Monday, January 10, 2011


Fr. Dale Matson
We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for feast day of Holy Innocents [December 28th ]).

This past Saturday a young man with a history of irrational behavior and a mission of evil shot and killed six people and wounded thirteen others. The most compelling image for me is the smiling innocent face of the youngest victim nine-year-old Christina Taylor Greene.

Our world today seems saturated with violence, a failed mental health system and incoherent responses from those who are charged with protecting and leading us. Where do we turn when our world seems to be in such chaos? In the end all we have is faith, hope and love as our prayers rise to God. That is how we express our hope and how we attempt to reclaim our joy. That is how we extend our love to those we cannot help in any other way.

This atrocity in Arizona reminds me of another horrific event. In October of 2006 a man took several Amish girls hostage. He shot all ten hostages, killing five and then killed himself. What makes the incident in the Pennsylvania unique, unlike the tragedy in so many other cases, is the response of the hostages and the community following the murders. The Amish girls Marian and Barbie Fisher, 13 and 11, requested that they be shot first that the others might be spared. They were unafraid and Christ like in their response. The Amish community did not call out for justice knowing that it would only mend a small part of the huge hole rent in fabric of the community. “The Amish answered the ‘English’ as they call those who live in the secular world, with their own generosity of spirit, even toward the Robert’s family. Community leaders sent a representative to the family to express forgiveness. As donations came in from across the country to pay hospital bills, the Amish asked that a fund be set up for the Roberts family as well.” (Newsweek, 10-16-06, P.39).

The gunman’s widow stated, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community and is changing our world” (Ibid).

In cases like this, justice when applied is important but ultimately an inadequate remedy. It does not restore lives or even confidence in the system. It does not restore the hearts of those who hear of it. It is forgiveness that makes the circumstances restorative and transformative. It is forgiveness as much as any other virtue that demonstrates that Christ is being formed in us. As our anger subsides, let it be replaced by forgiveness.

“And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear especially Christina Taylor Greene and those who perished with her beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service; and to grant us grace so to follow the good examples of all thy saints, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom. Grant these our prayers, O Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.” (Prayers of the People, Rite I, BCP, p.330)

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