My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Thirty-two people were killed in a period of less than 13 hours over the weekend of Aug. 3-4. The first shooting, in El Paso, Texas, killed 22. Nine more died, plus the shooter, in an attack in Dayton, Ohio. In addition to those atrocities, that same weekend 15 people were shot in two separate incidents in Chicago. Although reports of such senseless violence are unfortunately becoming more common, they still continue to shock and sadden us, as they should.
The response to such violence has become quite predictable as people tend to assign blame according to their own ideologies.
Police say that the man arrested and charged with murder for the El Paso shooting published a white nationalist, anti-immigrant manifesto on social media immediately before the attack. So, some liberals blame conservative views for this shooting.
A search of the Dayton shooter’s online activity suggests that he was a left-wing extremist. So, some conservatives blame his liberal views.
Politicians and pundits propose various solutions, such as condemning racism, confronting mental health concerns, expanding background checks for gun purchasers, banning assault weapons, and calling for red-flag laws so that those who are potentially harmful to themselves or others have their guns taken away. All of these proposals are worth discussing; none of them alone is the complete answer to the problem.
If we focus only on racism, that will not solve the problem that, for example, most of the shootings in Chicago involved black people attacking other black people.
If we focus only on mental health concerns, that will not solve the problem of terrorists who hate our country and our culture, but otherwise appear to be sane.
If we focus only on guns and assault weapons, that will not solve the problem of attacks like the Boston Marathon killings in 2013 that were done with pressure cooker bombs in backpacks, or the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when thousands of people were killed by airplanes used as weapons of mass destruction.
As a religious leader, what I notice is missing from the conversation is any reference to God. When people say that their thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, that is a good start, but we must also condemn such acts as a sinful violation of God’s law that could very well merit eternal punishment in hell. It should come as no surprise that a secular society that lives as if there is no God should experience the evils that would be characteristic of a world where God does not live.
God’s law regarding the sanctity of human life is expressed clearly and succinctly in the four words of the Fifth Commandment of the Decalogue: “Thou shalt not kill.” Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1980 against displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools. In the case of Stone v. Graham, the Supreme Court struck down a Kentucky statute mandating the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools. The statute provided that plaques bearing the Ten Commandments, measuring 16 inches by 20 inches, and purchased with private contributions, be displayed in every elementary and secondary classroom of the state. The plaque included the following notation concerning the purpose of the display: “The secular application of the Ten Commandments is clearly seen in its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law of the United States.” Nevertheless, the Supreme Court held that the statute violated the Establishment Clause because such use of the Ten Commandments had “no secular legislative purpose.” It is simply ludicrous to think that teaching children the Commandments forbidding evil acts such as killing, adultery, stealing and lying serves “no secular legislative purpose.” Almost 40 years later, we see the lethal effects of such wrongheaded thinking.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states clearly, “The fifth commandment forbids direct and intentional killing as gravely sinful. The murderer and those who cooperate voluntarily in murder commit a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance” (n. 2268). The Catechism of the Catholic Church also describes the punishment for those who commit mortal sins such as murder: “Jesus solemnly proclaims that He ‘will send his angels, and they will gather … all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,’ and that He will pronounce the condemnation: ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!’ The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs” (nn. 1034-1035).
If we wish to live in a society where people are safe from murderous violence, we must first acknowledge that there is a God, learn to have a proper fear of the Lord (which is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit), and then live according to his Commandments so as to avoid the eternal punishments of hell and enjoy the everlasting happiness of heaven.
May God give us this grace. Amen.