To those who have gone through great loss, what can one say? What words of comfort can we offer? Words that help heal? Words that show we care?
Consider, then, what you might say to the victims and families of last week’s shooting. In San Bernardino, California, gunmen massacred fourteen during a holiday party.
The mainstream media reported that we’ve now had more mass shootings this year than there are days in a year! But the New York Daily News provided us with the most shocking commentary.
In big, bold white letters, the front page of its December 3rd issue read: GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS. Below that, the sub-headline read: “As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.”
And what words did these so-called cowards say to anger the paper and possibly the nation?
“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, families and brave first responders”
“Please keep the victims of San Bernardino, California in your prayers”
“Our prayers are with the victims, their families, and the first responders in San Bernardino”
“Thoughts & prayers are with San Bernardino”
Words that you and I would use during times like these.
On one level, the paper’s headline offends us.
The cynic in us might say that they did it to sell more papers. To some pro-gun control advocates, the controversy was necessary. How else could we drive the inaction of those in power to solve a national problem?
But why drag God’s name in the mud? And why suggest that the “prayers and thoughts” of the faithful are “meaningless platitudes”?
Still, once you get past the inflammatory statement, perhaps you might find wisdom within those words.
And I’m saying this not to be ironic. I mean this with sincerity.
Look to our own Scripture and you’ll find it sometimes pointing a finger at us. Often it calls us on our hypocrisy, when we allow our faith to be just words without faithful action.
The book of James, for example, says:
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:14, 17).”
Admit it: you and I often do this. We say we have faith, but we sometimes don’t act upon our beliefs and intentions.
Can you imagine where we might be if the seminal people of our faith behaved in this way? Take John the Baptist, for example.
Our gospel introduces John the Baptist as the forerunner of our Lord. His presence was so powerful, people thought that he might’ve been the Messiah.
Every day his faith called for him to shout out to the crowds “prepare the way of the Lord”. Every day his faith called for him to proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Now imagine if John kept his faith and beliefs to himself. He might’ve believed that the Lord’s Day was upon us, but what if he chose to not share this with anyone?
No one would know how to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s presence.
No one would know that their time for salvation has arrived.
No one would even be able to recognize that their Savior standing right alongside them.
Now consider the way you practice your faith.
As a community, we pray for one another. We profess our belief in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit together. We share in the Eucharist every Sunday.
But when the service is over, does your faith continue to guide you throughout the week? Or do you just go on with the rest of your life until the next Sunday? If so, perhaps the New York Daily News was right to imply that our faith is “meaningless”.
I hope not. But if so, change your ways and repent.
Connect your words and intentions through faithful action. Feed the hungry; clothe the naked; invite the stranger into your life. Acts such as these help your faith blossom.
In acts such as these, you take another step in preparing yourself for Jesus’s return. And you’ll see the face of Christ along the way.