Searching for meaning in great tragedy

Searching for meaning in great tragedy

When we see large tragedies like the Newtown shooting, they’re often followed by stories of people helplessly searching for ways to “do something and you don’t know what to do”. They feel helpless. It’s a natural feeling, but I wonder if people who have a deep abiding faith are less prone to it.

There’s something in us that sees a tremendous evil and wants to do something, anything, in response. We saw it after Columbine, after 9/11, after Aurora, and after natural disasters like Katrina and now Sandy.

While there are some obvious ways to help—blood drives, giving to charity, etc—still people need a way to memorialize, to take an existential stand against the evil they confront. So either they build memorials of flowers and teddy bears and stand awkwardly in front of them, perhaps after traveling to the place under a kind of compulsion, or they do the same memorial building and candlelighting, but turn to the Lord in prayer, knowing that only the Father who loves so much that He gave His only begotten Son, His pure, innocent, unblemished Son to die to turn death from meaningless into eternal life.

This is the only way that we can make sense of how we feel after such incidents. My prayer is that all who are confronted by this evil can turn to the Lord to find the meaning and consolation they seek.

  • My online research has yielded no answer to the following question: are we, as Catholics, expected to pray for murderers??  I would think no, especially in the Newtown case, but my son’s Jesuit high school led an Advent prayer over the PA system in which they prayed for ALL victims of Newtown, including the murderer himself. 

    In light of the fact that he avoided justice by committing suicide, another cowardly act to add to his list, I cannot see any point in praying for his soul.  If anyone is in hell, it’s him, and why would we pray for someone in hell?

  • Well, for one thing, we don’t know that anyone is in hell. This is part of Jesus’ admonition to judge not. Only God can judge the state of a soul at death and only He knows the person’s culpability and guilt. We can judge the act as objectively evil, but we can’t judge the <a>actor</b>. God alone is the dispenser of ultimate justice and mercy.

    Second, I don’t think there’s anything particular about the sin of murder that sets it apart from other grave sins in the sense of how we should respond to it. We can look toward the example of St. Maria Goretti who prayed for her own murderer as she died. (He later converted in prison and even attended her canonization.)

    Matthew 18:35 seems instructive here: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

    Also the CCC 2844: “Christian prayer extends to the forgiveness of enemies, transfiguring the disciple by configuring him to his Master. Forgiveness is a high-point of Christian prayer; only hearts attuned to God’s compassion can receive the gift of prayer. Forgiveness also bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. the martyrs of yesterday and today bear this witness to Jesus. Forgiveness is the fundamental condition of the reconciliation of the children of God with their Father and of men with one another.”

    I could go on with example after example that we are to pray for everyone, even those who have committed grave sins. Even they are beloved children of God and Christ died even for them.