Faith and Religion, opinion

Choosing Life in a Dangerous World


Fr. Dean McFalls,  St. Mary’s Church, Stockton, CA

The transfer of Representative Gabrielle Giffords to a Houston hospital for physical therapy marks a major milestone in the nation’s recovery from the shocking events of January 8th.  Amazingly, she’s already walking with assistance, and even though she can’t yet talk, her courage speaks volumes.

But eleven others are still recovering from the ruthless attack, and the six who died will never return to their families.  Yet out of the darkness of this tragedy is already shining the light of a nation newly galvanized for life.

It’s true that the assassin will most likely be put to death.  However we feel about capital punishment as individuals and people of faith, the deranged killer has undeniably torn apart the lives of nineteen families, of untold others who relied upon and loved the victims, and of the entire continent.

But none of the casualties, not even Representative Giffords, had impacted our country – indeed, our world – like the death of Christina-Taylor Green.

Between the day she was born and the day she died, history had changed.

If September 11, 2001 – Christina’s birthday – represented one of the lowest points we’ve hit in American history, January 8th, 2011 took us lower still.

At least the horrific attacks of 9/11, like those of 12/7/41 on Pearl Harbor, had the positive effect of rallying people living in the United States to a common vision of greater solidarity and mutual respect, regardless of race or religion.  We were suddenly much prouder to be Americans.  We began forging alliances with other nations in the battle for a freer, better world.

By October 7th, 2001, President Bush had launched the war in Afghanistan, and within 18 months, we invaded Iraq.  Both campaigns were conceived as relatively short, intensive military missions meant to suppress terrorism and to restore some level of security in the Middle East.  Even if both have failed to achieve fully their goals, our soldiers have given their very best.

With all their costs and casualties, for most of us both wars continue to represent an heroic effort on the part of our men and women in uniform to  risk devastating loss for the sake of leaving a safer world for our children. 

Not so with the deranged campaign of Arizona’s home-grown killer.  As one who’d aspired to military service, but undermined his own application by admitting to heavy and habitual use of marijuana, Jared Lee Loughner had become more and more isolated, plagued by delusions and an extremist point of view.   Was he influenced by the increasing vitriolic of a political war being waged in his native state against undocumented immigrants?  It appears that some in positions of authority think so.  Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik in Tucson, Arizona stated, in a press conference January 8th: “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous, and unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital.  We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

I wonder whether Loughner had wanted, in his own humble way, to follow the footsteps of another former resident of Arizona who had impacted the history of America forever.  It bears remembering that Timothy McVeigh, himself a soldier, once lived for a season in Kingman, Arizona. He’d considered his April 19, 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building an act of war.  450 people were injured, 168 died, among them 19 children and babies.  His motives were political and highly conservative.

So obsessed was McVeigh with his libertarian cause that he considered the death of so many defenseless children as simply unfortunate.  Far too late, he would admit that knowing of the day-care center might have made a difference in his targeting strategies: “It might have given me pause to switch targets,” McVeigh said. “That’s a large amount of collateral damage.”

McVeigh was executed June 11th, 2001, having paved the way to 9/11 by what was until that day the worst attack ever committed on American soil.

Last week, a little child came up to me and asked, “Father, why do good people die so much and bad people don’t?”  I had to laugh.  And yet this naïve question still rings in my ears.  Even the Old Testament scriptures echo this haunting question.  We know that little Christina was an angel.

Friday afternoon, a young woman approached me after mass.  “Could you please give me a blessing?” she asked.  “Of course,” I replied, “but is there a particular reason?”  “Yes.  I’m being deployed tonight to Afghanistan.”

She had the face of a child, but the eyes of a warrior determined to serve.

Wow.  It all came together so quickly.  I had one of those rare speechless moments myself.  Maybe I should ask her blessing.  She’s the one who’s going to step out into a hostile world and put her life at risk for my sake.

In fact, the medical experts attending to Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson and in Houson have been instructed, ironically, by the horrible injuries inflicted upon our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“May the Lord bless you and your fellow soldiers,” I prayed.  “May He send guardian angels to stand beside you, and keep you from harm.  May you be able to fulfill your mission with integrity, and return home safely.”

May all the blood being shed in the multiple theaters of warfare throughout the world not be in vain.  May little Christina’s death not be in vain, either, together with all those who died with her in Tucson.  May she rest in peace.

And may we dedicate ourselves to leaving a better world for our children.

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