Two years ago, President Clinton spoke this way after the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.:
“We must do more to keep guns out of the hands of children, to help our young people express their anger and alienation with words, not weapons, to prevent violence from shattering the peace of our schoolyards.”
Two weeks ago, President Bush reacted this way to the shooting at Santana High School in Santee, Calif.:
“When America teaches our children right from wrong and teaches values to respect life in our country, our country will be better off.”
Clinton had a point. The Columbine killers got their guns by breaking laws that should have been better enforced. But Bush's answer is more profound: He seems to recognize that there is something big wrong with the culture itself.
It's a culture that fears that the Ten Commandments will hurt school kids but doesn't think occult books will; one that keeps religious material out of public libraries but allows Internet pornography in; one that fears moral rigor more than obscenity and violent modern music. It's a culture in which there are many things to denounce.
Yet by coincidence, the day after the shooting, Pope John Paul II gave an address that encourages us to go beyond such denunciations.
“Although a necessity and an obligation, it is not sufficient to limit oneself to expose and denounce the lethal effects of the culture of death,” said the Holy Father. “Rather, what is needed is to constantly regenerate the inner fabric of contemporary culture, understood as a living mentality, as an ensemble of convictions and behavior, as social structures that support it.”
Ultimately, he added, “The encyclical Evangelium Vitae reminds us that ‘the Gospel of Life’ is neither a simple reflection nor a commandment to sensitize society, but a concrete and personal reality because it consists of proclaiming the person of Christ himself.”
So, for Catholics, the response to these school shootings (which now, sadly, include one at a Catholic school) is clear.
We should spend a little time exposing and denouncing the causes and consequences of the killing culture — from the abortionists who have made today's youth feel like “survivors,” to the cruelty of today's youth culture which demands conformity and punishes differences, to the adults who fill airwaves and movie theaters with products that demean human life.
We should spend a lot of time building the culture of life. Bush is right: For starters, that means teaching the difference between right and wrong, and teaching the value of human beings. It also means introducing people to the one person capable of rescuing our culture — Christ himself.
As the success of the Holy Father's World Youth Day events proves every two years, young people are hungry for authentic faith. How can we provide it? We recall the three-step program the Pope outlined for laity at the end of the Jubilee Year:
Step 1. Examine our consciences on these questions: What have I done with my baptism and confirmation? Is Christ really at the center of my life? Do I make time for prayer in my life? Do I live my life as a vocation and a mission?
Step 2. Read the documents of Vatican II. Our suggestions: the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People Apostolicam Actuositatem and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes. All are available at www. Vatican.va or from the Daughter of St. Paul at (800) 876-4463.
Step 3. Creatively answer Vatican II's call — not by seeking a liturgical role, but a lay one: in parish action groups, apostolic movements or other diocesan-approved apostolates.
Catholics throughout history have had an enormous influence on the cultures they found themselves in. It's high time we did the same in America.