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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.

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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 .... http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/Does-God-Intervene-in-the-Wor...

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:http://inthemedia.cua.edu/2012/garvey-on-newtown.cfm

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kADRKaliTIIGiven 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: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2012/12/18/confusi...

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 ... http://penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/after-tragedy-its-healt... take on how badness and a good God seems wrong - a podcast at Philosophy Bites by Episcopal priest/philosophy prof Marilyn McCord Adams ... http://philosophybites.com/2009/07/marilyn-mccord-adams-on-evil.html

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? ... http://ec.libsyn.com/p/5/b/9/5b9ded6d6bd1a26c/Marilyn_McCord_Adams.mp3?d... 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 .... http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2007/03/christ-and-horrors-part...

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.http://americamagazine.org/

Thanks, Ann.

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About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.