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Hope in the Midst of Suffering
by John Whittaker, Religion Teacher

 

Every morning as I drive to work, I have an opportunity catch up on the latest news. Political pundits and radio news hosts provide updates on politics and issues happening in America and around the world.  The morning of Monday, October 2 was no different. As I was driving to work, listening to the radio, I began to hear about the dreadful events that had transpired the previous night. A man in a Las Vegas hotel room had shot at crowd of over 20,000 people who were gathered for a country music concert. My heart sank and I paused. Hearing about the number of people killed and the number of injures was distressing and saddening. Rapid thoughts of past violent attacks at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Columbine High School overwhelmed me. I thought to myself, what is the Christian Church to do about this again? How will I address this to my students? How do I communicate Christian hope and love in the midst of such tragedy?

At Visitation I have the privilege of teaching theology to sophomores and juniors. The junior course in particular is focused on the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church. Its focus is on issues of justice, violence, and peacemaking in light of various documents written by the magisterium of the Catholic Church. It is the one class in which we analyze various contemporary injustices and political issues in an academic setting. We have covered various topics from scriptural foundations of social justice to controversies surrounding acts of violence.

That Monday morning after the shooting, I knew I needed to begin class by praying with my students for the suffering people of Las Vegas. I took time with each of my junior classes to pray for those who were killed, those who lost a family member, and also for the shooter. The prayer spurned a meaningful conversation about violence and the challenge behind the Christian call to love one’s enemy as the antidote to evil in the world. My students struggle with the fact that violence and senseless death is so apparent in the world. Mass shootings seem to happen on a monthly basis, devastating hurricanes seem a common occurrence, and to add salt to a festering wound, my students have never lived in a world where America was not at war. These realities make it difficult to see the beauty and hope the Christian life provides. My primary goal as a teacher is to foster an atmosphere where my students can voice their concerns, but also to guide them to search for, and ultimately find, the not-as-obvious goodness.

In his wisdom, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” With the essence of the junior course being centered around hope and trust in humanity as inherently good, tragedies like that in Las Vegas, as unimaginable and difficult as they are, can provide case studies by which to teach those beautiful virtues. The good news is that Christian hope and charity rear their heads even in the midst of suffering – the father throwing himself on his children, the first responders running towards the injured, the strangers helping each other over blockades – hope is always present if we know where to look. Hope is what offers the prospect of building a positive and loving society, even in the face of evil. Hope is knowing that God’s love is present even when heart-wrenching tragedy overwhelms you. Hope is the Christian life, a life always worth living, and that is what I am always instilling in my students.

 

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