Have we learned to comprehend the incomprehensible?
Do we express horror over mass killings in our cities, our small towns and even our churches, and then quickly forget about them as we go about our business?
It can seem that way at times. And yet, with acts of foreign terror and homegrown mass murder cropping up with head-spinning frequency, compassion fatigue can almost be seen as a defensive measure.
Just last Sunday, Cardinal Dolan was in St. Patrick’s Cathedral at a Mass remembering the victims—eight dead and 11 injured—mowed down by an ISIS-inspired Uzbek immigrant who drove a rented truck onto a bike path Oct. 31 in lower Manhattan. Practically the same moment that the cardinal was leading prayers for the New York victims, a gunman in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas, was firing on the congregation of a small Baptist church, killing 26 worshipers and wounding 20 others.
Both of those incidents came on the heels of the Oct. 1 attack in Las Vegas when a gunman fired high-powered weapons from a hotel room window into a crowd of concertgoers below, killing 58 and wounding 546. Or, reaching back a bit, the attack on a black church in Charleston, S.C., by white supremacist Dylan Roof, who coldly shot 12 people in a Bible study group, killing nine of them.
These cases were, predictably, followed by declarations of “thoughts and prayers” for victims’ families, calls for tougher gun laws and demands for better vetting of immigrants. More and more, we’re also seeing finger pointing directed at the mentally ill.
The fact is, though, that these predictable responses are a good starting point for fixing what is ailing in this country. None of us wants to live in a country so awash in senseless bloodshed. Nobody can feel safe.
Those of us who grew up in tough urban communities managed to survive by developing street smarts, avoiding high-crime areas and keeping our eyes open. People who travel a lot know enough to stay away from troubled regions of the world.
We can’t stay away from church so simply. For Catholics and other people of faith, the practice of our religion is an imperative of our belief and the most important way we connect with God and one another. Nor can we, or should we, avoid activities that recharge and refresh us, whether bike riding, jogging or listening to good music with fellow fans.
That’s why the predictable, even trite, responses to the tragedies that seem to be engulfing us could be the first step in getting beyond the anger, the hatred and the divisions that fuel murderous rage.
Thoughts and prayers for families and victims? Why not? Thinking about the suffering of others helps make it real; praying for them gives hope that God will ease their pain, and our prayers can help counteract the nonstop hatred and venom that spews from social media all day long.
While we continue to support fair and humane treatment of immigrants, we certainly believe that those who do come here be properly vetted; also, we see on our own streets every day the tragedy that is mental illness, and have long supported more and better treatment programs and support services.
Finally, there’s the issue of tougher gun laws, which may be the most important step we can take. Controversial or not—and it’s been one of the most heated issues for decades—it’s past time that this country faced the reality that unrestricted access to military-style firearms is a disastrous policy.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement after the Texas church shooting, “We must come to the firm determination that there is a fundamental problem in our society. A culture of life cannot tolerate, and must prevent, senseless gun violence in all its forms.
“May the Lord, who himself is peace, send us his spirit of charity and nonviolence to nurture his peace among us all.”
We stand with him in that prayer.