Last week, I got mixed up and thought Clergy Clatter was due a week early. As I sat to write this little piece of “clatter”, the painful news of the school shootings in Uvalde Texas was all over the air waves. It’s another one of those horrible episodes with which our civilization seems to be cursed these days. Something is so horribly wrong that we allow and accept this, over and over, and over again. This time the news was reporting that 18 elementary school students and three adults had been murdered. We know that these numbers change as information is verified, but no matter, it is a lot of children and adults. It’s also obvious that the statistics still do not include injured victims.
I think a priest looks at situations like this somewhat differently than the average person. What’s going through my mind is something like, “If some of those kids were members of my parish, and I had to deal with this pastorally, how would I do it? Could I do it?” How could I offer spiritual comfort in a situation like that? I have conducted a huge number of funerals in my long career. Sometimes they have been for people that I knew well and loved dearly. Sometimes they have been for people I never knew and about which I knew nothing except a name which the undertaker handed me on an index card at the grave. I’ve buried a few children, but mostly adults. I’ve buried a significant number of suicides, and they always carry special pain and questions. But to my knowledge, I have not buried a child, or multiple children, who were innocently murdered. What would I say? What is there to be said? How could I possibly support the parents and families, and other kids? This type of situation, challenges even the most weathered priest. And as I watch the newscasts and see families hugging each other, and see adults leaving the school to go home for DNA samples so that their children can be identified, these are the kinds of thoughts going through my mind. And how about the other kids who watched their friends and teachers being shot to death, right there in front of them? How will they sleep tonight, and tomorrow night, and the next? What could I say to them to chase away the bad dreams and give them peace?
I don’t own a gun. I didn’t grow up with them and never learned how to care for and respect them. I’ve had friends who find great pleasure in recreational shooting, or carry a gun for special protection. I have no problem with that. My earliest experience with one was when I was a little tyke and my brother-in-law and a bunch of his friends took me skeet shooting. It sounded and looked like fun. They stuck a shot gun in my hand, showed me how to hold it, aim it, and pull the trigger. What they didn’t tell me was that the gun they had given me had a horrible kick to it when fired. I ended up flying backwards across the field, while they bent over in raptures. That was the beginning and the end of my gun days. I wish every child had that experience.
Well, it’s not just clergy who have those moments of doubt. We certainly saw it with the police. We know that the teachers and parents have strong emotions around this. Uvaldi is a small town, about 15,000 people. All the training in the world could not have prepared them for this. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. And it’s not over yet.
They are reporting that the school is going to be torn down and rebuilt. I can understand that. It is a way of expressing the anger that permeates the community. May we pray for the repose of the souls of those who lost their lives in this horrible event.
June 1, 2022
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