By the Very Reverend Canon Gary S. Linsky, V.F.
Pastor of Saint Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Columbia, South Carolina
As most of you know, Father Fryml and I were on Retreat with other priests from the Diocese of Charleston part of this past week. Two and a half days is never long enough but it was almost a relief to have had a bit of a news blackout after the tragedy in Los Vegas that happened last weekend.
While trying to unravel what happened the media seems focused on addressing the issue of gun control as if it is what lies at the heart of our societal ills. What I find deeply distressing is the image our country has of being more dangerous than many others because of the fear actions like this inspire. Social scientists tell us most deaths caused by guns are actually suicides by older men – another bit of information that doesn’t inspire me as I cling to middle-age! At the end of the day, we need to examine where we are spiritually if we’re ever going to understand why things like this happen.
Perhaps we can start by pondering our first reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah. God, the Prophet indicates, has done everything for His vineyard which is an allusion to the people of Israel living in the holy city of Jerusalem. He has pruned it and cared for it, yet all it yielded was wild grapes. Therefore, he would abandon it and let it fall into ruin.
Some fear our country is on a similar precipice. The stock market is the highest it has ever been, unemployment is at a near record low, yet the threat emanating from North Korea and our own societal ills can make one wonder how long the good times can last. For those in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas and this weekend, New Orleans, facing the ravages of natural disasters—the good times may well seem over! And then, theirs the not so natural disaster of Los Vegas!
One of the most telling bits of information we have concerning the man behind this tragedy came from Stephen Paddock’s brother who stated that he had NO political or religious affiliations. And certainly, neither law enforcement agencies nor the media have identified any such links in the week that has passed. I believe Paddock’s brother made this comment mostly to refute ISIS claims, he had converted to Islam. Here’s a man who made over $5 million last year gambling,
lived a wealthy life-style, had a live-in lover, and shows his gratitude through murder and mayhem.
I believe Stephen Paddock represents the extreme of misused freedom. Like Cain who murdered his brother, Abel, Paddock’s life was not rooted in Godly wisdom but seems to have been totally devoid of an awareness of ultimate accountability for his actions. In this, he is symptomatic of a country that has acceded to political correctness, often choosing to isolate and blame persons of faith, especially Christian faith and its accompanying symbols, for disturbing the peace. And yet, in virtually every mass-shooting, it has been the opposite – leaving Christians like you and me to try and understand for those without faith why something like this can happen.
I spoke with a priest-friend on Friday who reminded me that Planned Parenthood aborts 360,000 babies a year – with little outcry or fanfare. Are their lives less precious or of value because they are so young?
The banning of weapons may salve some who cannot see into the human heart and recognize the illness that lies before us. It is an illness that is starved of love and lacks the essence of life – the grace and peace that can only come from the Father through His Son, Jesus the Christ. Indeed, the Father sent servant after servant to Israel in the form of kings, judges and prophets without effect before send His Son.
And yet, His own rejected Him and would not believe.
Americans, especially Anglo-Saxon, Protestants, have thought of our country as being “exceptional,” the new tenants of God’s vineyard, God’s people today. We’ve looked with disdain on Europe and the places we’ve come from believing ourselves and our system of governance and life to be better. And often it has been. In the biblical sense, we’ve taken over from the old tenants, the scribes and Pharisees, the chief priests and the elders of the Jewish people who failed to care properly for their people. They were the ones who neglected, bullied and oppressed those in their care. They tortured and killed God’s messengers, the prophets. They even rejected and killed Jesus, God’s very own Son and God’s greatest messenger. In short, they kept letting God down and by turning their backs on God, they failed to produce the fruit that God expected from His vineyard.
The question we should ask ourselves is whether we’ve become like them! When God is relegated to the side-lines of our lives, when every other activity is more important than the practice of our faith, such as getting our kids to school sporting events, College football or even our work, should it be no surprise that spiritually, we will no-longer know God’s Son!
Stephan Paddock, the Los Vegas shooter, is a symptom of a serious illness, the manifestation of what happens to those who lack the love of God in their hearts. The absence of faith in God and His love leaves an emptiness that must be filled with other things. And that’s where the danger lies. If God is sidelined by us and our society, what will fill it? Examine your hearts. Is there room in them for God? Does He have pride of place or simply second or third place?
“"Did you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit." May it not be true for us as it was for the Jews in Jesus age! The Lord waits patiently for us – may we yet turn to Him while He still may be found!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.