Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
October is Respect Life Month and that’s a good time to reflect on ways to get involved with the work to uphold the dignity of life for all people.
The theme for the coming year is “Be Not Afraid” and will be in effect through September 2018.
Yet, in light of the evil associated with the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, people of faith may beg the question, “How can we not be afraid?”
Certainly, the terrible irony of this event cannot be overlooked – that this appalling disregard for human beings took place on Respect Life Sunday, Oct. 1.
Our hearts and prayers are with the victims of the tragedy in which a lone gunman unleashed a barrage of bullets at an outdoor country musical festival. At press time, at least 59 people were killed and more than 500 were wounded.
They have been in my prayers – as I’m sure they have been in yours – since I first heard the news. My prayers also include law enforcement, first responders and medical personnel who put their own needs to one side to help those terrorized by this event.
I’m not sure how many of us could empathize with the unspeakable terror of those who were preyed upon by this clearly-deranged man. Most of us simply shake our heads in disbelief, trying to make sense of something so senseless.
As with most events that cause us to examine the how and why of violence, we turn to prayer and direction from God. But how do we pray when faced with such a horrific tragedy? How do we “be not afraid?”
It’s trying times like these when I would encourage you to not only just pray when times are challenging, but to pray every day, regularly.
Most of us offer intercessory prayer, asking God or the Blessed Virgin Mary to watch over our family and friends and even to those most in need. This is a good reminder that there are others interceding for us in their prayers, too.
Often, we give thanks and praise to God for the wonderful gifts he gives us throughout our lives. Think of how often you could simply say, “Jesus, I love you,” or “God, I praise you.” This can be done anywhere, anytime or anyplace.
For those of you who prefer to communicate with Our Lord in silence, I offer these insights from Mother Teresa: “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
People would be justified in asking, “Where was God when this unbelievable carnage was taking place?”
I respond, “Weeping with us at this incomprehensible loss of lives, while sending his graces to provide solace and peace in the midst of the shock and horror.”
I am not asking you to become numb to the events which transpired in Las Vegas. As people of prayer and faith, we need to be proactive in our resolve to change a culture that appears to accept such acts as commonplace. In our sorrow, we should be building a society in which respect for life is the standard and the norm.
However, it appears our culture has grown increasingly callous about the right to life and the belief that every one of us is created in the likeness of God. This lack of respect is illustrated by many who believe that being pro-choice is acceptable, assisted suicide is defendable and conscience is personal.
We are surrounded by more and more people who are, or who feel, abandoned. It is for sociologists, psychologists and psychiatrists to determine what drove this man to make his choices. Would a cheerful smile, a kind word or a good deed have made a difference for the gunman? That may be too simplistic, as the darkness in his life that drove him to make his choices were most likely an overwhelming force of evil.
However, we should never believe the darkness can be greater than the light of the Lord and that is how we can best “be not afraid.”
Please join me in prayer to end the spiral of divisiveness, hate and violence that seems to be so prevalent in our nation. In our sorrow as a nation, let us offer this prayer for those who died, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them,” and pray for me, as I always do for you.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City