Hope in the Wake of Tragedy: A Moral Response to a Crisis

12/18/2012 11:26 am ET | Updated Feb 17, 2013

Less than a week before the horrific tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Conn., Pope Benedict XVI released his annual message for the World Day of Peace (Jan. 1, 2013). In his opening line, the Holy Father wrote, "I ask God, the Father of humanity, to grant us concord and peace, so that the aspirations of all for a happy and prosperous life may be achieved."

Reflecting on this sentence in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I can't help but feel anger as I come to terms with the fact that those innocent lives taken were denied their aspirations for happiness and a prosperous life. The notion that innocent children were the victims of such a horrific act, should call all of us to admit the need for a discerned response to the crisis of violence that has plagued our society in modern time.

As a teenager, I stood in front of a television watching the events unfold in Columbine. As a college student, I listened to terrifying accounts of the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University among others. As a young professional, I stared at a television screen while listening to a reporter deliver an account of the assassination attempt on a member of Congress. Last Friday, I welled with tears watching the news accounts pour out of Newtown, Conn. Reflecting on these events, I can't help but bear witness to the need for an end to the culture of violence.

This is a call that I believe is inherent in every faith and in the very nature of being human: a call to end violence and thwart those activities that harm the common good. As we mourn and seek to heal as a nation, our hearts must remain alert to ensure that we work for an end to the violence that has plagued those places that should be the safest and most nurturing. I don't know what the answer is to the question of gun control, however, I do know that as a young American, I am tired of so many lives being taken at the hand of a weapon that has never been the source of peace.

In fact, on this question the Catholic Church teaches: "The production and the sale of arms affect the common good of nations and of the international community. Hence public authorities have the right and duty to regulate them" (CCC #2316).

Although this teaching is clearly intended for a global audience, in light of this week's events, our hearts should see that it speaks profoundly to us as a nation. We must admit that the question of gun control is not a question of Second Amendment rights, but rather it is a question of life. If we seek to end a culture of violence and death, we must be prepared to embrace a culture of life that enacts policies furthering such an objective.

In a 1994 pastoral message, the bishops of the United States prophetically wrote:

Above all, we must come to understand that violence is unacceptable. We must learn again the lesson of Pope Paul VI, "If you want peace, work for justice." We oppose lawlessness of every kind. Society cannot tolerate an ethic which uses violence to make a point, settle grievances or get what we want.

We must realize that guns are the weapons that are taking the lives of the most precious among us. In our tears, we can turn to our loving God to seek hope and the peace of Christ; however, we must also acknowledge our moral obligation to work toward ensuring that a tragedy of this kind does not happen again. Our nation must awaken to the reality and dangers of guns and work toward forging a policy that respects the constitutional rights of Americans while establishing safeguards to protect the happiness and prosperity that we all seek.

Catholic teaching calls upon us to protect life. As we mourn the lives of potential presidents, doctors, teachers, firefighters and soldiers, we must recognize that these are lives worth honoring with reforms that will protect schoolchildren and others across the country. We can no longer settle for the status quo or for a nonexistent debate; rather, we must demand a national dialogue on guns that leads to much-needed reform. If we truly desire a culture of life, a culture that promotes the common good, and a culture that recognizes nonviolence as the ultimate source of peace, then we must act today.

As we embark on this debate, we must turn our hearts to the messages of peace that are inherent in all faiths. We must trust and follow the Light that guides us, so that in the words of Pope Benedict XVI we might create a world in which "the city of man may grow in fraternal harmony, prosperity and peace."

My prayer is that our leaders will have the courage to stand-up and demand change to protect the well-being of all while proclaiming with confidence that America is a culture of life.