Archive for the ‘Defending Life’ Category

Jesuit Father James Martin on Trying to Make Sense of the Senseless after Newtown School Shooting

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Jesuit Father James Martin offered this reflection on “The mystery of pain, the solace of faith” in the New York Daily News after the tragic Newtown school shooting on Dec. 14:

I write these lines within hours of hearing about the horrific shootings in Connecticut, and I write them from a retreat house in New England, a place of prayer. I also write them at the invitation of this newspaper.

The question on so many minds and in so many hearts is: Why?

It is an age-old question, one that believers have been asking, struggling with, raging at, and weeping over, for many centuries. Why would God allow something like this to happen? It is what theologians and saints have called the “mystery of evil.” It was asked in another form recently, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when many lost their lives.

In this case, however, and in all cases involving children — especially the violent deaths of children — the question takes on even more poignancy and greater urgency.

As a believer I need to say this: There is no satisfactory or adequate answer to that question. It is, to use another ancient phrase, a mystery. That word is often used as way of avoiding complex problems, but in this case it is true, and the thoughtful believer knows this in his or her heart: There is no answer that will take away our grief or fully explain how a good God could permit this.

Anyone who tells you that he or she has an answer to that question (for example: it is a punishment for our sins; it is the result of a vengeful God; it proves there is no God; or it demonstrates meaninglessness in the universe) does not offer a real answer. For no answer will satisfy in the wake of such agony.

Yet, as a believer, I also need to say this: That it is a mystery does not mean that there aren’t perspectives that can help the believing person in times of tragedy and sadness. For me, there are two things have helped me in facing tragedy:

First, as a Christian, I believe that violence, suffering and death are never the last word. God promises us eternal life, and will give us that life just as he gave it to his Son, who also died a violent death. “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them,” is the prayer spoken at Catholic funerals. God, I believe, has already granted all those who were killed eternal rest and perpetual light.

This does not take away our sorrow, but it can offer us hope for those who have gone before us. It also offers us the hope of being reunited with our loved ones in the fullness of time.

The second thing, or person, I turn to is Jesus. We do not have a God who is removed from our sufferings. When Jesus went to the tomb of his good friend Lazarus, whom Jesus would soon raise from the dead, he wept. Why? Because he loved Lazarus, as he loved Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha.

Jesus understands what sorrow is. Jesus understands pain. Jesus, I believe, weeps with us. Our God is not an intellectual abstraction or a philosophical theory, ours is a God who has lived a human life. This helps me during times of sadness. Jesus is with us in our pain, not standing far off.

The two perspectives are really one. The God who weeps with us also promises us eternal life. And the God who promises us eternal life weeps with us. For our part, we can work to end violence, to console those who remain and to build a more loving society.

For those who are not Christian but who are believers, like my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, I would not presume to offer a perspective, but I might still say that we all believe in a God who loves us, who is love, and who therefore weeps with us. On this we might begin to find some common understanding. For those who are not believers, I might say that in the wake of such horrendous tragedies, our hearts are called to compassion, to support the families and friends of the victims; and our sense of morality impels us to work for an end to such appalling violence.

There may not be answers that will satisfy, but for the believer there is God, who is sorrowful with us, who offers us eternal life, and who moves us, through our hearts, to build a more loving and compassionate society.

New York Daily News; image via Regis University

Jesuit Leads Life in Pursuit of Peace

Jesuit Father Jack Morris Jesuit Father Jack Morris is 84 years old and can no longer walk. But thirty years ago he led a group that walked across the U.S. as part of the Bethlehem Peace Pilgrimage to raise awareness about the nuclear arms race. Later that year the group flew to Ireland to continue the pilgrimage, ending in Bethlehem.

Now Fr. Morris, who is celebrating his 50th year as a priest, is working on his memoirs in the infirmary at the Jesuit House at Gonzaga University. He sees a country as dedicated to war as ever.

“I think we’re making progress toward doing ourselves in,” Fr. Morris told The Spokesman-Review.

Fr. Morris’ driving question is: “How do we put peace into the center of church thinking?”

“If the church spent as much time on peace issues as it does on birth control and abortion, we could have peace,” he said.

In the 1970s, Fr. Morris became drawn to the peace protesters who had gathered around the Trident nuclear submarine base in Bangor, Wash. He developed the idea of a pilgrimage and found about a dozen others who were willing to give it a try.

The group set off on April 9, 1982, with walkers ranging in age from 20 to 67. They walked about 20 miles a day, slept where they could, ate simple food and gave presentations on peace. They walked to Washington, D.C., and then flew to Ireland to conclude the walk.

They arrived in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, 1983, and everyone who started the pilgrimage finished.

“I was glad we were there and we were done,” Fr. Morris said. “I was tired of walking.”

Read more about Fr. Morris at The Spokesman-Review.

Jesuit Physician Says Assisted Suicide Fails to Attend to the Needs of the Dying

Jesuit Father Myles Sheehan As a Jesuit priest and a physician, Father Myles Sheehan brings a unique perspective to the debate about assisted suicide.

Fr. Sheehan recently spoke to Boston’s Catholic newspaper, The Pilot, about proposed legalized physician-assisted suicide in Massachusetts, which he considers a failure to meet the needs of the dying.

“I would like to see that people receive an approach that attends to their suffering in all its dimensions from the beginning of a serious illness,” Fr. Sheehan said.  He said those dimensions include attention to spiritual needs as well as mental and physical needs.

A medical educator trained in internal medicine and geriatrics and an expert in palliative care, Fr. Sheehan currently serves as the provincial of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus.

“This is a place where St. Ignatius said, ‘Love needs to be shown in deeds not words.’ The care and our whole way we approach people as they face the end of life is an issue that needs further attention. A distorted way to attend to it is what has come out of this assisted suicide [movement], but the underlying fears, concerns and discomfort about what the end of life might mean is real whether or not you agree or disagree,” Fr. Sheehan said.

Fr. Sheehan believes fear is a large contributor to attitudes that push people to choose to end their own lives, adding that the healthcare system can address these fears, provided caregivers make a sustained effort to maintain high standards of treatment in the system and in society.

“There is a bottom line that we have the fifth commandment ‘Though shalt not kill,’ and the killing of innocent life is considered intrinsically evil, that is, it is always wrong. And so to take the life, or to provide the means for a person to kill himself is considered an intrinsically evil act, because it violates first the life of the person. Second, it is a larger assault against what it means for human dignity,” Fr. Sheehan said.

Read the full story at The Pilot.

Jesuit Military Chaplain Heads to the Middle East

Jesuit Father Mark McGregorOregon Province Jesuit Father Mark McGregor departed for the Middle East in late July as an Air Force chaplain. While Fr. McGregor cannot disclose his posting, spiritually, he knows just where he is.

“It’s easy to think the military is a bunch of macho guys who want to grab a gun and go off and kill people,” Fr. McGregor said before leaving for his assignment. “But there are so many thoughtful people. They genuinely want to defend the country and help people. They recognize a bigger responsibility. My question always is, who is standing to help them?”

Fr. McGregor will spend six months in his first overseas assignment. He’ll likely serve at a Mideast air base, offering counsel, comfort and education to all, plus sacraments to Catholics.

A longtime teacher, Fr. McGregor heard of the need for Catholic chaplains and was intrigued. Through discernment, his desire to become a chaplain emerged. Until leaving for the Middle East, he was posted for a year at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

“It can sometimes be an intense ministry. Something can happen rather quickly. Here, you work right in the moment with the person in front of you,” he said.

“War should never be a popular thing,” Fr. McGregor said. “There is always a spiritual cost to war. A lot of people have a weight on them surrounding family. But when you’re a chaplain, they believe in your role to help them.”

Read more about Fr. McGregor at the Oregon Catholic Sentinel.

Jesuit Says Gun Control Is a Religious Issue

Jesuit Father James MartinOn Friday, July 20, after the shooting rampage in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater that left 12 dead, Jesuit Father James Martin, culture editor at America magazine, posted the following on Facebook:

“Gun control is a pro-life issue. Pray for the families of the victims in Colorado, and for an end to the taking of life by violence.”

That post sparked a debate on Fr. Martin’s Facebook page that USA Today’s Faith & Reason blog reported on later that day, in a post titled “Would Jesus pack heat? Is gun control a God issue?”

On July 22, Fr. Martin expanded on his views in a post on America magazine’s blog. Fr. Martin stated that he is a religious person, not a political person, and that he believes gun control is a religious issue:

“It is as much of a ‘life issue’ or a ‘pro-life issue,’ as some religious people say, as is abortion, euthanasia or the death penalty (all of which I am against), and programs that provide the poor with the same access to basic human needs as the wealthy (which I am for). There is a ‘consistent ethic of life’ that views all these issues as linked, because they are.”

Fr. Martin wrote that he prays for the victims, but suggested that “our revulsion over these crimes, and our sympathy for victims, may be more than an invitation to prayer. Such deep emotions may be one way that God encourages us to act.”

Fr. Martin said religious people should meditate on “the connection between the more traditional ‘life issues’ and the overdue need for stricter gun control.”