My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Once again our nation has experienced another senseless shooting rampage, this time at a theater in Aurora, Colo., that left 12 people dead and 58 wounded. Countless others now suffer the grief of dealing with the death or injury of their loved ones due to this pointless violence. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the victims and we offer our prayers for them. We pray for the repose of the souls of those who have died.
At the same time, even those of us who live far from the scene of this crime and do not personally know anyone involved in it are still shaken by such madness. There is a whole range of emotions being felt simultaneously: confusion, sadness, guilt, fear, and anger. There are many questions about the perpetrator. Why did he do this? Inevitably there is also more generalized bewilderment about why such crimes occur and why God permits them to happen.
Undoubtedly there will be a variety of explanations offered, some based on evidence and others on conjecture, offering answers from psychological, criminal, legal, political, and social perspectives. All of these will be pieces of a puzzle, but the issue is essentially a spiritual matter.
Just reading the first few chapters of the Bible, it is clear that evil was lurking from the very beginning of time. Although God looked at all of his creation "and found it very good," he also gave spiritual beings (called angels) and human beings the freedom to choose between good and evil. Before we even get to Chapter 8 of the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve have disobeyed God, for which they were expelled from the Garden of Eden; Cain has killed his brother Abel, for which he was banished to wander the earth; and human beings everywhere had become so wicked "that every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil" (Genesis 6:5), for which they were punished by the flood, sparing only Noah and his family and the animals and birds that he was allowed to bring with them on the ark.
After this calamity, God made a covenant with Noah and his family, sending a rainbow as a "sign of the covenant I have established between me and every mortal being that is on earth" (Genesis 9:17). This covenant would be renewed with Abraham, Moses and the prophets, but would reach its fulfillment only in the salvation that Jesus won for us through his death and resurrection.
Being people of faith does not make us immune to the forces of evil. After all, Jesus himself was tempted by the devil. On June 29, 1972, Pope Paul VI warned that "the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God." Exactly 40 years later, on June 29, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the clear promise made by Jesus that "the forces of evil, will not prevail."
Just as Christ withstood the devil's temptations, Christ has given us very powerful spiritual weapons to fend off the attacks of the Evil One. Jesus has given us the church, built on the rock of St. Peter, the apostles and their successors, that is, the pope and the bishops. Jesus has taught us how to pray, including the petition, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Jesus has given us the sacraments, by which we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the grace to live in God's love. We have the gift of God's Word in the Bible, the truths of our faith handed down by Tradition, as well as religious devotions and sacramentals that keep us rooted in the faith.
These spiritual weapons defend us from the attacks of the Evil One. Human beings are responsible for their own sins committed through their own free will. They cannot blame the devil, but they can provide a place for his evil spirit in their hearts and allow him to influence their choices between right and wrong. Adam and Eve allowed Satan to enter their hearts, but they were responsible for their own sins of disobeying God's commandment. Satan did not kill Abel, but Cain succumbed to the murderous evil planted in his heart by the devil. Mass murderers are morally responsible for their own heinous crimes, but their moral culpability started with their failure to defend themselves spiritually from the pernicious allure of sin.
That is why we must pray. We must ask forgiveness of our sins and receive the Lord into our hearts when we receive holy Communion at Mass. We must pray for protection against the forces of evil. We must pray for the victims of violence not only in Aurora, Colo., but throughout the world. Finally, we must also pray for the perpetrators of crime, for their conversion, repentance and the forgiveness of their sins.
Blessed Pope John Paul II referred to the St. Michael Prayer in his Regina Coeli address of April 24, 1994, saying, "May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle that the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of: 'Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might' (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel" (cf. Revelation 12:7).
As I visit the parishes of our diocese, I am encouraged to see that the vast majority of our parishes now recite the Prayer to St. Michael after Mass. In fact, most people do not even need to read the text from the prayer cards in the pews, but have it memorized: "St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray: and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen."
May God give us this grace. Amen.
Reprinted with permission from the Catholic Times, offical newspaper of the diocese of Springfield.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.