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Making sense of senselessness

Last Friday, our country was once again overwhelmed with sadness and horror as we watched another school shooting; this time, the killer murdered 20 innocent children and six adults, as well as his own mother and himself. This act of violence, this act of evil, was especially heinous considering the timing of the attack, just before Christmas, and the very young ages of the children. My heart ached for the families. I lifted up my Mass for all of them early Saturday morning to the innocent Jesus who was crucified and to his mother Mary, who herself witnessed theviolent death of her own son.

During Mass I recalled the violence of the Holy Innocents whose feast day we celebrate three days after Christmas. The hearts of those mothers and fathers also ached and they also wept for their children, who were slaughtered by an evil king.  My own heart recalled Columbine and the Aurora theatre shooting and the families I ministered to. I prayed intensely for the parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, and all those impacted.

I found myself asking, “When will we wake up as a nation to the violence that surrounds us?” To violence that we permit in the name of freedom. We see violence glorified in movies, in video games, in the senseless murders that take place each day. And then there is the quiet complacent violence of abortion that snuffs out the lives of more than 3,000 innocents a day.

As I flew home from meetings in Rome on Saturday, I watched innocent children playing with one another in the line to board the plane—brothers and sisters filled with joy in their travel to the States for Christmas. My heart ached for the families in Newtown, who won’t be celebrating Christmas with their children this year.

I watched a movie on the flight. A character in the film spoke of the injustice of violence against the innocent during wartime, describing it as ““lies that mask evil with glorious rhetoric.” The sentence struck me. Masking evil with glorious rhetoric is what our country does with its films, its video games and yes, most sadly with abortion. We hide an evil behind the dishonest rhetoric of “freedom to choose,” and we refuse to see how violence impacts and influences the culture in which we live. These acts of violence communicate to us that life is expendable.

The Father weeps with us, Jesus weeps with us, and Mary weeps with us especially in this Advent season as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. A season of hope, a season of joy marred by the evil and darkness of so violent an act. Yet it is the light of Christ and the love of God that sustains us in such times.

“In the beginning,” John’s Gospel tells us, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”

Christmas is the celebration of the Word of God becoming flesh—becoming incarnate among us, and revealing the glory of God the Father. Christmas is the recognition that the God of eternity entered time to reveal to us God’s love. Christmas is the great mystery by which God became man—and by which man is given the chance to become like God.

Christmas changes everything. History is forever changed. Life is given meaning. The claim that God becomes man—and not only man, but that God becomes a newborn child, born in the lowliest of places—is a radical claim. To believe it requires a radical response. It requires a transformation of our lives. It requires us to put our faith in the God who is love.

In Luke’s Gospel, Christmas is first proclaimed to the shepherds outside Bethlehem, who receive from angels the news that “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  When the shepherds receive this news, they search for Jesus with “great haste.” They run to Bethlehem, with joyful and hasty abandon, to find the Savior of the world. Outside of Joseph and Mary, the shepherds are the very first Christian disciples.

Because they made haste, the shepherds were among the first to find Jesus Christ, lying, as the angels told them, in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, with his parents in adoration of God’s abundant goodness.

We too should make haste to find the Lord. In his book, “Jesus of Nazareth: the Infancy Narratives,” Pope Benedict XVI asks “How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely, if anything merits haste … it is the things of God.”

We should make haste to find the Lord. To find the light that leads to grace and truth, which no darkness can overcome. At the claim that God has become man, we should drop everything to pursue him—to find Christ, and, like the shepherds, to worship him. We should proclaim him Lord, and like the shepherds we should glorify and praise God for the wonder of his incarnation.

In some ways, we seem to have let Christmas lose its radical meaning in recent years.   Christmas, we’re often told, even by well-meaning people, is about family, togetherness and peace. This is true. Yet, Christmas is about the peace that surpasses understanding. It is about the peace of Jesus Christ, which nothing in the world can give.

This peace comes through Jesus Christ’s redemption of the world and is a peace that no darkness can take away, no evil snuff can out. If we do not present ourselves to Christ, as the shepherds did—if we do not seek him out, and adore him, and glorify him, we will not know the peace of Christ.  Nothing short of holiness can bring us the peace that Christ gives—and nothing short of “haste” will help us to become holy.

The Incarnation is a pivotal moment in the drama of the world’s history. And this Christmas, as we confront the evil experienced in Newtown, Conn., I pray that the Incarnation will be a pivotal moment in the drama of each of your lives, as well.

I pray that you and your families will pursue the Lord and come to the light and peace, the grace and the glory that he alone can bestow. I pray that you will glorify him in your lives, and that your lives will be filled with praise. I pray that when the Lord comes into the world—in the Eucharist, in the Scripture, and in your families—you will always make haste to find him.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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