I am writing this article on the very day that Commander Paul Bauer’s funeral was held at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church. I am still reeling from the horrific situation that brought him into contact with Shomari Legghette, who is a convicted armed robber, who legally cannot buy a gun but who had one fitted with an extended magazine that could hold 30 bullets. This is the same day that down in Parkland, Florida, several of the 17 victims who were killed at a local high school were killed by Nikolas Cruz, who at 19 years of age was able to walk into a gun store and bought an AR-15 rifle which he used to kill 14 high school students and three adults.
And I ask myself, “How can this happen here in the United States?” and not once or twice but at least 1,606 times in the last five years, with at least 1,829 people killed, many of them younger than 18. Why is it that about a third of all mass shootings in the world have occurred in the United States? How is it that the number of guns held in civilian hands in the United States is about 310 million, and that is about half of all the civilian-owned guns in the world? And I gulp when I realize that Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns—legally obtained or not—than people in other developed countries. Does it not make your head spin when you read that burglars steal some $164 million worth of guns from gun shops and then they ship them across state lines where they are used to commit crimes?
Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. Worldwide, a recent study found a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. The same study held that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence. If mental health made the difference, then data would show that Americans have more mental health problems than do people in other countries with fewer mass shootings. But the mental health care spending rate in the United States, the number of mental health professionals per capita, and the rate of severe mental disorders are all in line with those of other wealthy countries.
Another study has found that the United States is not actually more prone to crime than other developed countries. Rather, it found, in data that has since been repeatedly confirmed, that American crime is simply more lethal. A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process. It concluded that the discrepancy, like so many other aspects of American violence, came down to guns.
In 2013, American gun-related deaths included 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides and 505 deaths caused by an accidental discharge. That same year in Japan, a country with one-third America’s population, guns were involved in only 13 deaths. This means an American is about 300 times more likely to die by gun homicide or accident than a Japanese person. America’s gun ownership rate is 150 times as high as Japan’s. That gap between 150 and 300 shows that gun ownership statistics alone do not explain what makes America different.
The United States also has some of the weakest controls over who may buy a gun and what sorts of guns may be owned. Switzerland has the second-highest gun ownership of any developed country, about half that of the United States. Its gun homicide rate in 2004 was 7.7 per million people—unusually high, in keeping with the relationship between gun ownership and murders, but still a fraction of the rate in the United States. Swiss gun laws are more stringent, setting a higher bar for securing and keeping a license, for selling guns and for the types of guns that can be owned. Such laws reflect more than just tighter restrictions. They imply a different way of thinking about guns, as something that citizens must affirmatively earn the right to own.
All the above is not “fake news”; it is scientific research. When do we listen much more carefully to what we already know? Many legislators are once again saying that it is much too soon to address any form of gun control because we do not have all the facts about what happened at that high school in Parkland. But that’s what these same individuals said after all the other mass shootings for the past few years in our country such as Sandy Hook, the church in Texas, the Las Vegas massacre, and for the most part absolutely nothing has changed even after all the facts have long been known. Of course we want to pray for the victims and their families—and even the shooter(s). Of course we want to support the police and first responders who have done great work. Of course we want to offer all the social resources to those who have survived such a terrible and traumatic happening.
But there must be more—there must be ACTION. The parents and relatives of both those killed and those who now must go back into that Parkland school are crying out for justice and ACTION. People all over the United States are demanding that our President, our Governors, and our state and federal elected legislators stand up and do what must be done to control this gun situation, irrespective of monies they have received for their campaigns from gun lobbyists. There are all kinds of things that can be legislated and regulated while still maintaining the legitimate interpretation of Article 2 of our Constitution. The senseless killings must stop, and stop from this moment forward, and each one of us has a part to play in this drama. If those presently holding these positions of authority and power are not willing to move forward, then we must do all in our power to elect someone else who will step up and hear the cries for change. It is our moral responsibility to do so!
FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT
This is Laetare Sunday. Laetare means “rejoice” and comes from the Entrance Antiphon for this Sunday, taken from Isaiah 66:10: “Rejoice, O Jerusalem.” The beginning of today’s First Reading, however, gives little cause for rejoicing. It describes how the leaders and people of Judah (under the evil influence of King Zedekiah) “added infidelity to infidelity” against God and so suffered defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. The Temple was destroyed, and many people were carried off to exile in Babylon. But, of course, God is always faithful to his covenant people and eventually will arrange for them to return to Jerusalem by dictate of Cyrus, the king of Persia.
The Second Reading and the Gospel continue this theme of human infidelity and divine faithfulness. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians praises God, who brought us out of the death of sin through his loving mercy and raised us up in glory with Christ not through our own merit but as a gift from God. In other words, we are saved by grace (the Greek word is charis meaning “favor” or “kindness”).
The Gospel recalls a scene from Numbers 21:4-9, which describes God’s punishment of the Israelites for their infidelity during the Exodus. He sent “fiery” serpents into the desert to attack the people. But when they repented, God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole so that anyone who looked upon the serpent would be healed and live. In this symbolic Gospel of John, Jesus is the one on the pole. He is to be “lifted up” in crucifixion, because God loved the world so much that he was willing to give up his only Son. Truly this is cause for rejoicing.
In a conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus explains that God loved humankind so much that he sent his Son to be the light so that they might believe. Pope Benedict XVI explains Christ coming to the world as our chance to encounter him. In Deus caritas est, the pope states: “We have come to believe in God’s love. In these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is the result of an encounter with an event, a person. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should have eternal life’ (Jn 3:16)” (#1).
God not only came to show us the way to the Father but became one of us, entering the world as a perfect man. Gaudium et spes states, “The Word of God, through whom all things were made, became man and dwelt among us….He reveals to us that ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8)” (#38).
For Your Reflection: How will you take time this week to rejoice? How do you view yourself as God’s handiwork? Do you consider your good works as done through God, or do you seek credit for them?
MEMORIAL OF ST. PATRICK
Saturday, March 17, 2018
St. Patrick of Ireland is one of the world’s most popular saints. He was born in Roman Britain, and when he was fourteen or so, he was captured by Irish pirates during a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. Patrick’s captivity lasted until he was twenty, when he escaped after having a dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast. There he found some sailors who took him back to Britain and was reunited with his family.
A few years after returning home, Patrick saw a vision in which he heard a voice which said, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” The vision prompted his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained and later appointed a bishop and sent to take the Gospel to Ireland.
Patrick arrived in Ireland in 433. He immediately began to preach, causing many, eventually thousands, to convert. He often used shamrocks to explain the Holy Trinity, and entire kingdoms eventually converted to Christianity after hearing Patrick’s message. After years of living in poverty, travelling and enduring much suffering, he died on March 17, 461.
Patrick wrote a poem of his faith and trust in God, which he titled “The Breastplate,” which is still quoted and prayed to the present day:
“Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
FROM THE WISDOM OF POPE FRANCIS
What follows is taken from the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) and is intended primarily for married couples, but it is good advice for each person and something we might reflect upon during these remaining weeks of Lent.
“Dialogue is essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life. Yet it can only be the fruit of a long and demanding apprenticeship. Men and women, young people and adults, communicate differently. They speak different languages and they act in different ways. Our way of asking and responding to questions, the tone we use, our timing and any number of other factors condition how well we communicate. We need to develop certain attitudes that express love and encourage authentic dialogue.
“Take time, quality time. This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right. Instead of offering an opinion or advice, we need to be sure that we have heard everything the other person has to say. This means cultivating an interior silence that makes it possible to listen to the other person without mental or emotional distractions. Do not be rushed, put aside all of your own needs and worries, and make space. Often the other spouse does not need a solution to his or her problems, but simply to be heard, to feel that someone has acknowledged their pain, their disappointment, their fear, their anger, their hopes and their dreams. How often we hear complaints like: ‘He does not listen to me.’ ‘Even when you seem to, you are really doing something else.’ ‘I talk to her and I feel like she can’t wait for me to finish.’ ‘When I speak to her, she tries to change the subject, or she gives me curt responses to end the conversation.’
“Develop the habit of giving real importance to the other person. This means appreciating them and recognizing their right to exist, to think as they do and to be happy. Never downplay what they say or think, even if you need to express your own point of view. Everyone has something to contribute, because they have their life experiences, they look at things from a different standpoint, and they have their own concerns, abilities and insights. We ought to be able to acknowledge the other person’s truth, the value of his or her deepest concerns, and what it is that that they are trying to communicate, however aggressively. We have to put ourselves in their shoes and try to peer into their hearts, to perceive their deepest concerns and to take them as a point of departure for further dialogue.
“Keep an open mind. Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them. The combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both. The unity that we seek is not uniformity, but a ‘unity in diversity,’ or ‘reconciled diversity.’ Fraternal communion is enriched by respect and appreciation for differences within an overall perspective that advances the common good. We need to free ourselves from feeling that we all have to be alike” (##136-139).
Please be advised that now is the time to decide when you will be coming to St. Peter’s for the sacrament of reconciliation before Easter. We still have one Lenten Communal Penance Service scheduled for Tuesday, March 20, and we will be hearing confessions Monday through Saturday as well. During Holy Week we will have additional confessors throughout the day, even four confessors between the hours of 10:30-6:00. Confessions end at 4:30 on Holy Thursday, so please do not wait until the last minute or you may be disappointed.
A CHUCKLE FOR LENT
The man passed out in a dead faint as he came out of his front door onto the porch. Someone dialed 911. When the paramedics arrived, they helped him regain consciousness and asked if he knew what caused him to faint.
“It was enough to make anybody faint,” he said. “My son asked me for the keys to the garage, and instead of driving the car out, he came out with the lawn mower!”