What Can We Do?


I’m not one to watch the 24 hour news networks, so I was shocked to return home from Mass this Sunday to hear of the tragic shooting in Orlando, FL, at a dance club frequented by the LGBTQ community.  As of this writing, it looks fairly certain that the assailant is what the media calls a “home grown terrorist;” an American citizen who had become radicalized by Muslim extremism and pledged his allegiance to ISIS.

When we hear of senseless violence such as this, we often feel moved to do something, but we don’t know what.  Changing our Facebook profile picture, wearing a ribbon, or tweeting that we “stand in support of” the victims isn’t really effective.  So what can we do?

Here are a few things, in no particular order, that I would advise my students to keep in mind.

It seems like every time we turn on the TV, another tragedy is unfolding before our eyes.  It can feel like the world is falling apart.  But consider for a moment what a unique historical situation we are in.  We are getting news from around the world beamed into our computers, phones and televisions 24/7.  The world is a violent place, and we get reminded of this fact on a nearly daily basis.  One hundred years ago, it may have taken us weeks to hear of a tragic crime such as this.  A hundred years before that, we may have never heard of it.

What is my point here?  Only that the world has always been a violent place.  It may feel like it is getting worse than ever, but it’s always been bad.  Look back in Genesis.  Only eight verses after the Fall we read of the first murder.  We still live with that same fallen human nature.  I’m not saying the shooting in Orlando is not horribly, horribly evil.  I’m only pointing out that we’ve been living with this capacity for evil for a long, long time.

It wasn’t long after the shooting that I started seeing opposing political sides casting barbs at each other in my news feed.  This is not helpful.  This shooting was not caused by liberal politicians advocating for transgender bathroom access and same-sex marriage.  This shooting was not caused by conservative politicians advocating for 2nd Amendment rights or immigration reform.  This shooting was caused by a man who allowed hate to make a home in his heart.  Let’s place the blame where it lies and not make scapegoats.

Advocate for stronger gun control laws if you believe that will help to make our country a safer place.  Advocate for respect of the human dignity of all people, regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality.  Do those things.  Write to your congressman.  Write letters to the editor.  Be political.  But don’t politicize.  Using an event such as this to tell someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum, “See, I told you so!” only cheapens the loss of these lives.

Not that I think any of my students would do this, but you likely have friends who will claim that this is just another example of why religion is bad.  Be prepared for this.  Know that when someone does something evil in the name of his or her religion, it is not a condemnation of all religion.  Not all religions are equal.  There is good religion and bad religion.  There is true religion and false religion.  Without getting too into it, true religion values justice, virtue, and love.  What happened in Orlando this weekend is the result of false religion.  The remedy for false religion is not to eliminate religion altogether, but to bring about an increase of true religion.

I’m sure you’ve seen many Facebook posts and tweets saying, “Our thoughts are with the victims.”  That’s all very well.  But just thinking about this tragedy doesn’t do any good.  We need to pray.  This is a great gift we have as Catholic Christians — the ability to pray.  Pray for the surviving family members.  Pray for the police officers, medics and other first responders.  Pray for the grief counselors, clergy members, and others dealing with the aftermath.  Pray for the perpetrator, that he may have a conversion of heart and repent of this great evil he has done.  And, most importantly, pray for the victims.  Pray for the dead.  We have a wonderful and holy tradition in our church of praying for the souls of the departed.  This is precisely where your prayers can do some very real good.  Pray.

As I said at the beginning of this article, the world has been a violent place since our first parents were evicted from the garden.  This is nothing new.  But even though we still live with the consequences of original sin, we no longer dwell entirely in the darkness.  Christ, the light, has come into the world.  And Christ, the light, says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (Jn 14:27).

Work for peace.  This may mean advocating for policies that make it more difficult for this type of violent act to be carried out.  But that’s the kind of peace the world can offer.  Christ offers us something more profound.  Christ offers us the ability to have peace even in the midst of violence and tragedy.  We need to work for this peace, as well.

This is done first and foremost by fostering peace in our own hearts.  Cling close to Christ.  Live a life of virtue.  Remain steadfast in prayer.  Be at ease.  Know peace in your heart, then foster peace in your family, and in your community.  Bear no ill will toward your neighbor.  Offer forgiveness to others; and ask forgiveness of any you have wronged.  Judge no one but yourself. See in each person the image of God.  The peace of Christ in you can be like ripples spreading out across the water from a single stone dropped into a pond.  You would be amazed at how many people a single Christian living at peace can positively affect.

Tragedies like this make us want to change the world.  That’s a noble goal, but it seems impossible. We can’t see how to do that. So we never try.  But we can change ourselves. We can be a light in the world of our families and friends.  We can know and spread peace, like ripples on a pond.  If enough of us did just that, the world would be a changed place indeed.