On April 9, 2014, in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, a 16-year-old high school student entered Franklin Regional High School flashing two knives and began stabbing and slashing fellow students indiscriminately. 19 students were injured, five are in critical condition. A security guard was also slashed with a knife.
The scene was so drenched with blood it resembled a horror movie.
On that same day, President Barack Obama attended a memorial service at Fort Hood, the site of another shooting last week. This one was committed by Spc. Ivan Lopez. Over a period of eight minutes he killed one and injured ten others with his 45-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun. This is the same military base where 13 people were killed in 2009.
The President told the grieving families “their passing shakes our soul.”
A high school and an army base; places which should be known as places of safety, were turned into killing fields. A nation pauses, grieves and seeks to make sense of what seems to be a growing epidemic of violence.
Efforts to point to guns as the cause of the problems at Fort Hood had become the rallying cry among some lawmakers. However, now the weapon was knives. So far, no-one has called for banning or restricting knives.
That is because this is not about guns or knives.
We have lost our true north as a nation. Finding true north is indispensable for navigating on land, sea or air. That is why the expression is a metaphor. It is often used in self-improvement books or books on spirituality which seek to help the reader find meaning, purpose and direction in life.
We must again find our true north as a nation if we want to find the path to take out of this present darkness.
That will require us to once again embrace the core conviction that every single human life has dignity. Human persons are created in the image of God. They have an inherent dignity precisely because of that fact — at every age and stage of their lives. This conviction once informed the moral infrastructure of the United States and the West.
This respect for every human life is grounded in the Jewish and Christian vision of the dignity of every human person. It once inspired us to hold a respect for every human life, whether that life be found in the first home of the womb, a wheelchair, a jail cell, a hospital room, a hospice, a senior center, a soup kitchen or on a refugee boat, as our highest public good.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church (#132) offers these insightful words:
A just society can become a reality only when it is based on the respect of the transcendent dignity of the human person. The person represents the ultimate end of society, by which it is ordered to the person: Hence, the social order and its development must invariably work to the benefit of the human person, since the order of things is to be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around.
Respect for human dignity can in no way be separated from obedience to this principle. It is necessary to “consider every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.” Every political, economic, social, scientific and cultural program must be inspired by the awareness of the primacy of each human being over society.
Some profound words were spoken by a little nun from India at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Her name was Mother Teresa. They need to be heard again in this hour of reflection. She spoke from a podium where her small stature could barely be seen. The power of those words caused the assembly of powerful people to sit in silence:
I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child — a direct killing of the innocent child — murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?
Some will call me simplistic for pointing to abortion in such a comment on this growing epidemic of violence. I think the words of that nun from India were prophetic.
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