On Tuesday, Oct. 31, at a small church families gathered for a modest “fall festival”. The intent was to provide a safe and religiously conservative alternate to Halloween. Children dressed as Dalmatians, pirates, and other similar costumes ran through a bounce house and crowded around a metal tub to fish for rubber duckies.
For Michelle Shields, the event filled her with hope: Her son-in-law was in the crowd along with her daughter and her granddaughter. There had been recent tension in the family, so she hoped Devin’s appearance meant things were on the upswing.
On Sunday, these same families, all good disciples, of Christ went to Sunday worship. They never expected that 20 minutes into the service Devin would indeed come to church. And when he left, this once joyous and safe place to worship would be the scene of a heinous act of violence leaving 26 worshipers dead and 20 others injured.
I know we, like countless others, are all still in a state of dismay and grief regarding the heinous attack on the faithful of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX.
All are still asking “Why”? And, “How could this have been prevented?” There are numerous opinions.
· On the one hand some are advocates of tighter gun laws. Ban some styles of guns, increased background checks, and more.
· On the other hand some think we should make it easier to purchase a gun in order to defend ourselves and others.
· Both groups seem to agree we need to keep such weapons out the hand of people like Devin. But how, given that our current laws which should have prevented the purchase of the weapon failed. Devin had documented mental problems, a history of violence against his family, and more. Under existing laws had these issues been properly reported he would have been denied the purchase.
As with every tragedy we listen as the news people capitalize on the event to drive up the ratings, and likewise the politicians use such events to further polarize their opponents and get votes. Sadly in the end as time passes all this rhetoric will fade away and nothing will change. As proof I ask you consider the Antioch and Charleston Church shootings, the massacre in Las Vegas, and the night club in Florida. And I ask what changed? Only one thing; they are no longer in the news or used as political rhetoric.
I ask all here to fully understand that I am not trying to make any kind of political statement. I am only sharing with you my thought process using a Christian perspective and as Bishop of the Church as to why and how to prevent this from happening again.
So why do events like this happen? First let me state that murder is not because of a gun, knife, or even an automobile. No indeed these acts are not because of an inanimate object. They are because of a sick and evil heart. Evil pure and simple. Every perpetrator of a murder be it one, or thousands has a heart / soul filled with evil. For some reason they allow passions such a pride, anger, lust, envy, and greed to drive all their actions.
How do we as disciples combat evil? I know for sure it is not with man’s law. It is not trying to teach right from wrong with rules and regulations. Because when laws and rules have people as the highest authority the laws and rules can and will change and they may even become evil. Consider Nazi Germany, during this time in their history the law said it was a good and proper thing to murder Jews.
Regardless of man’s laws we must never forget there are some Truths that are not subjective to the will of the people. And that these Truths come from a higher authority which we call God. You may be thinking such Divine Truths will never be removed from our nation. If so I ask you to consider that every year over 600,000 unborn children are legally murdered by abortion and less than 1% are due to the mother’s life being in danger. This is the law of the land but not the Truth of God.
Sadly over the past few decades our nation has worked hard, and is continuing to work hard, to become a Godless society. Simple Truths common to all civilized people such as; “Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet”, can no longer be posted or taught in our schools as Divine Truths on which our laws are founded. Attributes such as humility and charity have been replaced with self-gratification and material possessions. Yes indeed, society has worked hard to eliminate God from the equation of peace. And I fear we are now reaping that which has been sown. So what must we do?
First we must consider our parish families. As a shepherd each pastor is called to feed the flock with word and sacrament. Each pastor is also charged with standing watch at the sheepfold lest the wolf enter. With this said I am charging each parish council to develop an action plan in the event the parish should be faced with an attack of evil with intentions of committing violence.
Next, we must not allow our concern and fear of evil prevent us from first and foremost being disciples. We must continue to be open and caring. We need to live the Gospel and in doing so allow all we encounter to see Christ in and though us. And this must be done not only when we are at Mass but also in our homes, our workplace, and in our school. In short, every action we take, and every word we speak must be founded in Christ.
I close this letter with the words of Saint Paul to the Ephesians:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. Therefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thus with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” (Ephesians 6:10-18 KJ2000)
May the Peace of Christ be upon you,
Michael Nesmith - Archbishop