Written by: Very Reverend Anthony Mendoza
Parochial Vicar of the Diocese of Laredo and pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Laredo
On May 24, an 18-year old male in the small town of Uvalde shot his grandmother in the face, then drove her truck to an elementary school, where he shot and killed 19 young students and two teachers. The gunman was eventually killed by law enforcement.
I am very familiar with Uvalde because for 9 years I was the pastor at St. Joseph’s Church in La Pryor, about 20 miles away. I went to Uvalde at least once a week for errands. Many of my parishioners had family in Uvalde, including one couple I knew well, who were uncle and aunt to one of the little girls who was killed that day. This past Friday I attended the funeral for that girl, whom the family described as a very sweet person who would “do anything to help anybody.” She had just made her First Communion two weeks before she was murdered. This was certainly one of the saddest funerals I have ever seen.
It is hard to imagine anything more evil than the deliberate killing of a small child. Children are extremely vulnerable and very much defenseless against the aggression of an adult. Children are just beginning their lives and they are innocent of any serious wrong-doing. They deserve to be loved unconditionally and to be protected from severe harm.
People wonder why God allowed such a terrible thing to happen. Family and friends ask why God didn’t somehow prevent this horrible tragedy. Many people are angry and are at a loss at what to do next. There is very little that can be said at this time which will console the heartbroken family and friends who are grieving the loss of those precious children. Those who have been deeply wounded in their hearts by this crime need our support and our prayers.
But it is important for us to realize that God was in no way to blame for the killings. God has given all of us free will, so that we are free to choose to love others and treat them with respect, or to hate others and seek to harm them. Without free will, we would be like robots, unable to do evil, but also unable to do anything morally good. The cost of having free will is that some people will freely choose to seriously hurt others, for whatever reason. But our ability to freely choose also allows us to reject hatred and evil, and to give generously of ourselves for love of others.
Our Heavenly Father has first-hand knowledge of the painful consequences of free will. He saw in advance the terrible evils that would be caused by the persons He had created in His own image and likeness. But, in amazing mercy, God-the-Father chose to send His only Son, God-the-Son, to become one of us, to pay the price for our sins. Although He was totally holy and innocent, Jesus was rejected by His own people, tortured, humiliated and crucified. This was the worst injustice in all history. Yet God brought about the greatest good from this worst evil, the great good that we are able to be forgiven and to be united forever as members of God’s family.
God does not want us to be defeated by sin. He does not want us respond to evil with hatred and despair. He calls us to trust in His love for us, even in the most difficult times. Of course God never wants any evil to happen, but He assures us that He can bring great good out of even the worst evil, through His love working through us (Rom. 8:28). There has been a tremendous outpouring of loving support for the families of those who were killed in Uvalde. Many people have donated to help the families with medical and funeral expenses. Throughout Uvalde and in many other communities there are signs posted offering prayers for the victims and consolation for their families and friends.
Perhaps these heartbreaking deaths will lead many people to appreciate more the time they are able to spend with their own children and with others. Let us hope that this tragedy will inspire all of us to work more for peace and reconciliation. May the love of God shine through us to give hope to those who have suffered from hatred and violence, hope that we can join Jesus in overcoming sin, suffering and even death.
May all those who died in Uvalde last week, through the mercy of God, have eternal rest with Him forever. May those who lost their loved ones be reunited with them one day in heaven, never more to suffer pain or separation again.