explain the presence of so much good in the world. All creation is a mystery. If you believe that God is infinite and wee are finite, it really isn't surprising that we do not have all the answers we want.

Crystal --Here's Fr. James Martin, SJ on the subject.

Thanks, Ann.

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