Like many of you, I woke last week on the feast of the Guardian Angels to the news of another mass shooting in America — this time in Las Vegas.
The scene has played out too many times in recent years.
Las Vegas reminds us again that evil is real and that our lives are vulnerable. We appreciate again what St. Paul meant: When one of us suffers, we all suffer.
We pray for the victims and their families, for all those caught up in the violence. We commit ourselves again to bring healing and peace and to build a culture where people are protected and their dignity respected.
But listening to our national conversation in the days since Las Vegas, it strikes me that, more and more, everything I just said makes less and less sense. We no longer have the vocabulary to think about and respond to events in this way.
An angry essay in one of our leading Catholic journals concludes with these bitter words: “Please, no more thoughts and prayers. Instead, do something.”
We live in a secular society and the spirit of our times, our approach to life, is what Pope Francis recently described as “technocratic materialism.” As a society, we have made a wager that we can get along without God, without any reference to “religious” explanations, perspectives, motives or values.
In a secular society, the only language that makes sense is political and technological. We want to establish causes and find solutions. Who is responsible and why did this happen? What do we need to “fix” so this kind of thing does not happen in the future?
Of course, we need to encourage our leaders to take action. We need to find ways to prevent people with guns from taking their own lives and the lives of others.
Even more, we need to heal the sickness of a popular culture that invites us to entertain ourselves by watching people do horrible things to other people — a culture that makes violence and killing the stuff of games that we allow our children to play in our homes.
But our society’s challenges are not only technical and political; they are also spiritual.
We need to push back against the technocratic mentality and the secular spirit of our age. We cannot allow the awareness of God to fade away in our society. Without God, the world has no meaning. Everything is random, life becomes a struggle of blind forces we cannot see or control.
As Christians, we need to bear witness to the reality of divine Providence — that our God is the Lord of history, that in his loving presence he is working in the events of our world and in the events of our lives and that there is nothing that lies beyond his loving plans and purposes.
God permits evil; this is true. Physical evils like the devastating hurricanes we saw this summer; moral evils like the Las Vegas massacre; the innocent suffering that we see everywhere in our fallen world.
But while God permits evil, he does not cause it and he does not want it. He is our Father and his love is stronger than death. He will draw good from out of every evil.
I was thinking this week about something that St. John Paul II once said: “One hand fired, and another guided, the bullet.”
He was talking about how an assassin tried to kill him on May 13, 1981, on the day the Church remembers the apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima.
In his new book, George Weigel recalls that St. John Paul believed that “Providence, acting through Our Lady … guided the bullet. … He was spared, and for a reason. There was a mission to complete, and the Lord of history would see that he was given the opportunity to complete it.
We will never know why God allows some lives to be spared and others to be taken. We only know that he has a plan of love for every person.
In the aftermath of this latest violence, we need to remember that. And let’s remember that God gives every one of us a mission to complete. Each of us has a part to play in his plan, in building his kingdom on earth.
On Oct. 13, we join the universal Church in remembering the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparitions at Fátima. Pray for me and I will be praying for you.
Let us ask Our Lady of Fátima in a special way to strengthen our faith in Providence. May we answer her call to conversion and prayer — with hearts open to God’s will and to his plans for our lives and our world.