Why did so many innocent people lose their lives or suffer terrible injuries in the Las Vegas shooting the night of Oct. 1? Why do so many family members and friends have to grieve?
Why would anyone commit such an unspeakable crime? Why was he so deranged that he thought his action -- the senseless massacre of so many innocents -- was necessary or could possibly be justified?
Why, Lord, do you permit evil to exist, to punish the most innocent and vulnerable members of your family through natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, fires and their consequences)? Worse, why do you allow your sons and daughters to harm one another so egregiously through acts of war, prejudice, terror, indifference, abuse and violence?
These and many other questions have been asked since the beginning of human history. (See the Old Testament's books of Job and Ecclesiastes.) There is no satisfactory answer -- at least in human terms. Evil, suffering and death are, unexplainably, with us always. They confound our understanding and defy all our efforts to discover their origin, meaning or purpose.
When a madman fires a high-powered assault rifle into a large crowd killing at least 59 people and wounding hundreds more, there is simply no explanation that makes any sense. Regardless of whether he is a lone gunman or part of a larger conspiracy or terrorist organization, there is no acceptable rationale for his fundamentally inhuman, violent actions that resulted in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Such inhumanity makes no sense. It is pure evil.
The problem of evil confronts us today, as in every age, with its horror and its seeming hopelessness. Reasonable, virtuous and caring people can barely comprehend the fact that such destruction is possible -- and that it seems to be occurring more often. Are we helpless in the face of the natural and man-made horrors that are happening around us with alarming frequency? Is there nothing we can do to prepare for or prevent such meaningless destruction?
In response to the deadly shooting in Las Vegas, Pope Francis immediately sent a telegram to Las Vegas Bishop Joseph A. Pepe with his promise of prayers for the victims and their families and for all the first responders and caregivers.
"Deeply saddened to learn of the shooting in Las Vegas, Pope Francis sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected by this senseless tragedy," said the message delivered by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.
Spiritual closeness or "accompaniment" has been one of the pope's consistent themes. If we can do nothing else, we must walk with those who suffer. We must share their journey. This is the "via crucis," the way of the cross. It is the only possible response to the horrors of sin, suffering and death. It is our only ultimate defense against the unremitting attacks of the Evil One and the madmen, terrorists, ideologues and warmongers who are his agents.
Natural disasters cannot be prevented. They must be prepared for carefully and suffered through with confidence and hope for the future. Massacres and other evil actions caused by human agents have been with us ever since Cain killed his brother Abel. They are the source of great sadness, as Pope Francis tells us, but they are also signs of a deep disturbance in the human mind and heart. There is only one solution to this profound deformity in the soul of individuals and groups. It is "the merciful love of Almighty God," the pope tells us. And it is experienced most powerfully and directly in the person of Jesus Christ.
What can you and I do to address the horrors in Las Vegas and so many other cities of late in our country and throughout the world? We can rededicate ourselves to making Jesus Christ present in the world. We can pray for his love and mercy. We can be Christ for others, being spiritually close to them and sharing their sorrow and their journeys. Above all, we can work harder than ever to make Gospel values (the Eight Beatitudes) the foundational principles for our laws, our social systems and our relationships with one another.
Jesus Christ is not a simplistic or sentimental answer to the problem of evil. What he suffered for our sake was senseless, excruciating pain -- a death he did not deserve that could not be justified rationally. Like the victims of recent natural disasters and the all-too-common massacres of innocent people, Jesus endured suffering and death for no good reason. His example is not meant to "explain away" the problem, but to show us that nothing but God himself can answer the questions raised by these profound evils.
Let's turn to Jesus with our minds and hearts wide open. He will not give us easy answers, but he will walk with us as we struggle to understand and to find hope for the future.
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