Reflecting on tragedy

Children dressed as Juan Diego for the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28) was lived out today. God grant them rest and give their families comfort.

~ Bishop Stika

Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, provincial superior of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, wrote the following letter to his fellow priests and brothers as he reflected on the Newtown tragedy:

December 15, 2012

I was in Houston this past week visiting our community and participating in the joyous celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Present at all the celebrations were children such as these pictured above, enjoying the festivities and showing their faith and devotion to Our Lady. For me the highlight is always the school Mass at 9:00 AM at which the 8th grade class reenacts the appearance of Mary to Juan Diego.

I flew home yesterday late morning and through the miracle of modern technology my flight had live television. I, along with many on the flight, sat transfixed watching unfold the story of Newtown, Connecticut. I am sure like me your heart sank as we learned of the death of 20 children, most of them in first grade, along with six adults at the school and the mother of the shooter at her home. I can’t begin to pretend to know how or why something so heinous took place yesterday, but I do want to share with you a few thoughts that have been on my mind since learning of this tragic and oh so sad event.

Most of us as religious can only begin to grasp what has gone through the minds of parents around the country. I found that this quote from Marshall Newhouse, a member of the Green Bay Packers, helped me to appreciate what parents were feeling as the news hit home: “Making the decision to have a child –– it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

We SCJs are very much involved in the education of children, perhaps more than we often give ourselves credit for. A simple listing makes that abundantly clear:

St. Joseph Indian School — Chamberlain, South Dakota
Sacred Heart School — Southaven, Mississippi
Holy Family — Holly Springs, Mississippi
Our Lady of Guadalupe — Houston, Texas
St. Martin of Tours — Franklin Wisconsin

I ask myself, how do we keep these hundreds of children safe? How do we help them make sense, if we can, of what happened in Newtown? How do we make sense of it ourselves? I can’t give answer to these questions, at least not at this time. But I do encourage each one of us to ponder them in our hearts as we draw ever closer to Christmas when we celebrate the rebirth of the Christ Child in our hearts and in our world.

We SCJs pride ourselves in our sense of social justice. There has been a long struggle in our nation over the meaning of the Second Amendment, especially now in a 21st century society where technology makes lethal weapons so readily available. I am sure that discussion will be played out in the days and weeks ahead and I encourage each of us to give serious thought to the issue of guns and find ways to add our voice to society’s debate. No doubt there are powerful forces at play in this discussion.

It is not, by any means, the only issue that caused the tragedy in Newtown. We do need to have a serious national discussion on why and how our society promotes violence; and that we seem so much more prone to tragic events such as what occurred yesterday, and what happened last summer, not more than 10 miles from where I sit, at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek.

Let me close with a quote I frequently use in letters of condolence; it is from Oscar Wilde: “Where there is sorrow there is hallowed ground.” Certainly today Sandy Hook Elementary School is hallowed ground. May each of us use the waning days of the beautiful season of Advent to pray for the victims and families of those who had so much taken from them. I certainly hope and pray that the Prince of Peace may find ways to bring comfort, solace and peace to those hurting beyond my capacity to comprehend.  In turn may we do what we can to hallow the ground we all walk upon.

Yours in the Heart of Christ,

Fr. Thomas P. Cassidy, scj
Provincial Superior, U.S. Province