.- The message of Advent is applicable in today’s world, especially in light of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia said in his Dec. 17 column.
“In these final days of Advent, the Church urges us to lift up our hearts and prepare to rejoice,” he said. “There’s nothing remotely naïve in this call to joy; the Church knows the harshness of the world far too well for empty pieties.”
Even in the face of tragedy, such as the recent elementary school shooting in which a lone gunman killed his mother and 26 students and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Archbishop Chaput said that God is present.
When trying to comprehend the violence and evil that took place that day, people will ask how God could allow such suffering to exist in the world, the archbishop noted.
Although these questions “sound reasonable,” he said, they are “all evasions,”
“We might as well ask, ‘Why does God allow us to be free?’”
Archbishop Chaput recalled that humanity has the blessing of being loved unconditionally by its Creator. And although God seeks our love, “we will never be coerced by the One who loves us.”
“God is good, but we human beings are free, and being free, we help fashion the nature of our world with the choices we make,” he said.
That means that while “evil is frightening,” it is unfortunately “not incomprehensible,” he wrote. “We know it from intimate experience.”
“What we never quite expect is for our private sins, multiplied and fermented by millions of lives with the same or similar ‘little’ sins, to somehow feed the kind evil that walks into a Connecticut school and guns down 26 innocent lives, 20 of them children,” he said.
During his time in Denver, Archbishop Chaput had the duty of helping bury some victims of the April 20, 1999 Columbine shooting in which two high school students shot and killed 12 classmates and a teacher before taking their own lives.
“Nothing is more helpless or heart-breaking than to sit with parents who kissed their children goodbye in the morning and will never see them alive again in this world. The pain of loss is excruciating. Words of comfort all sound empty,” he said.
Evil that exists in the world, while “bitter and brutal,” is “not new,” he observed. “Nor, in the light of human history, is it a surprise.”
In the Old Testament, God revels that “love is as strong as death,” Archbishop Chaput said. In God’s redeeming plan, “love is stronger than death.”
“The surprise is the persistence of God’s fidelity and mercy. The surprise is that, despite our sins, we still long to be the people God intended us to be.”
He said that “the only effective antidote” to evil in the world is for each person “to live differently from this moment forward.”
“We make the future beginning now,” he added.
He noted that when young lives are “cut so short,” each memory a parent has of their child is “precious” and is “compounded by a hunger for more time and more memories that will never happen.”
For this reason, Archbishop Chaput emphasized the necessity of keeping “the grieving families so urgently in our hearts and prayers.”