Bishop O'Connell
Bishop O'Connell

Like virtually all Americans, regardless of their personal religious convictions or lack thereof, I was sickened once again by the tragic, senseless loss of life resulting from the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. 

A quick internet search reveals that there have been 248 such slaughters so far in 2019 at a mind-boggling rate of 1.2 shootings per day with over 1,325 victims, 979 injured and 246 killed. Absolutely unbelievable in a civilized society!  And the carnage seems to know no boundaries, no respect for persons, no signs of ending.

There has been no shortage of “statements” – including this one – and no lack of the promises of “thoughts and prayers.” Unfortunately, those statements and promises bring precious little comfort anymore, try as they might and as sincerely heartfelt as they may be. What else can we say? We’ve used up all the words. What else can we do in the face of such blatant disregard for life? We feel helpless, bracing ourselves for the seemingly inevitable “next time” or “next one.”

As Bishop, as a person of faith, I believe it is essential that we turn to God in times like these, and I encourage all people of faith to do so, mindful of St. Peter’s question in the Gospel, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life (John 6:68).” You alone, Lord. 

We may never learn or know here and now why dreadful occurrences like these mass shootings happen in our country and elsewhere. We can only believe that the Lord Jesus is present to us, in our midst, pulling us close to him, especially in times of trouble, tragedy and suffering. “Do not let your hearts be distressed,” Jesus counseled in the Gospel. “Have faith in God.  Have faith in me (John 14:1)” and in another place, “In the world you will have troubles but take heart, have courage! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”

In empty moments of grief that accompany human tragedy, human words and explanations make little if any sense. We’ll read the statements and watch the reports and listen to the pundits and politicians.  Only faith in the Lord and HIS word can help us cope. “I have come that you may have life (John 10:10) ... “whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:26).” And so we pray and “live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).”

The unbeliever will say thoughts and words like these are pious ramblings. For him/her, maybe they are.  But for the person who looks at the world through the eyes of faith, the person who has faith, they are what we hold on to, the only thing we have to hold on to in life’s darkest moments. No matter how it happens – whether by random acts of violence and mass murder or deliberate acts of taking innocent life in the womb or on the sickbed – all human life, created by God and redeemed by the Lord Jesus, is a precious gift and our responsibility, worthy of our care and protection, always and everywhere.

Eight hundred years before the Lord Jesus took on our human flesh and walked this earth, the Prophet Isaiah gave the ancient Israelite community God’s instruction: “Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed. I am your God.  I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous hand (Isaiah 41:10).” Our faith still places that encouragement before us, especially in the difficult times in which we live.

Let the pundits and politicians argue among themselves. Lord, to whom shall WE go? You alone. Where suffering and tragedy, evil and “sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20).” Lord, give us the grace to believe in you.