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Tom Finneran: Twenty Little Angels in Newtown

Friday, December 21, 2012

 

This is the hardest column I’ve ever written.

I cannot fathom the sickness and evil behind the Newtown Connecticut school shootings. It is horrific and it is incomprehensible. The children who were slaughtered were 6 and 7 years old. Their final moments here on earth were filled with abject terror. And their parents have wretchedly painful holes seared into their hearts. This is the face of human anguish.

Little children have been unalterably scarred. Their innocence has been stolen. Their curiosity has been strangled. Their spontaneous laughter and joy has been savagely butchered. Their parents have been rendered zombies.

On one level, I want to understand. I want to know what makes a human being act like this to other human beings. And yet, I don’t want any intellectual excuses made for what is barbaric. I want to keep this simple because then I can process my sadness and anger. I am glad that the shooter is dead. He may have been sick, very sick, but he was also evil. And he was a coward. After his twenty seven evil acts, he took a coward’s exit. Evil, evil, evil.

As a parent and as a Catholic, I have an abiding reverence for life. I know that it is precious and fragile and that it can be fleeting. My wife and I have had children and we have lost children. But the circumstances of those losses, about which we still cry, were medical. Miscarriages leave enormous pain. But miscarriages are not murder.

These killings were savage sadistic acts. Soldiers in combat and police officers under fire act with more compassion and restraint than the Newtown killer. He entered a school with malice in his mind and gunned down frightened little children. Do I violate my Catholic faith when I pray for a harsh retribution from my loving God? Am I a hypocrite in hoping that God’s justice is as painful for the killer as it is peaceful for his victims?

This episode, this slaughter of innocents, is bothering me much more than the Columbine or Virginia Tech shootings. Perhaps it’s the proximity of Connecticut to Massachusetts, but I don’t think so. Rather, I think that it’s the ages of the victims. These were innocent little kids. High school and college kids have the wits and the physical ability to run, hide, and perhaps fight back. The Newtown kids were babies—first and second graders with no sense of the dark and evil capacities of man.

The pain of the parents of these slaughtered children is beyond belief. It is unbearable pain. It will eat at their hearts, their heads, their souls. A little son or daughter was dropped off at school with laughter and words of love and then was mercilessly murdered by a depraved savage.

Have you ever been to a Mass of the Angels? It is a funeral Mass for a deceased child. The casket is white, pure white, signifying the utter innocence of children. And the casket is small, very small, signifying the fact that this is a child, small, helpless, dependent, utterly without guile or guilt in a world which can be cruel. No observer of the casket can do anything but cry. All the joy, all the hopes, all the dreams of the child have been crushed into cold oblivion. And the parents of the child?

Grief, complete and inconsolable grief is etched forever in their faces. Anguish fills their hearts. They will never know real laughter again. They will never know true joy again. They will never bask in the glory of a warm Spring day without remembering what has been lost.

My faith tells me that the children of Newtown now rest in the arms of the Lord. They are at peace. They know eternal joy and love and kindness. They will never again suffer the pain and cruelties of our world. To have such faith gives us some consolation, some foundation from which to struggle forward, even in the midst of such dark inexplicable tragedy.

So onward we trudge, toward Christmas and the birth of the Christ child. Twenty little angels have come into his Kingdom. Six big saints came with them. Peace on Earth and goodwill to men. 

 

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