Newtown and the God who Knows

“In the face of horror … there is no other answer than the cross of Christ: Love that descends to the abyss of evil.” — Pope Benedict XVI

Words fail at this terrible news, somehow made all the more tragic for the season.

Christmas is coming. These beautiful children, who likely had written their letters to Santa, or perhaps had opened a new window in an Advent calendar before going to school, are lost to us — now — in these weeks where nothing gives us a better sense of promise, a future and a hope, than a child’s smile.

God help us.

In Advent, the days are short; the light is scarce and darkness gathers more fully every day. And today it nearly encompasses our hearts. We need light; we need illumination, because we do not understand.

Striking a match, by the flickering light of our Advent candles tonight, we sing:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel/and ransom captive Israel/that mourns in lonely exile, here/until the son of God appear.

Tonight all I can see is that word, “Isra-el”

Your name will no longer be Jacob but Israel [He Struggles With God], because you have struggled with God and with men-and you have won.” (Gen 32:28)

We all of us struggle, every day, with God and with mankind. Today, our name is Israel, and we struggle.

The chant, then, resonates more deeply:

O Come, O Come God-With-Us/and ransom we who struggle with you, with men/and mourn in lonely exile, here/until the God-Who-Knows appear.

God help us. There are no words. No one has new wisdom. We are broken and in our wounds evil enters in and battles goodness, and all I can do is run to the crucifix and bend low before it and remember these parents, these children, in my prayers, and turn to Christ and his Mother, who understand.

Anger at God is normal. And God has big shoulders, He can take it.

I have found that when it is too much to think of God, it’s easier to think of Mary, who “never did anything to deserve it,” -who spent her whole life only saying “yes” to Him, and in service to His biggest project, ever- but who still had to stay at the foot of her son’s cross and watch him die a most horrible death, after having endured terrible cruelty.

Even she didn’t know what was going to happen next. A mother grieves the unbearable loss of her son, through Passover, and then goes to anoint his body only to find it gone!

What sort of torment is this? Then he is back (!) but he is no longer hers alone, if he had ever been – and for the rest of her life, as she watches His church take shape and form, and helps where she can, she still has all of those memories – the memories a mother cherishes – of an infant tugging at the collar of her gown, looking to nurse, of her son and his loving six-year-old hugs, the scraped knees, the scampish days, the meals they shared. None of this could have been easy for Mary to remember or to reconcile with her human self, or her maternity. He is God. But he was her son, and always will be. He is her son. Her little lad. Her God.

And this is why we call Mary the “Help of Christians.” When it gets very hard, when we feel a little disconnected from God, whether we want to be disconnected or not, when we feel we have been given an unjust burden, we can look at Mary and realize that yes, she kept the faith, but she knew everything we know about how hard life can be. She’s lived through it, and if we ask her to, she’ll pray for us in our suffering.

The cross. The Mother. The Son. Nothing in the Gospels is extraneous, or there without purpose. It is all meant for us, for our understanding and our consolation, too.

People will ask, “where was God, in all of this.” God was in the teachers who pulled little kids into classrooms and went into lockdown, and in the first responders who got survivors to safety and reunited with their parents (pray for the first responders, too; they suffer — often in silence — after they have made safe). God was right beside everyone, and is with them in grief. Because he is the God Who Knows all we feel and experience.

And that is not much help today. There is no new wisdom. There is only what we have always known. President Obama reminded us of it during his well-expressed remarks, when he quoted the third line of Psalm 147:

he heals the broken-hearted,
he binds up all their wounds.

It was a good line. The ones before and after it are good too, theologically, although I understand why he wouldn’t use them:

The Lord builds up Jerusalem
and brings back Israel’s exiles,
he heals the broken-hearted,
he binds up all their wounds.
He fixes the number of the stars;
he calls each one by its name.

Jerusalem means “City of Peace.”

If we think of that not only as a geographical area, but as a spiritual area — the square footage of the soul — then perhaps we can find some consolation, here. That our inner Jerusalem may be built up — that shattered spirits can be healed, eventually. And that our lost ones are known to him — are now before him like stars, each the apple of his eye. Ransomed and brought home.

The Lord builds up the City of Peace/
and brings back those who struggle with God and man/
he heals the brokenhearted/
he binds up all their wounds.
He fixes the number of the stars;
he calls each on by its name.

God, help us.

On the Suffering of Innocents

Tony Rossi: This world is as broken as it is beautiful

Deacon Greg: Priests rushed to the scene

Prayer in the face of evil…

From Benedict XVI:

“The Holy Father was promptly informed of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and he has asked me to convey his heartfelt grief and the assurance of this closeness in prayer to the victims and their families, and to all affected by the shocking event. In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy he asks God, our Father, to console allthose who mourn and to sustain the entire community with the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love.”

Msgr. Charles Pope: Where is God at Times like These?

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Peter Small

    Thank you for this beautiful and wise reflection.

  • Cathy R.

    Nice post & thank you for it. God dave us free will and this is how one individual used it (tragic)
    I too was thinking of Mary and how she had to endure the loss of her child as many of the families of these deceased children have had to do. Something no parent should have to go through. It is heart breaking that we had to be reminded of the “Holy Innocents” before we even got to Christmas. Lord have mercy on us all.

  • Mike

    it hurts…again…Come Lord Jesus Come

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  • bill bannon

    A psychiatrist on CNN really helped one understand in that she summarized how for decades laws were passed in the U.S. protecting people from being coerced into psychiatric care but she noted…we are paying the price in these events. She surmised that the shooter’s family knew he needed radical help in the psychiatric sense and could not force him into help under our laws. Criminal murderers usually murder one or several people for a reason…money, drugs, etc. Domestic spousal murders also are limited in scope usually. These school and movie theater etc. murders seem psychiatric in nature and involve suicide or its equivalent through deliberate exposure to swat teams. Another guest somewhat later stated frankly that it will happen again to a surprised Wolf Blitzer because nothing is changing in our approach to the deeply disturbed who are sending signals well before these events. The earlier psychiatrist noted that the laws protecting people from coerced psychiatric care have gone too far in one direction and she suggested that not judges but psychiatrists have to have more imput into confining some people or there will be no progress.

  • DeLynn

    Beautifully written, Anchoress. May many find comfort and peace in your words.

    Come now, Lord Jesus.

  • Pete

    Psychiatric care, surely. But what of the broader atmosphere of moral relativism? What of misguided court prohibitions against early classroom discipline where common sense and support of teachers might still make a difference?

    In any event, the sad, sad story is not merely a “tragedy” like a yearly hurricane or other natural disaster; it is mass murder and the press ought not to misbrand such avoidable outcomes, however routine we have allowed them to become. We need more morality and less sociology.

  • bill bannon

    I’d just say that even immoral professional criminals rarely kill 30 people in their entire lifetime. These mass one day, young male killers who have no previous criminal record and who kill dozens of people in the process of their own suicide are probably insane and would not be helped simply by lessons in morals. And I say that as a person who tracked down a person who invaded my home two years ago and I nearly killed him…I’m no friend of the criminal…because I grew up with a bunch of them and had two friends murdered near my childhood home and in different years no less.
    You will see reports that the guns were registered in the mother’s name but keep in mind that Connecticut about six years ago had a horrific home invasion in which a mom and two daughters were raped/ burned to death while the husband was tied up. People buy too many guns after an incident like that but it is odd that the mom did not lock them away from the son if she knew her son had emotional problems…but then…that’s what denial is about. She could know he had problems while telling herself it would never come to violence. I would bet he never showed any violence prior…but that’s just a street guess.

  • KML

    I blogged about this today, too. Trying to wrap my mind about it seems so impossible. All I can do is wrap my arms around my kids.

  • Victor

    Beautiful words and a pretty little chapel Anchoress and I’m sure that there are some out there who would say that they are only words and why would you even run to any crucifix and bend low before it to remember these parents and these children which will never ever really help these families but of course, long story short, these good people are UP SET with GOD at this cruel moment but as you said GOD can take “IT”.

    I can no longer go to my chapel and pray like I did in the pass because “IT” burnt down and long story short, GOD’s Angels have arranged for The Holy Name of Jesus church to give U>S (usual sinners) two beautiful heavy brass candles. GOD (Good Old Dad) really does work in Mysterious Ways and i will just leave it at that for now.

    Please forgive me if on occasions, I sound like i am holier than thow cause that’s not my intention and I’ll simply close by saying that I’m also so sad for the “ONEs” of God’s Children who have to endure this terrible evil Mass distruction in reality and for some of them, it will not be easy to not feel the guilt that they could have done something to stop that dragic happening.

    Call me crazy but I honestly believe that GOD and HIS Angels will make sure that some Good will come out of this tragic event.

    Again, my sympathy and prayer goes out to the families, friends of all who will be affected personally with this devil thing.

    God Bless Peace

  • Joseph

    I think of Christmases from my childhood, and nothing like this was even conceivable to me. As you say, words fail. Pray for the innocent victims and their families to the Holy Innocents, who also were murdered at a very young age 2000 years ago.

    “I believe … that the soul of Man is immortal and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this.” – Benjamin Franklin

  • Manny

    Such sadness. I hope consolation can be found for the families, and may God have a special place close to His bosom for the victims. Kudos on your piece here Anchoress. And kudos on the President’s comments. Both of you hit the perfect notes.

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  • taad

    As Mother Teresa said, when a mother can kill her own child in what should be the safest place on earth, then what is to stop me from killing you and you killing me? How dare pro abortionist decry the lost youth, when they promote the taking of the babes in the womb, or just outside. May the Lord forgive us.

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  • mark

    I was wondering last night if the non-stop TV coverage of these events doesn’t result in more disturbed people deciding they also want to become infamous. I see this morning that John Hinderaker is thinking the same thing:

  • Gerry

    Other than the Bath School Massacre in 1927, these types of mass murders were unknown in the U.S. only 40 years ago. God knows, just as you, I and everyone else does, what changed in America. You reap what you sow applies to cultures as well as individuals.

  • EBL
  • EBL

    Gerry, this happens else where too. Most of the time historically it is secondary, as part of war or armed combat. Just north of Newtown is Deerfield, Massachusetts where in February 1704 children were slaughtered and survivors forced marched in the snow to Canada. That is just one example.

    You are right about school shootings being a modern development, but they appear to be motivated by the narcissistic personalities of the murderers. It is not access to guns that explains it. It is how the media responds to such events. We saw similar mass murders recently in Norway and Germany. Deranged individuals seek fame and notoriety and that motivates them to commit horrors. From Charles Manson to Adam Lanza.

  • ahem

    This tragedy is yet more proof of the toxicity of secularism: it breeds isolation, alienation, despair, moral numbness and mental and emotional imbalance.

    We must renew our efforts to inform our fellow citizens of the grace, forgiveness and comfort to be found within the church.—and of the beauty of the transformative love of God.

  • Jacob Morgan

    Second Bill Bannon and others, this is where he belonged: Too bad it was left to rot in 1996.

    All the mass murders of late (the incident in Arizona where the Senator was shot, the Virginia Tech shooting, the Colorodo Batman incident, and now this) all involve people who belonged in such institutions. Now they stay at home and play violent video games.

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  • Jan Nichols

    Beautiful words written by Elizabeth Scalia. People’s hearts are bleeding around the world because of this tragedy. I agree with Bill Bannon and Jacob, though, that we will probably discover the murderer was mentally ill. Whether a semi-automtatic rifle, bombs (such as the unibomber?), or many other methods that can be used to kill and maim as part of a a sick person’s delusion, the unfortunate reality is that such killings will continue to occur without medical intervention and treatment.