Finding Normal

It’s still Advent.

Christmas is right around the corner.

We have to pull ourselves out of the grief cycle and find normal again. This isn’t easy. It’s never easy. But after a season of repeated tragedies layered on top of a tumultuous political campaign, it’s even harder.

Finding normal is the work in front of us.

Advent is a holy season of self-examination and repentance. Those activities seem especially fitting in this week after Sandy Hook. We need to use these days of prayer to draw closer to our God and seek His comfort and His direction.

At the same time, we have the work of preparing for Christmas. We have presents to wrap, food to buy and houses to clean. If we have little children, it is our responsibility to create Christmas for them. Remember that Christmas is more than presents and feasting. It is the birthday of our Savior.

Once more Americans have to find normal and live normal after a national tragedy has taken normal away from us. We will find normal in everyday things; in the cleaning, wrapping, praying and confessing of real life.

Healing comes from loving and living. It is in the warmth of our friendships and families; the safety of our homes. The dailiness of life will heal us, if we let it. Our resilience is in our faith and our ability to trust that even when things go wrong they are somehow also going right.

It is still Advent.

Christmas is coming.

And America is trying to find normal, once again.

In the Hands of God

Nobody died.

Nobody can die.

We are immortal souls clad in mortal bodies and we can not die.

“Your god didn’t save even one child,” one of our atheist readers said to me in private.

Not true. He saved every child.

Not one of these precious babies died. Their bodies stopped and they stepped out of them into the arms of our loving Lord. That’s all that happened to them.

Their parents, their school and community and our nation are devastated by their passing. We are torn into ribbons by the violence and insanity that took them from us. Death is real this side of the grave. Death is the devastation of unyielding loss and gone-ness. They are gone from us. We will never see them, hear them, touch them again in this life. In the words of King David, we can, and will, go to them one day, but they will never again come to us.

But even in the face of such tragic and overwhelming loss, we do not need to yield to the hopeless bitterness of my atheist friend. We know the truth of eternal life. They are not dead. No one died. Even though it may be decades in the future after we have lived long lives without them, we will see them again one day.

The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. Wisdom 3:1

Sisters of Life

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The best of us …

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The Bombing

We call it The Bombing.

We don’t use qualifiers about the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building, or Oklahoma City. Anytime you utter the words The Bombing around these parts, everyone in hearing distance will know what and when you mean.

We also don’t talk about it much. This monstrous event knocked us flat as a community. It re-focused our fight away from the everyday conflicts that engaged us before it happened. Anger and rage were an indulgence we couldn’t afford. We had people to save and lives to rebuild and only so much emotional gas to do it with.

The bombing was mass murder. What happened in Denver and Wisconsin and Sandy Hook and so many other places were also mass murder. What we have narrowly avoided in other places were other mass murders in the making.

Mass murder is not entertainment.

These tragedies are on every news show, even though there’s often no news to report. They are analyzing and pontificating, all without data, like so many useless hamsters in their respective cages. The object of almost all this attention is the individual or individuals who commit these crimes.

Mass murder, whether it is committed by an individual, a mob or a government, stuns us into incomprehension. We can’t fathom why anyone would think that it is a good idea to scheme, plan — use all their money, resources and ability — to work toward and then actually do this ultimately senseless thing.

We ask why. The only answer we get is a cacophony of psycho-babble from the book authors, psychologists and profilers who go in front of the camera and serve up heaping platefuls of meaningless word-salad pontification. There is no usable answer. The question echoes. Why?

Mass murder is inexplicable to those of us who look for reasons in the healthy motivators of love, fun, achievement and reward. This is at least partly because, in addition to all its other negatives, mass murder is just plain stupid. I think this stupidity is part of our fascination. We can’t figure it out.

Hannah Arendt gave us the phrase “the banality of evil” when she described the execution of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann. Eichmann mass-murderered millions. His crimes challenge our notions of civilization and human goodness.

Arendt witnessed Eichmann’s execution. She reported that Eichmann refused the ministrations of a protestant minister, announcing that he didn’t believe in God; then he made a few inane remarks and proclaimed long life to Germany, Austria and Argentina. That was it. This man who murdered on an industrial scale died with a hiccup of banality.

Arendt had experienced Hitler’s anti-Semitism. She was interrogated by the SS, then fled the Nazi death machine from Germany to France and finally America. I would guess that Eichmann was the monster in her closet, the darkness in her nightmares. And yet, when she witnessed his execution, she didn’t see the fireworks of an evil god. She saw the big zero of nothing much. Eichmann’s evil deeds haunt the world, but he himself wasn’t even an interesting person. In her words, ” … this long course in human wickedness had taught us the lesson of the fearsome word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.”

I think she spoke a great truth in this sentence, one we overlook at our peril. Evil is not grand. It is not glorious. It is banal. Stupid. Senseless. Useless. And ultimately, boring.

Spinning verbal webs about the banal little nothings who commit these crimes gives them a substance and a dignity that they do not possess on their own. It creates the unfortunate illusion that these killers are interesting, and it feeds the cravings for significance of future killers in the audience.

Ted Bundy, another mass murderer who achieved celebrity status, said that when he killed he was god. What rot. It doesn’t take any special skill or god-like power to kill. A child can do it. Giving life, living life, caring and nurturing, providing and serving are what bring us close to God, the real God, the One Who made everything, everywhere.

A young mother, sitting up all night with the shower running while she consoles a croupy baby, is closer to God than most saints.

These twisted ciphers of people who commit mass murder are not gods, evil or otherwise. Their dark banality defies the comprehension of people who live and love in the sunlight of life. The media obliges our hunger for an answer to the omnipresent Why? of these things. They give us word-salad ramblings and psycho-babble speculation around the clock. But they don’t tell us what we want to know. They don’t and they can’t explain Why?

In the end, the one thing we know about these mass-murderers is what we knew at the beginning; that they are too dangerous to be allowed to roam free in our world.

We glamorize these people with our obsessive questioning. We feed future mass-murderers and their bizarre quest for significance with the unspoken but very real promise that they, too, can become stars of the obsessive media spotlight.

If the bombing taught me anything it is that these crimes against humanity are not entertainment, that these obsessions we form about those who commit them are our own contribution to the dark side.

Good people are hurt in these atrocities. We should focus our energies on finding ways to help them re-order their lives in this new reality of what has happened to them. We should pray and pray some more. We should pray especially for an end to the interest in these murderers. Contrary to the pretense of those who fixate on them, they have nothing to teach us.

If we want to learn, we would do much better to study those who gave their lives so that others might live, like the school principal who charged a gunman to save her students. We could learn from the security guard who saved a building full of people in Washington, from the cops who went into that theater in Aurora, and the teachers who blocked the doors. The people who bring flowers and lay them on the sidewalk, the generous souls who write checks to help the injured and bury the dead:  These people have something to teach, something worth learning.

There is goodness all around us. If we are sincere about doing something to end these repetitive mass murders, let’s stop looking to the murderers for our solutions and focus on the people who give life, not take it.

Evil is banal. It is boring. It is stupid. And it hurts people.

We should not cooperate with evil by making it, and the deaths of innocents, into our entertainment.

Sandy Hook: The Holy Father’s Statement


I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Angelus. I was deeply saddened by Friday’s senseless violence in Newtown, Connecticut. I assure the families of the victims, especially those who lost a child, of my closeness in prayer. May the God of consolation touch their hearts and ease their pain. During this Advent Season, let us dedicate ourselves more fervently to prayer and to acts of peace. Upon those affected by this tragedy, and upon each of you, I invoke God’s abundant blessings!

Pray to St Michael

The prayer to St Michael seems especially relevant today.

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There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.

“There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” 
― Corrie Ten Boom
“There are no ‘if’s’ in God’s world.  And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety – let us pray that we may always know it!”
― Corrie Ten Boom
We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world and the spiritual agents are from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore, we must wear the “whole armor of God,” that we may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when we have fought to a standstill, we may still stand our ground.”
― Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie Ten Boom is a Protestant saint. Before World War II, she was an obscure Dutch watchmaker’s daughter. Unmarried, in her 50s, she lived the kind of quiet life that is totally lost to us now.

But during World War II and afterwards, God used this woman to do His work. Corrie Ten Boom and her family built a false wall into their house, a “hiding place” for Jews. When they were caught by the Germans, Corrie, her sister and their elderly father were arrested. Corrie and her sister were sent to concentration camps. Their father died in prison. Corrie’s sister died in the concentration camp. Corrie, and her sister, too, before she died, took great risks to witness about the Lord in this dark hole.

After the war, she lived the rest of her life as an itinerant speaker and writer, bringing the message that God’s love is with us, even in the deepest darkness.

Her book, The Hiding Place, was an important one for me after my conversion. I had listened to the world’s version of history all my life and I had no idea that there were Christian heroes and heroines who had risked and given all to save the Jews. Corrie’s book was my introduction to that ignored part of the history of those days.

I am convinced that if Corrie Ten Boom had been a Catholic, she would have been canonized by now. I am also convinced that she is a saint, that she is in heaven, and that God answers her prayers. God gave her small miracles in the concentration camps and I don’t doubt that He answers her now.

Because of what she suffered, I think her words have meaning to us in our times of deepest trouble. I think they are pertinent to us in this unraveling world of contemporary America. Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and all other places like them, are harbingers of hell. They are the howling dogs of hate that we let loose on one another.

The mass murders at Sandy Hook, Denver, Columbine, and Oklahoma City are also harbingers of hell. It is up to us to decide if we will become part of this darkness, if we will let it overcome us, or if we will chose the light.

I chose the light. Corrie Ten Boom said, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” I believe that.

Unspeakable Evil

This post with President Obama’s statement today says all I want to say right now. I think it’s the best speech he has ever given.

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Bishop to Mayan Prophecy Believers: Give it all to the Church before you go

Bishop Bernardo Bastres Florence of Punta Arenas Chile gave a whimsical interview to his local newspaper Wednesday.

He offered the thought that Mayan prophecy believers who think that the world will end on December 21 should consider doing some good before they go. His tongue-in-check suggestion was that they should give all the worldly possessions that they think they’ll be leaving behind to the Church.

I would like to be able to say that I don’t think anyone seriously believes that the world is going to end on December 21. I would really like to be able to say that. But I represent thousands of people who often feel free to share their thoughts with me, which means I know — know — that there are folks who are biting their nails down to the quick over the prospect of it all screeching to a halt in a few days.

It doesn’t do much good to reason with them. I know from experience that when they wake up December 22, they won’t think through to the simple and obvious conclusion that they were wrong. They’ll just get up and go on with their lives, cosseted in the peculiar amnesia of those who like to be fooled. Then, when someone dreams up another doomsday scenario, they’ll be biting their nails once again.

In the meantime, I plan to enjoy the whole thing. There’s nothing more fun than the thrill of pretend cataclysm. That’s why we love disaster films and sit glued to the television whenever some real life nightmare happens to someone else. It’s a safe way of dealing with our secret and usually unacknowledged fear of the very real death that awaits us all. It also, I think, is a way of facing without having to face the dread uncertainty of our seemingly predictable lives.

I’m not immune to this. I love watching shows and reading books about people surviving snake bites and facing ridiculous perils while doing totally daft things like hiring guides to get their amateur climbing selves to the top of Mt Everest. It’s no accident that I watch these particular shows and read these particular books. I’m afraid of both snakes and heights, so watching others face my anxieties is a type of medicine for me.

However, being a Christian takes a lot of the sting out of this death thing. Not all of it, certainly. There’s so much we don’t know, and there is also the fact that there’s no easy way to do it. Dying is hard, and usually painful. It is also, I think, lonely. So, no, I don’t view the fact that I’m going to have to do it with equanimity.

But I’m far more sanguine than the December-21-is-The-End-crowd. I don’t need to imagine an end of the world. I know that I’ve got one coming. My end of the world will come on the day and at the moment that I die. I know that. I also know that while this date and time are dreadfully uncertain and unpredictable to me, they are known to God and that He has me in the palm of His hand. I know, as St Paul said, Whom I have believed, and I trust that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day.

In other words, I don’t worry too much about it because I know that He’ll be with me through the hard parts, and that once the hardest hard part, the suffering and dying part, is over with, it’s going to be great.

For those who can’t quite wrap their minds around this idea that if you are a Christian, death has no sting, getting fired up about the Mayans and the vagaries of their calendar is an easy way to distract themselves. It will work. For a time. Then they will forget it until the next nutso end of time theory crops up and they can go off on that.

As for me, I intend to watch and smile.

The CNA/EWTN article about Bishop Forence’s comments reads in part:

Bishop Bernardo Bastres Florence of Punta Arenas, Chile. Credit: Bishops Conference of Chile.

Santiago, Chile, Dec 12, 2012 / 11:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Bernardo Bastres Florence of Punta Arenas, Chile has an interesting suggestion for those convinced that the world will end Dec. 21, as predicted by the Mayan calendar.According to local newspaper La Prensa Austral, the bishop said that those who believe the Mayan prophecy should donate their worldly goods to the Church.

“If there are many who believe the world will end on Dec. 21, as the Church, we have no problem with them naming us as the beneficiaries of their possessions in their wills,” he quipped in a Dec. 9 interview.

Doomsday predictions about the end of the world, as documented by the Mayans, have circulated in recent years and grown in popularity. The Mayan Long Count calendar begins in 3,114 B.C., which accounts for time in 394-year periods known as Baktuns. The Mayans allegedly believed that the last, or 13th Baktun, ends Dec. 21, 2012.

To those who are convinced that the world is ending next week, Bishop Bastres said “I assure them that after Dec. 21, we will eternally pray for them.”

“Because I am sure that we will all be alive after that date. If they wish to pass on, they could do enormous good by donating their properties to the Church.” (Read more here.)


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