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January 16, 2011

Preventing future violence: responses to the Tucson shootings -
The meaning and importance of civility -
Suffering, a puzzling mystery --
Is growing old a vocation?

1. Grieving the Tucson shootings.
2. Preventing future violence.
3. A bishop's pre-Tucson call to civility.
4. Quotes to ponder on civility.
5. The enormous puzzle that suffering is.
6. Viewing "old-aging" as a vocation.
7. The church's essential collaboration with families.

1. Grieving the Tucson Shootings

The memory of Jan. 8 "will haunt all of us for a long time," Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson said of the Saturday shootings in his Arizona city that left six dead and another 14 wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

In a homily during a Jan. 11 Mass at St. Odilia Church in Tucson, Bishop Kicanas expressed hope that the shootings will "move us to commit our efforts to rid our communities of violence and all that causes and encourages it."

God does not will discord, or division, or "destructive words or actions," said Bishop Kicanas. Rather, what God desires is "that we be worthy of being called his sons and daughters by how we act and relate to one another. We are to resist evil, to live with integrity, to speak with civility and respect."

The Jan. 8 violence traumatized his entire community, Bishop Kicanas told Catholic News Service Jan. 11. The community first must grieve, he said. "We need to cry and be together, especially for those who were harmed and their families."

The next steps in the healing process will involve reflection on how such a tragedy could occur and what the community can do to ensure it never happens again, the bishop told CNS.

"We may never understand it," he cautioned. But he suggested it is important to look at gun laws that go far beyond enabling sportsmen to own hunting weapons, to examine the availability of services for people with mental illnesses and addictions, and to assess "the ways we respond to conflict."

First, though, it is important to grieve, to reflect on what happened and to pray, Bishop Kicanas said.

During the Jan. 11 Mass, the bishop described Tucson as "a community in grief." He said: "We are a community in tears. We are a community struggling, questioning, wondering how such a tragic event could happen. How could God allow such violence to be done to the innocent? How could God permit the pain and suffering felt by so many good people? Has God abandoned us?"

But, said Bishop Kicanas, "our all-good God never wills evil, never inflicts harm, never injures or hurts." Instead, "our gracious God comforts and consoles us when such tragedies strike. ... Our God stands by us, walks with us, holds us in the palm of his hand."

2. ... Preventing Future Violence

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson was in Jerusalem to participate in a meeting of North American and European bishops on issues confronting the Holy Land when the Jan. 8 shootings occurred in his Southwest city. He left the meeting then and wrote in his weekly message to the diocese: "I just wanted to return home as soon as possible. I could not believe that this would be happening in a community we all enjoy and love."

Of course, in the Holy Land "violence is feared and expected," Bishop Kicanas wrote. "Violence too often tears apart both the Israeli and the Palestinian people. Each community knows well the result of senseless violence."

When people in Jericho heard about the Tucson violence, Bishop Kicanas said they asked him, "Bishop, how can we prevent these acts of violence that destroy the lives of so many?"

Bishop Kicanas wrote: "I wish I knew the answer. But as the world continues to seek an answer to that question, we can, each in our own way, strive to respect others, speak with civility, try to understand one another and try to find healthy ways to resolve our conflicts."

In a letter to parishes of the Tucson Diocese, Bishop Kicanas urged people to "pray for the repose of the souls of those who were killed and for the comfort and consolation of their families," to pray also for the wounded and "for the comfort and consolation of our community."

In addition, the bishop said, "We pray to be a channel of peace, that where there is hatred we will bring the love of our Lord."

3. A Bishop's Pre-Tucson Call to Civility

I took note of a call for "greater civility in our public discourse" that was issued two days before the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson, Ariz., by Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y. Five principles to "guide the actions of our elected leaders and our own" were examined in the January edition of his monthly message to the diocese, posted on the diocesan website Jan. 6. "First, there must be greater civility in our public discourse," the bishop wrote.

"Vicious personal attacks, negative media campaign ads and unsubstantiated rumors borne of anger, fear, uncertainty and paranoia have become commonplace" in society, Bishop Hubbard said. "With the emergence of shock radio and TV shows, and the unfiltered comments in the blogosphere," the bishop commented that public discourse has "degenerated."

In a democratic society, people "can disagree and should debate issues," Bishop Hubbard observed. But, he wrote, "as the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago asserted, in so doing we must demonstrate pragmatically -

-- "That we can keep our deepest convictions and still maintain our civil courtesy.

-- "That we contest others' arguments but not question their motives.

-- "That we can presume good will, even when we disagree strongly."

While politics ultimately "involves the art of compromise," it "should never be the vehicle for intolerance, polarization and demonization," Bishop Hubbard said.

Another of the bishop's five principles accented "the vital and essential role of government." While "there can be philosophical disputes about the nature of government and its constitutional limits," Bishop Hubbard insisted it is "indisputable" that "there is a need for government to serve the common good."

After listing a number of ways government serves the common good through public policies, Bishop Hubbard wrote:

"Must all programs be maintained? Must all policies remain embedded, as if written in stone? Must all positions be retained? Of course not! Reimagining and redefining government are inevitable in adapting to new problems, changing fiscal realities and in eliminating what is no longer needed or beneficial."

Government always can "be reformed and must respect the principles of participation and subsidiarity," Bishop Hubbard said. However, he added, government "must not be viewed as the enemy or the problem, which unfortunately seems to be the growing sentiment among many these days."

4. Quotes to Ponder on Civility

"Of all the things I could have spoken about to such a prominent group of leaders -- war, justice, violence, drugs, education, W-2, the budget, the environment, pro-life issues -- all the towering issues, and here I speak on something as simple as civility? You bet I do, with much conviction, because if we lose that -- and we're in danger of doing so - we'll lose our noble battles on all the other challenges. Sometimes we can't do much about all those other issues, but we can always do something about courtesy and civility. Sometimes more important than what we do is how we do it." (Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, speaking in 2003 when he was Milwaukee's archbishop to the Wisconsin Legislature)

"Committing to civility means moving away from positions of attacking or being defensive so that genuine dialogue and exchange can take place. It is OK to point out when mistakes are made. As humans, all of us make mistakes. But I think that when Catholic media point out mistakes, it must be done with fairness and civility." (Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles speaking in June 2010 to the Catholic Media Convention, held in New Orleans)

"Passion and strong convictions can be good things. I have plenty of both, based on my ministry among immigrants for decades. However, anger is no substitute for wisdom, attacks are no substitute for dialogue, and feeding fears will not help us find solutions. Respect for different points of view is a mark of civil society." (From a discussion of immigration reform in the 2007 Labor Day statement issued by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops)

5. The Enormous Puzzle That Suffering Is

The mystery of suffering is "an enormous puzzle that can never be fully unraveled," New Zealand's bishops said in a November 2010 pastoral reflection on suffering.

People "recognize the need to limit suffering by finding ways of reducing its debilitating effects," though they "know suffering cannot be totally eradicated. It is part of life," said the bishops.

They reflected on the ways people relate to suffering. "We might be able to accept the suffering that comes from our own folly, selfishness or carelessness, but unjust or unwarranted suffering is another matter," the bishops noted. "Suffering at the hands of others, sickness, disease, disaster and tragedy pose great difficulties even for people of faith."

The bishops called attention to a comment on suffering by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical on hope ("Spe Salvi"). The pope "acknowledges the difficulty suffering poses for belief and urges us to do whatever we can to relieve suffering," the bishops recalled. But they said "he also cautions against attempting to avoid suffering altogether: 'It is not in our power to do so.'"

Pope Benedict said, "It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness. ... It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love."

New Zealand's bishops stressed that though people are "unable to avoid suffering," no one "should have to meet it alone." They said:

"Common to all, though individually wrapped, suffering needs a community response. In solidarity with one another, we can support and encourage, befriend, care and provide reassurance and practical support to ensure that no suffering is left unnoticed and no sufferer abandoned. The suffering seek only to be understood and accepted in their suffering." (The bishops' reflection on suffering appears in the Jan. 20, 2011, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

6. The Vocation of "Old-aging"

"The period of life that is old age is, like every other period of life, potentially definitive of the meaning of that life," Mercy Sister Margaret Farley said in a recent speech in St. Louis on palliative care. "In other words, the final meaning of anyone's life may remain to be determined only when we are old," she explained.

This view of what she termed "old-aging" is important not just for those who are old, but for their caregivers as well, she proposed.

Sister Farley is a professor emerita of Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School. Her speech appears in the January-February 2011 edition of Health Progress, published by the Catholic Health Association.

Drawing inspiration from something written in 1981 by Jesuit Father Karl Rahner, the influential 20th-century theologian, Sister Farley stressed that while "not everyone gets to live into old age," for those who do this period of life "must somehow be a part of their vocation."

Sister Farley noted that in a brief piece he wrote in 1981 when he was 80 years old, Father Rahner described old age as part of a person's vocation. She quoted the theologian's statement that "we should not take facile comfort in the erroneous thought that old age, like many other life situations, is a merely external situation like a costume in which a person plays a role in the theater of life which remains extraneous to himself."

Discussing Father Rahner's thinking on this, Sister Farley said:

"Rahner meant that the meaning of our lives is finally determined by the choices that we make about what and how to love; and for some persons these choices may still be made even into old age."

Father Rahner referred to growing old as "a really serious matter" and believed it should not be looked upon "as life's running out, but as life's 'coming to definitiveness,' even when that happens under the paralyzing influence of slow, biological death."

For caregivers this means that caring for the elderly, the infirm or people who will die soon means "caring for them at an inestimably significant time of their lives," Sister Farley said. For, this time in life is not "an aftermath." It is not a period of time that unfolds "after the real fabric of their lives has already been woven, finished."

All of which leads to the conclusion that this period in life ought not to be regarded as "a relatively unimportant time," out of some belief that in old age people no longer are what they were and are "not really themselves," Sister Farley insisted. Old-aging, she said, can be "a time of grace and a time of call."

7. The Church's Essential Collaboration With Families

"Collaboration between the Christian community and the family" is a necessity today because families "face numerous difficulties" when it comes to raising children in the faith, Pope Benedict XVI said Jan. 9 when he baptized 21 infants in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel.

From its earliest centuries, the church understood the greatness of baptism and took care to baptize newborn infants, the pope said. Of course, he added, for baptized infants there later "will be the need for a free and conscious adherence" to the life of faith and love that begins in baptism. Pope Benedict explained that this is why, after baptism, children "must be educated in the faith" - so that the "seed of faith" they receive in baptism may grow and "that they may attain full Christian maturity."

The church, "together with their parents and godparents," must accompany baptized children "on this journey of growth," the pope said. He commented that the need for this is particularly strong "in the contemporary social context in which the family institution is threatened on many sides."

Society's "lack of stable cultural references" and its continual "rapid transformation" make the commitment to raising children "arduous" today, the pope said. "Parishes must therefore do their utmost" in the effort "to sustain families in their task of passing on the faith," he said.

The church's collaboration with families also was discussed in the apostolic exhortation Pope Benedict released in November titled "The Word of God." In a section on marriage and the family, he urged "priests, deacons and a well-prepared laity" to "support and assist" parents in fostering family prayer, knowledge of the Bible and an "attentive hearing of the word of God."